Thursday, October 14, 2010

Relatively Speaking

Recently in the news, there was an entertaining article about how two rival politicians are related to each other. While entertaining, given their backgrounds, it's not uncommon for people to be related several generations back. Afterall, most of our ancestors followed the same paths across the United States (manifest destiny and all that jazz), or they immigrated from the same countries during the periods of mass immigration from different countries. It's not unlikely that many of us are indeed 10th cousins. The interesting question actually is "how are we related?"

I began researching my own genealogy in 1998 in an effort to determine if family legend was correct: that I was a direct descendent of President John Adams through my paternal great-great-grandmother Lula May Adams. Lula and her twin sister Lois were orphaned and raised by their aunt and uncle, but Lula herself had told my grandmother than she was told she was a descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Unfortunately the family legend turned out to be untrue. Our Adams line does not lead directly to the Adams presidents. We might be distant cousins, but we are not descended from those individuals.

However, my research did turn up a surprising revelation. We are indeed closely related to one of the early presidents:

The first President of the United States: George Washington.

I'm not a descendant of his, though. No one is. George Washington had no known children of his own. His wife was previously married and had children of her own that she brought into the marriage, but no one can claim to be a descendant of George Washington (unless they can provide evidence of an illegitimate child). Sidenote: same goes with Shakespeare. While he did have children, his direct line died out only a couple of generations after he did.

I am descended from Ann Washington Wright, who was George Washington's great-aunt (his grandpa's sister). She is buried at the George Washington Birthplace Monument along with quite a few other family members.

When you find a famous ancestor the work becomes much easier because the research has already likely been done, and the documentation is readily available. It's not always that easy, though. I still cannot find the parents of my 4th great grandfather John McCandless. We've even been to Antrim, Ohio where he lived and died. The line just stops right there. The further you go back, the less likely that documentation exists. Marriage records weren't kept on file before the early 1800's. The beginnings of birth and death records were often recorded even much later than that. Land records provide proof of existence, but little in the way of giving us leads as to where they came from originally. Eventually you're looking for a needle in a haystack.

Or you can just give up and announce that he was beamed in from outer space. I'm almost to that point, since it would explain a lot.... Almost....

But anyway, folks, it's easy to research your own genealogy if you're wondering who the heck you're related to. It's a fun winter activity as well, since so many of us are stuck indoors. The best way to start is with yourself! What do you know--write down your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Then start talking to those people who are still alive--ask them what they know. It will probably surprise you! Then, you can build on that: your local library will have census records, old newspaper on microfilm, obituaries, cemetery records, etc. The internet is also a handy tool. Rootsweb is one of my favorite sites and Cyndi's List contains many, many useful websites for research.

Just remember, family trees are full of nuts--that's what makes them so interesting!!

Happy Hunting,

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1 comment:

CCC said...

I love family history. There is something comforting in knowing that I come from a long line of peasants : )