I have been hosting my family tree with Ancestry.com and on this personal website now for quite some time, yet I often wonder if anyone of my distant relatives ever read my posts, either on here or on social media. I know that some of my closer relatives do, but it would be fun to hear from others as well.
I didn't set out to create a website when I started my family tree research 20 years ago - I just wanted to fill in some missing information in my family history (and there was a LOT!). Along the way I quickly started finding out information about my ancestors that I had never known and I was soon hooked; I think I get the love of solving mysteries from my maternal Grandmother :)
As I began to dive deeper into the mystery that was/is my family, I soon found that my curiosity turned my search from hobby to a full-fledged desire to know as much about my family as was possible. I have been able to fill in a lot of blanks, yet some information such as what happened to my maternal 3x Great-Grandparents remains a mystery. I have used research (online, documents and interviewing/questioning relatives), roamed graveyards throughout Southern Ontario and England and even took several DNA tests and had my parent's DNA tested in my quest to uncover the past.
This effort has paid off in spades, and the results have put me in touch with many relatives who had either lost touch through the years, or with those that we (my "close" family), did not know existed. I have even traveled across the Atlantic to meet with cousins in my maternal Grandfather's family home town. I have corresponded with even more distant cousins that I have yet to meet, and for the most part the interactions have been fun, informative and have continued years later.
The biggest surprise in this journey has been the sheer number of famous people that I have found that I am related to on my paternal Grandfather's side of the family, and several from my paternal Grandmother's side of the family as well. This list reads like a "Who's Who" of historical figures: royalty, military leaders, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Business Moguls, Inventors, Explorers and so on. It's incredible to discover that you have even one famous ancestor in your family so you can imagine what it is like to have literally dozens in your family tree.
My biggest surprise however, was discovering just how closely my family is tied to the United States. Both my maternal 2x Great-Grandfather, who was born an American before being sent to an orphanage in Toronto (then called York) at age 10, and my 4x Great-Grandfather were Americans. At first I thought that my 4x Great-Grandfather may have been a United Empire Loyalist, a group of Americans who came to Canada after the War of Independence, but he was not. My 4x Great-Grandfather did not come to Canada until after the War of 1812, and he remained an American (it was my 3x Great-Grandfather, born in Canada, who stayed here).
My paternal Great-Grandfather's American roots run deep, all the way back to the early 1600's in New England. From this group of ancestors, my family tree's roots run deep in both the United States and Europe and, due to the significance of a great many of these ancestors the genealogical lineage going both back in time and forward to today, are extremely well documented.
Today I was watching a documentary on the Mayflower, the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America. During the program it was mentioned that one of the Pilgrim's had almost died, and that if he had, a number of historically significant people would not have existed, people like President's Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, this one particular Pilgrim is estimated to have over 2 million living descendants in the United States today. It is truly amazing how far reaching one person can be when it comes to their descendants.
One of my amazing distant cousin discoveries was not made by me, but by my distant cousin, Gwendolyn Sharp. Gwen is my 12th cousin, once removed, and she reached out to me several years ago after finding our shared DNA match. Gwen is a wonderful woman that I have never met, yet we have communicated now for several years. It took Gwen and I approximately 3 years to discover our common ancestor who turned out to have lived around 400 years ago. While Gwen and I knew that we shared common DNA, the link to our common ancestor was not easily found. Gwen has as many, if not more famous family members than I do, and her passion equals mine for uncovering these familial mysteries. It was only when we both posted a discovery of a famous distant cousin, Elizabeth Taylor. Once we knew that we were both 9th & 10th cousins of the famous actress, we were able to work our way back through our ancestors to find our common Great-Grandparents. It took a long time, but it was a great feeling when we finally accomplished this task. I think that we were both amazed that our DNA could carry down through the generations over 4 centuries as well.
Gwen isn't the only distant cousin that I have communicated with, and there have been many more that have either reached out to me through Ancestry or one of my social media accounts, or I to them. Together we have been able to share information and, in a few cases, solve parental mysteries and help to give them their own family history.
Although I literally have dozens of celebrity distant cousins, I have only had minimal communication with a couple of them, and both were for reasons other than shared ancestry (both were purely coincidental) contacts). A lot of these celebrities or public figures are no more distant than other cousins that I have communicated with or that I have met with in person, they just happen to be in the public eye. A number of these distant cousins, such as Sarah Jessica Parker or Valerie Bertinelli have already had a lot of their family history documented on "Who Do You Think You Are?", a fantastic TV program that I watch whenever I can. Other celebrities such as my 10th cousin, Glenn Close, have also had their DNA tested (Glenn did this to help trace some family medical issues documented) and it would be interesting to be able to compare notes. I'm also curious as to whether the extraordinary number of successful family members is to do a genetic predisposition or whether it was environmental; clearly these acting/singing and other talents did NOT travel down my own branch of the old family tree!
Maybe one day I will be contacted by one of these famous distant cousins, or maybe I won't. If it does happen, I hope that we will be able to share the information that we both have about our shared ancestry. Until then, I will always welcome anyone, famous or not, contacting me to either share information or to be able to help them fill in the blanks of their own family history.