Follow The Clues!
Tracking your family history beyond your 2 or 3 times great-grandparents can be a daunting task, especially if you want to include extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins and their spouses). However, the effort and time that you put into this search can often yield results that will surprise you.
I'm fortunate in the fact that my paternal lineage, for the most part, is very well documented due to the fact that many of my ancestors were historical figures. However, finding this took time, effort and collaboration with DNA matches and genealogists. No one in my immediate paternal family had any idea that we descended from royalty and legions of documented historical figures; someone all of that "shine" wore off generations ago - at least in my immediate family.
With the help of DNA testing, I was able to overcome some serious obstacles, such as a few births which occurred out of wedlock. This came as a surprise to me, my cousins and to my father (who at the time was the only surviving member of his immediate family). However, DNA results don't lie and along with a previously unknown cousin and a lot of detective work, we were able to identify his grandfather as my great-grandfather.
A similar situation arose with my great-grandmother (mother of said grandfather). She was the result of what must have initially been an affair between my 2x great-grandmother and great-grandfather. My 2x great-grandmother was pregnant with my great-grandmother when she married another man, only to divorce shortly after my great-grandmother's birth; she then married my great-grandmother's biological father and had several more children. Again, this story never made it down to my father, nor to myself or any of my paternal cousins - it was all "news" when I managed to string together the dates along with several other close DNA matches from that particular branch of the family.
Once I was able to verify the identify of my 2x great-grandfather, a floodgate of information became available as he was from a long-line of distinguished Americans and, before that, Europeans. I was surprised that my roots ran from Canada to the US, and at first I thought that I might be descended from United Empire Loyalists, but I wasn't. In fact I was actually related to many of the original Pilgrim's as well as more than a fair share of Patriots who helped bring about America's independence from British control, so how did my branch of the family end up in Canada instead of the United States like 99.9% of my relatives? This question is not 100% answered - and may never be - but there are some interesting clues and hints that I've discovered. My 4x great-grandfather, Stephen Taylor, was a ship's captain sailing the Great Lakes in the late 1700's and early 1800's. During the outbreak of The War of 1812 between the United States and Canada, he was sailing a ship operating under a British flag (Canada was then a British colony) and the ship was captured by the Americans. Stephen also maintained a home here in Upper Canada, in Brighton, Ontario (which was a major shipping port) and records show his family spent a significant amount of time in Brighton. Stephen, although American by birth, and an American citizen, was taken as a prisoner of war by his fellow countrymen.
I found his record of capture during the war, but I have no idea how long he was held prisoner. After the war, in 1817, my 4x great-grandparents gave birth to my 3x great-grandfather, John Taylor. John was the only one of their children to be born in Canada....but here's the catch - there is no birth record that I can find for John Taylor, and the date given for his birth of 1817 is 3 years AFTER his mother's death. Even stranger, I have several DNA matches to people who have direct ancestors related to my 4x great-grandmother, so if my 3x great-grandfather was born after her death, how did my 4x great-grandmother's DNA make it to me? This particular mystery remains unsolved at this time.
The majority of my well-known ancestors, and all of my living famous distant cousins, are through my 4x great-grandmother's family. The Taylor line seems to have started out of nowhere prior to the Great Migration in the early 1600's and I can find no record of when the first Taylor arrived here in the New World. There were, of course, English settlers in North America prior to the arrival of the Pilgrims, but records are generally pretty good for recording who came here (US and Canada) and when. Was the Taylor surname an assumed name? I may never know, but I will continue to follow the clues should they appear.
By being persistent in my research, and using many different sources for valid information, I have been able to validate that branch of my paternal lineage which has yielded a plethora of information. Through that one branch of the family, I can trace my lineage back over 2,000 years (this is only possible due to the well documented lineage of my noble ancestors). This is also the case on my paternal grandmother's side of the family as that branch has many notable figures in it as well (though not nearly as many) and they were from Scotland, where records are excellent far enough back to be able to get to the 1600's.
With all the discoveries I have found, including DNA matches to distant relatives who have also documented many of these famous family members, it has encouraged me to continue my research even though I have almost 22,000 family members in my tree. Included in that tree are many historically important figures from North America and Europe. I have had a few DNA matches to some of the distant relatives to these famous people, which is encouraging, but I always wish that there were more. One of my DNA matches to a distant paternal cousin took 2 years for us to validate. We both worked tirelessly tracing our shared lineage until one day we discovered a shared celebrity cousin in both our trees. When we worked backwards, we found that our shared great-grandparents were from the late 1600's - 400 years in our past. It was amazing that we both shared a significant amount of DNA to still be a match even though we were 12th cousins. It just goes to show that DNA is an amazing tool for genealogy, although it can take a LOT of work to find the shared relatives.
I have been using DNA as a validation tool for my discoveries for several years now, and although the research can be exhausting, it is definitely worthwhile. I wish that some of my living Royal cousins, or even a few of my very many celebrity cousins would take DNA tests and make the results public, but I can see why they wouldn't do that. It would be nice to validate some of these people as my distant cousins through a concrete DNA match, but I don't anticipate Queen Elizabeth II doing this anytime soon! Still, if one of my famous distant cousins did contact me as a DNA match, it would be great fun sharing all the family history I have accumulated. Maybe one day!