Blog · November 28, 2014

A Stroke of Luck

435390Somehow Thanksgiving gives me a different vibe since I found out early in 2012 that my husband’s family tree from his mom’s paternal side dates back to the Mayflower itself. I thought it was immensely cool to tell my son Connor that his 11th great-grandfather, Richard Warren, was one of the original pilgrims that celebrated Thanksgiving. He is a direct descendant. My husband says that probably millions of people are related to him, and he may be right, still, there is only one branch of his family that I was able to trace back that far, and the reason why that is, is because the family trees of important colonial families in american history are very well documented. I found tons of evidence of this connection, even though most are through females. All the other branches, I told my husband, either came to a dead end sometime in the early 1800s or go back to Europe centuries after the Mayflower arrived at Cape Cod. Most of his ancestors, as a matter of fact, came to the US sometime after the Civil War, and some went to Canada first. His mom’s maternal grandparents arrived to the US from Poland as recently as 1912. Still… if Connor is interested, I will be able to make him a member of the ‘Sons of American Revolution’ and of ‘Mayflower Descendants’ among others, since I was able to find ancestors that fought in every American War, including the Civil War (in the Union side, yeah!), and even has great-uncles that died at Gettysburg.

It’s quite a stroke of luck to find an ‘important’ or ‘famous’ ancestor because the family tree is already done for you, complete with documents and proof. To do so, however, sometimes you have to be able to trace your back tree several generations, usually back to the 1700s, as each generation you can go back, you can double the amount of people that are looking for the same person, possibly someone that is important today with any luck. A famous quote from Mark Twain humorously says: “Why waste your money looking up your family tree? Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.”

In fact, Richard Warren, who had seven children who survived childhood and grew up to have numerous children themselves, is supposedly the pilgrim with the most descendants, which include President Franklin D. Roosevelt (7th cousin 4x removed), President and General Ulysses S. Grant (6th cousin 5x removed), Orson Welles (9th cousin 2x removed), Laura Ingalls (8th cousin 3x removed), Richard Gere (10th cousin) and even, I hear, Julia Child and Joanne Woodward, even though I haven’t yet confirmed the connection from their tree to ours.

Of course, these cousin relationship, don’t amount to much. When you are looking at this far of a connection, while it’s cool that it’s there, the most important thing about it is that it helps you build your own tree backwards as genealogist do the hard work for you by doing these famous people’s trees. After all, as I said in my previous genealogical blog post, in the end, we are all cousins. Some people do not realize this, but going back too many generations, in the end, means nothing as we are all related to each other. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so forth. By the time you’re back ten generations (around the mid 1600s or so), you’ve got 1,024 ancestors. Twenty generations (around the 1300s?) puts you over the million mark, and somewhere around thirty generations, your ancestors would seem to outnumber the world’s entire population at the time. Which means, of course, that we have many, many duplicate ancestors from one branch or the other. It’s because of this that nowadays I concentrate only on trying to go back to medieval times on all branches I can, and even that is a feat. Of the branches of my husband’s tree that go back to the various countries such as Holland, Germany, Poland etc, the only way to trace anything back would be to go to that country and do extensive research with the help of someone that can speak the language. That is never going to happen. The branches that go back to English speaking countries, such as Ireland or England,  I might be able to do something at some point. We’ll see. It won’t be anytime soon, as if I go to any churches and do local searches, it will be in Italy for my tree. I am still intent of finding some cool connection somewhere.

I know some may wonder ‘why do this’, and I have found, for me, that it gives me great pride and knowledge about myself and where I come from to know intimate stories about my ancestors. I am not only interested in dates, but the people they were, what they did and how they lived. To know where I am going, I need to know where I come from.

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.” — Alex Haley, Roots

Love & Light,