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.
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."