It’s All in the Genes: One Man Discovers Seven Famous Relatives

Mike Harper
Mike Harper on the PBS Genealogy Road Show in a photo by Craig Bailey

Television programs like “Who Do  You Think You Are?” feature famous people discovering notable ancestors.

What we don’t often hear about is everyday people who connect their origins to ancestors who were famous or played a key part in history.

However, one “average” man from Boston is a little more well-known now after he found himself related to SEVEN people who changed the world in one way or another.

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An Average Background, Though There Was This Family Legend…

Harper had often felt inconsequential growing up in a poor family. He let his hardships shape him for the better and went on to serve others who did not have much by working as the Executive Director of Boston’s Salvation Army.

Despite all of his good work, he still felt something was missing. He wanted to know more beyond the family legend that he had ties to John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Though this potential piece of his family’s past did make him feel more significant, he needed to go further. Little did Harper know all of the famous figures he can now call his family after his discoveries on the Genealogy Roadshow. Let’s look at his 7 famous ancestors.

1. 6th cousin twice removed: Tennessee Williams
The American writer of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie” won the Pulitzer Prize and is considered by many one of the best playwrights of the 20th century.

Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams, via Library of Congress

2. 8th cousin three times removed: Humphrey Bogart
An Academy-Award winning actor who starred in films like “Casablanca,” “African Queen,” and “The Big Sleep.”

3. 8th cousin twice removed: Alan Shepard
A celebrated astronaut, Shepard was the first American in space, the fifth man to walk on the moon, and the commander of Apollo 14. 

Apollo 14, Alan B. Shepard Jr. on Lunar surface. (NASA)
Apollo 14, Alan B. Shepard Jr. on Lunar surface. (NASA)

4. 11th cousin twice removed: Amelia Earhart
A pilot and the first woman to fly her plane solo across the Atlantic. On a flight to Howland Island, her plane went missing and was never found. The legacy and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart remain a major part of American lore.

Amelia Earhart circa 1928 (via Wikimedia Commons)

5. 13th cousin once removed: Josh Taylor
In a weird turn of events, the host of “Genealogy Roadshow,” who presented Harper with all of this information, is also one of his distant relatives.

6. 11th great-grandfathers: John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley
Lo and behold, the very person who made Harper feel part of something greater, John Winthrop, is, in fact, part of his family tree. Harper is also related to Thomas Dudley, who was eventually related by marriage to John Winthrop. These two settlers of the Boston Massachusetts Colony helped shape the United States into what it is today.

Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop
Portrait of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop (via Wikimedia Commons)

7. 10th great-aunt: Anne Bradstreet
America’s first published female poet/writer, she was the daughter of Thomas Dudley and one of the early writers who set the tone of literature in this new land.

Could Your DNA Could Hold Connections to Famous Relatives?

Not everyone may have so many major figures in their family tree. But you might still be surprised by your ancestors’ achievements.

Ancestry’s huge collection of records can tell you more about your forebears. And using AncestryDNA, you can learn more about your background.

With a quick DNA test, you could find that deep connection of being made up of someone (or “someones”) larger than yourself. And who knows, some of your ancestors might be famous too.


– Shanna Yehlen

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