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The Secrets Buried Under a Family Tree

I happened upon this article reprinted in the blog, Climbing My Family Tree, Ruminations of a part-time genealogist, and would like to repeat a small portion of it here in my blog and allow you to view the entire article on "Climbing My Family Tree." The article was written by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman.

The secrets buried under a family tree

I ALWAYS thought that genealogy was for people whose blood ran blue. It was for folks who traced their ancestry to the Mayflower or the American Revolution, not those who came over in steerage one step ahead of the Cossacks.

So when the New England Historic Genealogical Society published the family connections between presidential candidates and celebrities, I was an amused bystander. John McCain is the sixth cousin of Laura Bush? Hillary Clinton is the ninth cousin twice removed of Angelina Jolie? Barrack Obama is related to everyone from the Bushes to Brad Pitt? How American, I thought, to search an entire family tree to connect with the rich and famous who live, twice removed, on some distant branch.

On a lark, I went to visit D. Brenton Simons, the genial head of NEHGS, the society founded in 1845. Simons has so many American presidents in his own ancestry that he stops counting after Washington, Adams, Van Buren and FDR. But what he finds most fascinating are the everyday searches through the 200,000 books and the 28 million manuscripts, papers, and diaries that fill the building in Boston’s Back Bay.

“You can be related to a king or a horse thief,” says Simons, who shows no favoritism for either lineage. “We all make discoveries that surprise and enlighten us.”

So it is that I casually handed over a few names and dates from my own memory bank. I didn’t find a king or horse thief or Hollywood star, but I found a family secret. A garden-variety secret, I am sure, but a secret nonetheless.

OpenID magnoliablossom said...

I love your posts!

Back in my teaching days, I use to require my students every year to do family history research, then presentations. Because I knew most of them would run into these "skeletons", I always introduced the project my talking about my own!

You would have LOVED the presentations that I received. They were amazing! And, the "skeletons" always ended up being the most entertaining part of each student's tree--to them, the class, and to me.

May 11, 2008 5:21 AM

Blogger Judith Gail said...

Thank you SO much! I'me pretty new at this but I'm really enjoying it. I'm a big fan of genealogy and like you say, our own skeletons can sometimes be highly entertaining.

I feel I would have loved being in your class and hearing about all the "skeletons."

May 11, 2008 1:13 PM


david santos said…
Hello, Done Judy!
I loved this post and this blog.
Have a nice day.
April Lorier said…
Judy, in 1993 I started doing my family genealogy and I discovered some fascinating things about both my ancestors and different period in history. One thing I notice: diseases we know today were around then, they were just called another name! Boy, talk about confusing!

Also, I discovered I am a direct descendant of John Locke, the "great" philosopher/writer. I put great in quotes because once I started reading his works, I discovered he was an atheist,so not that great in MY book!

When Mama died, I was so glad I had done the genealogy because she left behind a HUGE trunk that my grandfather brought here from England. It was loaded with hundreds of photos, MOST OF WHICH I RECOGNIZED, based on 2+2=4 and all the other facts I had discovered. It's a great time as long as you don't depend on the Mormon Library for your facts. They had my favorite cousin listed as DEAD! I don't trust them anymore.

Good job on your blog! THIS will make your "grumpy old husband" (your words) sit up and take note, eh?
Judy Shubert said…
April, thanks for reading my genealogy posts! Yep, I think we all have some skeletons, as they say, in our closet somewhere. I didn't realize John Locke was an atheist. Aren't those photos wonderful? I love my collection of old family pictures !

I have a huge - I mean really big - black and white photograph of my Uncle Stone's uncle when he was in the Navy. No one else in the family wanted it. So guess who couldn't dispose of it? Yep, I have it.

One of my sons came through and said, "Now, exactly which ancestor is this?" To me it doesn't matter how far back or how questionable the connection, I cannot bear to part with old photos. They need to loved and treasured.

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