Friday, June 27, 2008


So, I am currently amusing myself by trying to find familial connections. That's another thing I do when I'm unsuccessfully chipping away at a brick wall for an ancestor, is try to figure out which of my friends or what celebrities might be my "cousins."

I use the term "cousin" loosely. Technically, it's correct, but after awhile (like your third or fourth cousins) it kind of loses its meaning. Every now and then MSNBC or will do a puff piece on how Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and George Bush and Madonna and Brad Pitt are all related to each other. Related is a strong word. Yes, they probably all belong to the same tree. In fact, I theoretically belong to that tree as well - my colonial English ancestry is the gateway to royal European ancestry (none of those links of which I've verified, but at least one or two that have been researched enough by others to make me believe there is some truth in those connections). In many cases, a colonial family connection is enough to be able to claim a lot of these celebrities as "cousins," but find anyone who can trace their Western European ancestry back far enough and your "cousins" will be endless. I can't find the exact page I read it, but it's something like everybody of European descent today is a descendent of Charlemagne. But at what point does it become silly to claim that familial connection?

On my own tree, I have Brad Pitt listed as a 20th cousin; George W. Bush as a 15th cousin; Princes William and Harry as 15th cousins; that goes back to the late 1300s. The late Christopher Reeve looks to be an 11th cousin through my colonial Pearsall ancestors, but even those common "grandparents" are from the mid-1500s. If I actually claim Brad Pitt as a cousin, then I pretty much have to claim everybody and their mother (and grandmother and great-grandmother) as a cousin. Go far enough back and we're all family. It's kind of humbling and strange and exciting, these family connections, isn't it? It kind of gives new meaning to the idea of the human family, that we're all brothers and sisters.

Anyway, we'll leave the philosophizing to another day. For me, if I start looking for famous cousins, I can connect myself to most of them, which is why I've set a limit on how far back that connection can be before I decide not to include them on my family tree (this is my personal, "for fun" family tree, by the way, not the one I share with others as a serious researcher)...I think I've set that limit at about somewhere between 1400-1500. I made an exception for Brad. If you can claim him as a relation, no matter how far back that connection, it's just silly not to. :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Founding families love only each other

That is, of course, an exaggeration. In the beginning, when starting new communities and new lives, they had only each other to intermarry with, and if the next generations stay local enough, everybody has some kind of connection to each other.

As a lifelong Long Islander with several connections to the Long Island founding families, I've always noticed it locally - when I read a name in the newspaper, when I look at the street names in my town and the towns around me. But it's not a local phenomenon.

For lack of any other genealogical avenues to currently explore, I've been focusing on a branch of my family, the Spragues, who ended up in Canada, concentrated mostly in southern Ontario, though spreading to Manitoba and British Columbia (and Minnesota, Washington, and California from there, as well). Anyway, up Canada's way, they seem to have become one of the founding families of many of the early communities there and in tracing those lines, the same names keep reappearing - Morden, Roblin, Wrightmeyer, German. They're all part of the same big happy Ontario family.

On Long Island, you had Raynors marrying Smiths marrying Carmans marrying Seamans marrying Pearsalls in all sorts of wacky permutations till you get to the fun part when it becomes quite obvious that someone has a connection to several founding families because every single one of their names is a founding family name. If you randomly pick just two or three of those names to link together in any order, I can guarantee you'd find there was at least one person (but probably more) with that name.

You had local celebrity Raynor Rock Smith, whose mother's last name was Raynor and who spawned about 4 generations of namesakes. You had Bedell Raynor, Jed Rocksmith Raynor, Judson Fowler Raynor, Carman Pearsall Smith, George Duryea Smith, Irving Seaman Smith, James Sprague Smith, Julian Denton Smith, Lila Carman Denton, Bergen Benjamin Carman, Hiram Bedell Pearsall, Richard Smith Bedell, etc. The list is probably endless, but these are just a few examples from the branches of my own Long Island family tree.

In genealogy searches, if you have a feel for some of the names associated with the early settlement of an area, then you'll know that if you find someone with one or two or three of those names, you've found someone who is probably connected to multiple early families.