I’ve never had quite the success that Brooke Shields did when she traced a family line back multiple centuries on Who Do You Think You Are? I’ve considered myself lucky just to get to the 19th century with most of my family.
But one of the biggest finds I ever stumbled upon was very similar to what helped Brooke take her family back 500 years – a family tree someone else had worked on. Except in my case, the tree only went back 150 years and contained no royal connections.
The tree itself had been online for about 10 years when I discovered it while trying to learn more about my great-grandfather James. Its details were fantastic, showing me who James was and who his parents, brothers, sisters, and cousins were. The tree led me to family lines in Massachusetts I’d never thought about. It catapulted me back to the 17th century. And it spelled out answers to just about every question I’d ever had and then some.
Maybe that was the problem. This tree was too good to be true. What the tree seemed to be missing was documented fact to back up all of these great assertions.
In the end, that tree gave me a goal – to prove it, either right or wrong. While it took me four years, during which time I misplaced the location and most of the details of that tree, I eventually did find records that documented the facts I was interested in, at least as far as James was concerned. And I had a lot more fun digging up the details myself than I would have just accepting the tree at face value.
We can’t all link ourselves to royalty. I have absolutely no doubt that I will never find a prince or queen in my family line (court jester, maybe). But odds are good that each of us will eventually find at least one line of our own family show up in a family tree posted by someone else.
When you do, be sure you review that family tree carefully. Look at the research behind it and follow the path yourself. If possible, contact the owner of the tree so you can share details and facts. And, if everything works out, you’ll have not only gained information about your family, you’ll also have found a new cousin.
If you didn’t have a chance to catch Brooke Shield’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? last Friday, you can watch it and unaired bonus scenes at http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are. This Friday night, tune-in for the rebroadcast of Sarah Jessica Parker’s search for her connection to pair of big events in American history. You can learn more as well as see the schedule for the remainder of the season of Who Do You Think You Are? here.