I decided to do a little experiment a while back. Out of sheer curiosity, I signed up for a trial run at ancestry.com. Their commercials got the best of me, I admit it. I was not really expecting to find anyone famous or semi-famous (or even locally gossiped about) in my lineage, but I was curious. I did know that there are some tremendously impressive people in my family (both impressively wonderful and impressively strange) and I wanted to know what the site might come up with.
Ancestry.com has a sort of master family tree, which they call One World Tree. So as you enter information about your family, if the info matches up with their One World Tree, it grafts you into it, and can tell you your family history — or whatever it knows of it. You can also find more information about your ancestors from the family trees of other individuals on the site.
I have no idea how accurate the information is, but I do know quite a bit of my family’s history on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family, and it did align with their One World Tree, which gave me some faith in their information. I was completely shocked to find out how many well-known people it said I am (distantly) related to, though not all the surprises were pleasant.
Ancestry.com told me my closest famous relatives are the Wright brothers — fourth cousins four times removed. Georgia O’Keeffe was next, followed by Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper (no wonder half my family has the innate ability to paint — I missed that gene when the handouts were done, though). Along those lines, Johannes Vermeer of Girl with a Pearl Earring fame is my second cousin — 38 times removed. Nothing cringe-worthy yet.
But then begins the string of subpar presidents, and it starts with a bang: I am related to Richard Nixon three times over. Also on my list: Andrew Johnson, Teddy Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, and as if that weren’t enough, I am 10th cousin to one George H. W. Bush, which means I am apparently (possibly) also related to our current Mr. President.
There are the writers — Louisa May Alcott and Aldous Huxley and the old-timey actors, including my father’s favorite actor of all time, Jimmy Stewart. And to counteract my link with W, Katherine Hepburn is also my 10th cousin once removed.
There are others — but enough about me, what about you? What do you know of your family history? As poets we often delve into the neuroses of our nuclear families, but what about our ancestors? What can they tell us about ourselves? If you don’t know much, you can try out a trial membership at ancestry.com for 14 days. The site does require that you give them credit card info, though they won’t charge the card until the 14 days are up, and you can cancel at any time. Maybe you want to explore the geographical area that part of your family originated from, or a specific piece of family lore handed down through generations. Or you may want to invent an ancestry of your own, or explore the meaning and importance of family lineage.