So Who Are You, Anyway?

I’ve become completely hooked on the NBC show, Who Do You Think You Are? It’s produced by Lisa Kudrow and chronicles the research and travels of various celebrities as they uncover their family trees. It’s a little on the cheesy side at times, and it’s definitely bringing in some big bucks for official sponsor ancestry.com, but all in all, I think it’s fantastic.

Ever since I can remember I’ve been absolutely obsessed with genealogy. I’ve made a study of it for many years. In true nerd style, I’ve managed to trace back various branches of my own personal family tree as far as they can go. It has taken years, and I’m always uncovering new juicy tidbits that were just waiting, in the dark, to be discovered and brought to light.

I find genealogy fascinating. It isn’t that my various families are any more interesting or fabulous than anyone else’s – believe me, I’ve looked for notoriety, famous ancestors and claims to fame, and there aren’t really any to speak of – it’s just that here, in my lineage, are the secrets to who I am. How I came to be this particular brand of Teri that I am today. I’m a combination of Italian, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, German, Cherokee, Creek and Sioux Indian. In me there are hundreds, nay, thousands of contributors to my bloodline, people who walked all over this world, did all different types of things, were all their own unique people. They all combined over hundreds of years to make me who I am. It thrills me, amazes me, and inspires me.

Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? I can hear it. Like I said, I’m a nerd. I blame my genes.

You can’t imagine how exciting it was when I traced one of my female ancestor’s Irish bloodlines so far back that the surnames became clan names. 1299. That’s the year I got to. Granted, a lot of that work had been done before me, by someone even more diligent and impassioned. But even so, I held my breath the entire time I read that family tree.

It isn’t just me, though. More and more people are becoming interested in tracing their roots. It’s fairly obvious, what with PBS, NBC, and other networks offering programs about the genealogies of famous people, sites like ancestry.com and geni.com becoming more and more popular, and scads of books on the subject selling off the shelves of bookstores. For whatever reason, people want to know where and who they came from. With increasing fervor! I completely relate – if I had the time I’d do nothing but genealogy. I’d spend hours at the computer and in libraries, tracing back my roots, trying variations on names, searching censuses, and meeting with distant relatives. That is how much I love the study of family.

Among the gems of information I’ve discovered about my own family include my several-times-great-grandmother Salina, who was a full blooded Cherokee Indian married into a white southern family. She kept a Native American headdress on her wall as a conversation piece. Then there was Ethelred (what a name, huh?), who was incredibly portly, had a sour look on his face, and discovered gold in them thar hills (he really did). He had a goldmine and rumor has it he struck it rich! My several times great grandfather Wesley ‘Lando’ was a keen fiddle player and a bootlegger who never once drank a drop of his own hooch. On my mother’s side, there’s the great-grandfather named Theodore Roosevelt, and my street urchin great-grandparents who spoke a combination of Italian and Spanish while they worked in the mountains of Colorado as servants to keep food in their mouths as teenagers; then there’s my personal favorite: John and Albritton, father and son, who welcomed a redcoat into their home, got him completely smashed on whiskey, then challenged him to a duel knowing he’d be so drunk he wouldn’t win. They killed him in that duel, and the townspeople hung the corpse from a tree as a lesson to other soldiers not to mess with them – now that is a Revolutionary Story!

Of course, every family has their darkness. Among my ancestors I have slave owners, men who beat their wives, such as my several-times-great-grandfather Jim T., who would line all his children up outside and point a shotgun at them to try and scare them into submission. There are tales of infants dying before their first birthdays, women dying in childbirth, and one of my ancestors fathered ten children with his wife, then disappeared into the civil war and never returned. His widow drew a pension, assuming him dead, but in fact he was in the north, remarried with another eight children. Then there’s the tale of Dollie, my great-great-grandmother, who suffered terribly from post partum depression, formed an addiction to laudanum, and spent the rest of her life in the sanitarium where she died. Sanitarium records show that she was almost released, but the staff at the sanitarium thought she was too good of a kitchen hand to let go. Talk about a tragic story.

I am addicted to it, the search for family. I love reading the tales of people long since gone, and trying to find something of myself and my experiences in them. I can’t imagine having ten children. I can’t imagine being an indentured servant to the Queen of England for passage to America. I can’t imagine living in the hills of Oglethorpe County, Georgia, for five generations. I can’t imagine having siblings with names like Aladdin, Arminta, Sivilia, Missouri, Reddick, Hezekiah, Landrum or Pennsylvania Quaker. And yet, I have ancestors with all those names.

The search for your roots is a rewarding one. And it’s easier than you think. There’s no need to pay astronomical subscription fees to have websites peruse censuses for you or buy book after book to get started. Its as simple as googling names of ancestors you know, joining community boards, and building a family tree to start you off. There are so many free resources out there, and the genealogy community at large is friendly, welcoming and informative. People will go out of their way to give you information to aid you on your quest. We’re all seeking the same end result, after all – to find out who we are.

Happy Hunting!

Published by

Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

17 thoughts on “So Who Are You, Anyway?”

  1. I have to say, this is a really interesting topic, but it also makes me a bit sad. I know I will never be able to trace my ancestors back beyond maybe great-great-grandparents at the farthest, because they came from parts of the world where records like these are not generally kept. Non-European places. Non-white ancestors.

  2. on my dad’s side, my aunt and some other relatives have a pretty steady record. My paternal grandfather’s line (Logsdon) we can trace back to England. There were some civil war era counterfeiters who got a presidential pardon.

    William Logsdon (it’s a family name- my younger brother carries it, too.) came over early on with the Virginia Company (not their first shipments though) as an indentured servant. He married a woman who had been picked up off the coast of Ireland (intended as a white slave) who he paid for in Tobacco after his indentured servitude was up.

    We then intermarried with another family who had come over about that time- the Durbins. I only recently connected the dots to realize a fellow Autistic Self advocate I’m friends with is a distant relative.

    My paternal Grandmother is a Hopkins and can trace back to Stephan Hopkins of the Mayflower. And further than that, I suppose, were she to care to look. I might look, actually, but the info from there must be well researched. She herself actually grew up in a Box car here in rural PA.

    On my mum’s side it’s pretty interesting too. My great grandma’s maiden name was Graham, as in Clan Graham. As in, my ancestors were heavily involved in the First Jacobite Rising. Also somewhere in that family line, We traced back to some folks who used to be peers in England and from there, back to one of the Bastard sons of Edward Longshanks, and then to William the Conquerer. Speaking of whom, I’d like to note that His flag ship’s name was “The Mora”.

    Why Might you ask? Because that’s my Maternal Grand Father’s family name, Mora. My grandfather was born to a poor English woman and a Spanish man. They divorced before they came over from England when my grandfather was 14. On the Mora side, I have distant cousins who are famous classical Guitarists/musicians in Spain. My one aunt traced our specific line back for… well, a long time. Apparently, our line became Catholic during the Inquisition. Before the reconquista, we were Jews of the Sephardic Sort, and had had decent enough lives under moorish rule. This bloodline came over from Italy During the Roman occupation as far as we can tell.

  3. My uncle (mom’s brother) did a lot of research with our genealogy, even looking up my dad’s side (he’s Austrian). That was definitely aided, for better or worse, by the Third Reich, since my grandparents had to provide 200 years back of genealogy, which was easier back there since their families just hung out in the same mountain valleys for hundreds and hundreds of years. My mom’s family just came over from Bavaria in the early/mid-1800s and just kept marrying Germans in Michigan. I’m a huge history buff, so it’s interesting to see what contributes to ‘you’.

  4. I used to secretly make fun of both of my grandmothers for being so in to geneaology, mostly because the endless family reunions were glorified hillbilly festivals. I have recently discovered that I had a great-great-aunt and her husband who traveled on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s. As a film student dedicated to film of the 30s and 40s, this was especially exciting, since it’s likely that they traveled with people who went on to film careers. I’ve already confirmed that they performed at least once on the same bill as George Burns and Gracie Allen. I can’t wait to find more! In a few weeks I’m going to Washington DC for work, and while I’m there I’m going to check out the vaudeville archive at the Library of Congress.

  5. My dad has done a lot of research on both sides of his family. One side were a bunch of criminals from Appalachia and the other side were New England blue-bloods. There was far more weird behavior from the blue-bloods. Faneuil Hall in Boston was named after a relative of mine. My dad’s grandparents lived next door to Rose Kennedy and when he would go visit them as a little boy he would see secret service people running around.Never saw any Kennedy’s, though. My dad’s step-mom had grown up during the Blitz in England, but otherwise I know nothing about her family or background.

    I’ve been desperate to find out more about my mom’s family.They’ve been in the same area for four-hundred years and there is definitely stuff out there. I just haven’t gotten ahold of it. Plus knowing of the racism that runs in her family I’m a bit worried I might find some things I really won’t like.

  6. I’m obsessed with genealogy, too. I’m kind of a history nerd anyway, so this just puts a more personal spin on it. I have lines that I can trace back several generations, and some I can’t trace back any further than my great-grandparents. My dad’s family is a total mystery other than they’re from Naples. I only know his parents’ names and one great-grandparent. My mom’s side is an entirely different story with some lines going several generations back. The thing I’ve noticed most is that nearly everything I’ve been told checks out. The most surprising thing I’ve learned is that some of my ancestors were sephardic jews. (I just thought we were lapsed catholics.)

  7. I am also fascinated by geanology and can trace my family back to the 1700s on both my mom and dad’s side thanks to my mom’s efforts.

    It annoys me so much that Mr. Mona has no desire to know about his ancestors, I always ask him questions about his grandparents and great grandparents and he knows so little! Admittedly, he’s from Mexico and record keeping (especially regarding his indigenous ancestors) is pretty non existant.

    He says his grandmother knows a lot; she’s in her 90s living in rural Vera Cruz. One of these days I plan on going down there and recording her oral history for the sake of my (future) children.

    You’ve inspired me, maybe I’ll take that trip sooner, rather than later.

  8. I’m afraid that if I go into the history of my family I will find out that 1. we are not actually related to Edgar Allan Poe and 2. my great-grandmother was not actually the foster child for Bonnie before she infamously met Clyde (before Bonnie had run off with Clyde, she and her husband had considered adopting my great-grandmother).

    I like our crazy stories.

    Though, someone did connect my family line to a super-great uncle with a particularly heinous witch trial back in Salem, Mass. That one is totally legit (the line, not the alleged witchcraft…). So, I guess even the real stories can be crazy.

  9. I am obsessed with genealogy as well. After my maternal grandmother died and we went through her stuff we uncovered a bunch of new information. Unfortunately my mom’s side of is really difficult to do searches on. It seems that nobody kept records of names or places or even ethnicity. Plus there are a lot of secrets. We just found out that one of my great aunts gave her daughter up for adoption. That daughter just found our family and has been working on a family tree so hopefully we can get access to that soon.

    1. That happens a lot. I’ve come across a lot of roadblocks too. My Mom’s side is italian and has mafia connections both here and in Italy…plus both my great grandparents were orphans (street urchins) so its been hard as hell to find out info. My native american ancestors are very hard to research as well. You’ll be plugging along great and suddenly there are dead ends.

  10. I am an adopted child so this would be beyond mind-blowing for me, considering I know only my birth parents’ names. I would kind of like for someone to do one of those dossiers they toss around in the movies and let me see it. I don’t actual need to have a relationship with them. Just curious. Plus I have no medical history! Gotta love the closed adoptions of the 1960’s (not).

    1. My dad was adopted as an infant in the late fifties, and we have zero information about his birth parents or medical history. He’s been trying to track down any info he can, but there’s nothing so far. I think that’s probably why I’ve always found geneology fascinating, because I have no access to half of mine. My mom’s family, however, can trace their roots back pretty far, to England and Germany. I absolutely love finding out as much as I can about my heritage, and I really enjoy hearing others’ stories. I’ve only seen one episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (the one with Vanessa Williams), but I thought it was wonderful.

      1. It is on Season 2 now, debuting with the one about Vanessa Williams. If you can, try to track down season 1. All of them were fascinating, most notably the ones about Lisa Kudrow and her ancestors from Russia, Sarah Jessica Parker’s ties to Salem and the witch trials, and Brooke Shields’ ties to french and italian nobility. Very awesome.

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