Family history research can be fun, frustrating and filled with surprises. After almost 20 years of family history research, I can attest to this first hand.
In my seemingly never-ending quest to discover my past, I have found all sorts of surprising information about my family, some good, some not so good, and some information is downright surprising. When I started this journey through my family tree, I'm not sure what I thought I would find, but I can honestly say that I never expected to find so much information, nor the family members that I have discovered.
On my paternal side, I expected to find very little information about my lineage when I started this journey as I knew very little about them. If you can believe this, I didn't even know what my paternal grandmother's maiden name was and had to ask my father! My dad didn't talk a lot about his family when my brother and I were growing up. Losing one parent at the age of 12 and the other at 17 seems to have had an impact on his life, and he did not often talk about his parents. All I knew about them is that they struggled financially and my paternal background was very much "working class" (as was my maternal side).
Once I started gathering information about my paternal side - names, dates, places where they had lived, etc., I was in for a big surprise. My first surprise came when I found out that my grandfather's family had lived in a small town in Eastern Ontario called Brighton, for 200 years. When I was a kid, our family used to camp in the summer at a trailer park just north of Brighton, and we spent our summers in the area. Not once do I remember my father ever saying his family was from there. My next surprise was finding out that my grandmother was from Scotland - I had no idea!
As my tree grew, and details were filled in, I began to discover a significant amount of information about my paternal grandmother's family. It turns out that the genealogical records in Scotland are very detailed and complete, and they go back hundreds of years. I was able to trace my paternal grandmother's family, on her mother's side, back over 600 years. It was during this research that I started finding familial links to a significant number of noble families in the UK, and more than one famous ancestor. I had found so many historically significant figures on this branch of the family tree that I began to believe I must have made some serious errors in my research. Since I do not like to be incorrect in my findings, I hired a professional genealogist in Edinburgh, sent her my information (and a significant amount of money!), and waited for her results. A couple of months later she contacted me and told me that my research was accurate except for one address, and that my lineage was correct.
I was encouraged by confirming that my research was sound and turned my attention to my grandfather's family. I hit two roadblocks almost immediately: the first was that my grandfather had been born out of wedlock and his birth father was listed as "unknown", and the second was that my great-grandmother's paternity was also in question (hey, it happens!). I was disappointed, especially with the fact that my grandfather's identity was unknown, and that I had no way of determining who he was.
I set aside my research on the Taylor family for over a year, and concentrated on trying to find out more about my grandmother's roots and continued my attempts to locate more maternal relatives. I found a great many more of my paternal grandmother's family history, and even managed to contact a number of living relatives (that did NOT go over well - it seems nobles are not keen on finding long-lost relatives and prefer that they remain lost, at least in my case!). My family tree grew and started to look like a UK history book, there were that many ties to significant historical figures, both immediate relatives and those related through marriage.
I still wasn't satisfied with being unable to prove my heritage on my paternal grandfather's side of the family, nor was I happy I had been unable to locate my maternal great-grandfather's family so I decided to take a DNA test. I ended up taking two tests, one being an autosomal DNA test and the other a Y chromosome DNA test. The autosomal test provides an overview of both your maternal and paternal DNA, while the Y test, which is only available for males, tracks a male's Y chromosome uninterrupted back through only the male lineage.
Things soon became very interesting once I published my DNA test results. The first significant findings were DNA confirmation of being related to several prominent UK families, many of whom had taken and published their DNA test results. It was reassuring to know my research continued to be accurate. The next major breakthrough came when I was contacted by a very close Y chromosome DNA match, meaning we shared a common male ancestor somewhere along the line. It turned out that he was the grandson of my previously unknown great-grandfather.
The final and possibly the most exciting discovery came when I was able to prove my paternal great-grandmother's lineage through my DNA test results. She was a Taylor (having been born prior to my great-great grandmother marrying her father) and that is where things became VERY INTERESTING!
My Taylor heritage was confirmed through genetic matches to a large number of known Taylor descendants, mostly in the US. My 4th great grandfather, Stephen Taylor, had been born in America in 1784 in Ellington, Connecticut. From what I have been able to piece together, he was a ship's captain and maintained a residence in Brighton, Ontario, as well as in the US. During the outset of the War of 1812, he was captured by the Americans while sailing a British ship on Lake Ontario and held as a prisoner of war, despite being an American. I can only surmise that after the war he was bitter and decided to remain in Canada.
Through my 4th great-grandfather, I have been able to trace my paternal lineage back over 600 years, to my 12th great-grandparents. As I conducted my research, I started finding mention of my family in a number of historical records in the USA, including those kept in Washington, DC. I found this quite odd, despite the fact that many of my ancestors were Pilgrim's and some of the first settlers in New England.
As I continued tracing my paternal lineage, I started making some incredible discoveries: I had even more famous historical figures in US history than I had found researching my paternal grandmother's family in the UK. It was unsettling.
During the past few years, I have uncovered a veritable treasure trove of significant historic US figures, all directly related to me:
General Ethan Allen
Nancy Regan (nee Davis)
President Grover Cleveland
Frank Winfield Woolworth (founder of Woolworth's department stores)
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
All of these people, and many more historical figures, were my cousins and we shared the same bloodline. I was both amazed and impressed that I had so many famous American relatives in my extended family. Unfortunately for me, every one of these famous relatives was long dead and I was hoping to find some living relatives, famous or not.
Through my continued research, I managed to find living relatives, and much to my surprise, several of these living relatives were also well-known personalities such as:
Elisabeth Shue (actress)
Andrew Shue (actor)
Kevin Bacon (actor, of course!)
Ronald Reagan Jr. (son of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, radio host and political analyst)
Patti Davis (daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, actress and author)
Zac Efron (actor)
Each of these individuals are cousins of mine. All are distant cousins although from a direct bloodline standpoint, not very far removed; we are separated only by the generations between our shared common ancestors and time.
So now that I know I am related to each of these people, all of whom I am familiar with due to their well-know public personas, what do I do? For me the answer is easy: I do nothing. Although I have both contacted and have been contacted by distant relatives in the past, when dealing with celebrities I feel that such contact would, in all likelihood, not be welcomed and would probably only end up in disappointment, much like my contact with other cousins who are members of British Nobility.
Would I welcome any of them contacting me? Yes, of course I would. I have met celebrities in the past, always by chance, and for me the interaction has always been positive. I would imagine that the same would hold true if I met any of my famous distant cousins, but one can never be certain.
' How would you react to discovering a famous relative, and what would you do if that famous relative was still alive?