I think that everyone wants to discover a famous ancestor during their family history search. I know that I was hoping to find someone that had an extraordinary life, but I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would find so many notable historical figures in my own family tree!
Each of us have our own reasons for delving into our ancestral past. For me, it was the need to fill in the blanks. I thought that I knew about some of my family, but there was an even greater amount of information that was missing. When I started the journey to discover my ancestral past 20 years ago, I didn't even know the name of my paternal grandmother...can you believe that?
I also found out that I knew a lot less about my maternal family than I thought I did. In fact, my maternal family has proven more difficult to uncover than my paternal side of the family, even though I grew up knowing more about my maternal family than my paternal family. It is all part of the ancestry mystery.
As I researched my family tree, I quickly found that my paternal side of the family was significantly better documented than my maternal family. At first this made very little sense to me, but as I continued on my journey, it all fell into place.
My paternal grandmother was Scots, and her family history can be traced back hundreds of years. That side of the family has a lot of nobility in it, so the documentation is very good, even though my direct family was fairly removed from the present-day cousins that are nobles. I've managed to make contact with a couple of these distant cousins, and while the little bit of correspondence has been cordial, it was not overly welcoming. I decided to move on.
The biggest surprises to date would continue to appear on my paternal side of the family, but through my paternal grandfather. Like my paternal grandmother, I never knew my paternal grandfather (she died almost 13 years before I was born, the result of an automobile accident, he died 7 years before my birth), but I would soon know more about my paternal grandfather's family than I ever thought possible.
As I began to focus my research on my Taylor ancestry, I quickly ran into a couple of roadblocks: both my grandfather, and his mother, had been born out of wedlock. In fact, on my grandfather's birth certificate, it listed the father as "unknown". I was crestfallen when I made this discovery, and it appears that it had been a well-kept secret within the family. It wasn't until several years later, after I had 2 DNA tests performed, that I would find out the name of my paternal grandfather's father (my great-grandfather). That is a story in itself, but suffice to say I was able to confirm who my great-grandfather was.
A similar thing happened with my paternal great-grandmother. She had been born several months before my 2x great-grandmother married and there was no birth certificate that I could find. Shortly after my 2x great-grandmother married, she and her first husband divorced. I will never know for certain what happened, but divorce in the 1800's was not common, so I can only surmise that her husband found out that my great-grandmother was not his daughter. This was another roadblock, but one that didn't hold me up for very long, thanks to the DNA tests that I had taken.
With my 2 DNA tests, I was able to find genetic matches by the hundreds. As I worked my way through my closest genetic matches, I was able to sort out which tests matched on my maternal side and which matched on my paternal side. It helped great that I also had both of my parents tested, and had my dad take a Y-chromosome test as I had (read my other posts for a better explanation of these tests). It was through common matches between my father and I and others that I could start digging into the history of my grandfather's side of the family.
With the help of other DNA matches, I soon discovered that my great-grandmother's father was John Manly Taylor, who was my 2x great-grandmother's second husband (and she was his second wife after his first wife died). The Taylor family history was, for some strange reason, very well documented in the US, where my 4x great-grandfather had been born. Sometime after the War of 1812, my 4x great-grandfather moved permanently to Canada, most likely because he was a ship's captain on the Great Lakes, and at the outset of the war had been captured by the Americans and held as a POW, even though he was an American. Again, I can only surmise this to be the reason he stayed in Canada, but it makes sense (and could be a good story!). Prior to the war, he and his family split their time between Canada and the US, having homes of both sides of Lake Ontario.
I was able to readily find my Taylor ancestors in the US, most of whom had lived in WIndsor, Connecticut, and some were even founding fathers of Windsor. From there I continued to find more and more information about my ancestors, going back to the early 1600's as they were part of the Great Migration, which included the Pilgrim's that we all know.
The farther back I went in my family tree, the more names were added (boy, did my ancestors ever have a LOT of children!). I remained focused on tracing my lineage as far back as I could, but in a straight line from grandparent to grandparent. Luckily I had the foresight (or dumb luck) to add the names of all my great aunts and uncles as I went. This information would prove invaluable in the years ahead.
By the time I got back to my 12th great-grandparents, my family was back in the UK and the records became more scarce. It seems that record keeping in the 1400 and 1500's wasn't the greatest in England. When I finally hit dead-ends, or could no longer verify the information that I was finding, I went back and began to fill in the family information for my hundreds of aunts and uncles. This is where my really exciting discoveries began.
By researching my extended family, I soon started to discover that my family has an unusually large number of famous people in it. I first started finding a number of influential family members that had lived in the original colonies (mostly Connecticut and Massachusetts, but also some in New York, Vermont and Rhode Island). Soon I started finding political figures, religious figures and Patriots...lots and lots of Patriots.
As I researched some of these people, I began to find lots of additional information, with some even having their family history documented in the Library of Congress. I found this strange at first since I had never heard any stories of anyone more notable than several brave soldiers, so I dug some more. That was when the discoveries suddenly started coming fast and furious.
My research soon started to uncover very familiar names: Ethan Allen, President Grover Cleveland, President Herbert Hoover, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, President Gerald Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, Elisabeth Shue, Andrew Shue, Zach Efron, Dillon Efron, Clint Eastwood, Scott Eastwood, Prime Minister Sir WInston Churchill, Frank Woolworth, Barbara Hutton, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Nancy Davis (First Lady Nancy Regan), Maime Doud (First Lady Maime Eisenhower), Kevin Bacon, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Richard Gere,..and many more, were all my paternal cousins.
The more I researched, the more I discovered. Even more interesting, a great number of these famous cousins all descend from my 10th great-grandfather and grandmother, Henry Burt & Eulalia Marche. A number also descend through my Stiles and Stebbins grandparents and are also very well documented. DNA testing has also been key to confirming my relationship with these famous cousins, although I have yet to make contact with any living celebrity family (fingers cross though!).
Even today, 20 years after I first began my journey to discover my family, I am still making more discoveries. As I close in on putting family member #13,000 on my family tree, I can't help but wonder what future interesting discoveries await.