read write prompt #58: go ancestral

by Blythe

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.

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12 comments to read write prompt #58: go ancestral

  • Hmm, I know about that site, and I’m still curious about my family’s history as well, because I can track back only to my great-grandparents. Nothing really further than that. However, I highly doubt that I’m or my family’s related to anyone as famous.

    Hmm, I’m going to explore on this. Thanks for the prompt! :)

  • OneWorldTree is as accurate as the people who have submitted information, and there is no restriction on who can submit information, and no one at Ancestry verifies any of it. Kind of like Wikipedia, but without an easy method to correct errors you find..

    It’s very good for providing leads for further research, but the information it provides shouldn’t be assumed to be correct.

    On the other hand – the databases on the main part of Ancestry are indispensible to anyone researching their family history. Birth/marriage/death certificates, immigration records, census records, and a lot more.

    A free website to check out is http://www.familysearch.org and http://labs.familysearch.org Both provide the records of the Mormon church, and they have a lot.

  • I was just discussing the ancestors with my mother the other day, that will make a good poem. Thanks for the prompt.

  • This is an old piece: I’ll see about writing something new for this week’s prompt. But in the meantime: The Picture I’d Like To Have Seen

  • Deb

    Thanks, John, for the additional information and links. It’s good to have a realistic sense of discovery — although poetry can thrive while seeking the unrealistic.

    I’d have been disappointed to find out I am not really related to a famous Irish poet and writer or two.

  • There is also rootsweb. Look around.

    A second-cousin (sharing a common great-grandparents) of mine traced our THRIFT ancestry back to a FRITH in early 1600’s Jamestown, VA. (Some dude who came from London.) Many a FRITH became THRIFT over a few generations, much to the chagrin of Sylvester the Cats.

    Other than that, I don’t know of anything of note.

  • [...] Poem I’m posting unusually early this week for Read Write Poem’s  Ancestors prompt as I’m going away for Christmas and I won’t be near my computer on Christmas [...]

  • I’m posting early this week. A cousin on my father’s side traced my family tree back to the eighteenth century.

    When Granddad Arrested a One-legged Drunk

  • I’ve been tracing my family tree for years, and half of my poems are about my ancestors, or history in general . I’m not sure if I have anything I haven’t posted before, though. I will have to see (way too busy to write anything new before Christmas)

  • I’m an orphan, but I always fantasized about my natural parents — especially my birth mother. There is much pain and insecurity that still abides as a result of being abandoned as an infant.

    I’ve written a number of poems reflecting the entwined motions that result from abandonment.

    I will share one when “Get your poem on” #58 opens.

  • sorry… that’s emotions

  • [...] week’s prompt at Read Write Poem talks ancestory. I think I will dust off a few poems about my family and see how they are [...]

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