Posted by Ancestry Team on December 11, 2018 in Entertainment, Who Do You Think You Are?

In Who Do You Think You Are?, Josh Duhamel discovered that his 12x great-grandfather, Thomas Norton, held prominent status in 16thcentury England, and was an influential figure in the war between Protestantism and Catholicism at the time. In this episode, Josh found answers to questions that many Americans ask about their own family tree: do I come from ancestors of great wealth or nobility? How can I find out? Fortunately, building your knowledge about class and pedigrees can help you find the answers.

In the search for noble heritage, you will likely find one of your ancestors belonging to the gentry class first. Gentry families belonged to the lower half of the British noble class, and were entitled to a “coat of arms” which was registered in the College of Arms. That registration included a “family tree” or pedigree, provided by the family. Josh Duhamel visited the College of Arms and discovered the registration of his ancestor, Thomas Norton. As the episode mentioned, Thomas Norton was referenced on the Norton tree as “Esq.” meaning “esquire,” which was the second lowest level of the gentry, just ahead of “gentleman.”

In the illustration below, Thomas Norton’s son, Robert Norton, was listed as “now living, a[nn]o 1634.” This indicates that he was the one who registered this pedigree, and it lists all seven of his children:

The birth order of the five sons is given with numbers. Matching birth records were found for all the children of Robert and Anne except Elizabeth. The third son, Thomas, was born in 1609, making him eligible to be the man of that name who immigrated to America, and therefore Josh Duhamel’s 10x great-grandfather.

Fortunately, you don’t have to visit the College of Arms in London (like Josh Duhamel did) to search for your ancestors’ pedigrees. Rather, volumes for each British county were published many years ago, and are available in many genealogical libraries and also online. Be cautious, however; the early generations on such pedigrees are often fanciful and full of errors, sometimes deliberate. Sometimes the pedigrees don’t provide any dates, places may be unclear and not all children might be listed. Also, most pedigrees only cover from about four to six generations and are based heavily on family records and recollections.

Still, these volumes of pedigrees are helpful aids. Since these volumes have been in print for 100 to 150 years, they have been heavily studied and used by earlier genealogists. Genealogical articles and publications identify and interpret many of these historic pedigrees. Such was the case with Josh Duhamel’s Norton family; an article in The American Genealogist(vol. 16) explored a branch of this Norton family and alerted current researchers to the gentry class status of this family. This helped in proving that Thomas Norton, Esq. was indeed Josh’s 12x great-grandfather, and the story of Norton’s dark deeds against England’s Catholic population were subsequently revealed.

Do you have noble or gentry ancestors? Check out your family tree and discover your connections to class and nobility today.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists:

  • Make careful use of quality, published genealogical accounts when dealing with colonial ancestors and their English origins. An article in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register(vol. 53) helped trace the American Norton family back to the Connecticut settler.
  • Document published genealogies from contemporary records. Early English pedigrees will include recent generations who should be in parish registers.
  • Learn more about the other people on the old English pedigrees, as they may also be family members.
  • Y-DNA research can provide significant information and clues for the origins of colonial immigrants in Enland. DNA never “proves” an immigrant’s origin, but for Josh Duhamel DNA helped distinguished those Norton family groups who were not related to him.

Watch Josh Duhamel’s full journey, download the TLC GO app or watch on Binge full episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? on


  1. peggy

    I wish the marketing of Ancestry didn’t rely so heavily on fanciful dreams of being related to nobility and wealth! In this article, no PROOF or records have been given to positively connect Josh to the person in the illustration in the 1500’s. “making him eligible to be the man of that name who immigrated to America, and therefore Josh Duhamel’s 10x great-grandfather.” Eligible does NOT mean Proved!! I think should focus on its roots of diligent record research and PROVING our lines, not these hopeful, imaginitive, insinuated dreams. That’s great for marketing and making $$$ but no good for truth. (If, in the show, you came up with actual records and factual proof, great, but I wish they’d been included here!)

  2. Joyce

    I’m glad you posted this record. It saved me from having to watch the show again. I am a descendant of Norton’s from Sharpenhoe also-and was trying to figure out if the Thomas Norton on the show was my 9th great uncle–by this chart he is not as “my”

    Thomas Norton is this fellow.

    Birth 1582 • Sharpenhoe, Bedfordshire, England
    Death 16 MAY 1648 • Guilford, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

    had parents of
    William Norton


    Dionisia Cholmeley


    It is through Dionisia that I am a distant relation to Princess Diana…according to a TAG story I read some time back.

    By posting his genealogy chart, you saved me from having to watch the show again, and pause it to try to get crucial info.

    Interesting show for me-to gain insight about what was going on back then and also the Norton family…these Norton’s may be related in some way to mine given they are from the same area at the same time in England.

    It was the first time one of your shows has touched on a family I have in my lines–so was probably more interesting to me than to others.

    • Hi Joyce!

      My sister’s biological mother descends from Thomas NORTON and Alice CRANMER, but I’m not sure if it’s your line, or the Thomas Norton mentioned in the Joshua Duhamel episode. I’d love to correspond to find out more on your line! If you’re interested, my email is michelle @ Hope you have a great day!

  3. Cyndye

    Wow…lucky they did your family. I got excited about Hillary Duff, only to crash in disappointment that they did not do the Duff line. Might have kicked a dent in my brick wall.

  4. Karen von Allmen

    I have traced one branch of my family to nobility in Switzerland, sadly they blew it all and wound up goat herders before emigrating to the U.S. I do wish that Ancestry could get more Swiss records. What always strikes me about this show is how sadly lacking our general knowledge of history is. He looked confused over who Elizabeth I was.

    • Julia

      Hi Karen,
      I have taken a number of DNA tests and have discovered a Swiss Alleman 2nd great grandfather. I have very few known ancestors and am wondering if by chance you are on Ancestry or any other sites? Would you be willing to share any information?

  5. Robyn jenkins

    I saw this eisode last night, and aside from being a fan of Josh Duhamel, I love love this show and have had two family trees done by cousins, and found relatives here in the New Haven area that I never knew I had. What caught my attention, however, was the 10x great grandfather, Thomas Norton, having died in New Haven, (Guilford) Connecticut. I live in New Haven, Connecticut (East Haven, to be exact) New Haven is just across the Quinnipiac Rover, about 5 minutes away, and am curious if it was noted what brought him so far away to our little town?! It would be fascinating to find out.

  6. Jeff Record

    I’m pretty sure these lines, those of Josh Duhamel, are proven out somewhere down the line. I don’t see Ancestry being foolish enough to promulgate a fictitious ancestry for Mr. Duhamel. For one thing, they’d utterly lose credibility if they did – and no doubt all that $$$ one thinks they might earn of the program. Kudos to Mr. Duhamel. I too, am a descendant of the Rackmaster.
    Much peace –

    • Tracy Tomaselli

      If you are a descendant of Thomas “Rackmaster” can you please tell me how Thomas “Rackmaster” links to Thomas Norton who died in Guilford, CT (d.1648). I live in Guilford, am a genealogist, historian and also a direct descenant of Thomas Norton. And the town of Guilford history books show the Thomas Norton (of Guilford, CT) was the son of William Norton and Dionesia Cholmeley (spelling variations on her name) and that William Norton was the son of Richard Norton and Margery Wingate). Thank you.

  7. JoAnne Gebhard Middaugh

    I like the UK and the Australian versions better. They typically include more than one ancestor and have details about each one. Sometimes, they are able to include ancestors from both parents. The fact is we have more commercials. The UK and AU versions have more content by over ten minutes or more. Once the commercials are taken out on YouTube, we can see how long we actually spend watching commercials vs watching the UK/AU episodes. Unfortunately, in the American version the stories suffer. This erosion of actual content has been happening for decades and is still going on but people don’t often notice how truncated the actual programs have become over a long period of time. Sigh.

  8. Hi, I descend from Joseph Loomis and Mary White from Braintree Co., Essex, England. My connection has been confirmed by DNA and paper trail. After watching the Josh Duhamel episode I went to work on a Loomis connection that was presented in that episode. Here is a break down of the connection that aired on that episode:

    Thomas Norton
    Mary (Norton) Rockwell
    Mary (Rockwell) Loomis
    Mary (Loomis) Bliss
    Solomon Bliss
    Martha (AKA Patty) Bliss- 12 May 1766 (Massachusetts) – 17 April 1817 (???)
    Joseph Weeks
    Diantha (Weeks) Perry
    Florence Adda (Perry) Baker
    Clifford Mark Baker
    Vergil Delores (Baker) Duhamel
    Larry David Duhamel
    Joshua David Duhamel

    When I got to my Martha (AKA Patty) Bliss – Born, 12 May 1766 (Massachusetts) – Died, 17 April 1817 (???) I hit a brick wall, I can’t find any facts on a marriage to a Weeks or children being born to Weeks. I also could not find where she died or where she is buried? I’m wonder how the connection to my Martha (AKA Patty) Bliss was made?

    I decided to dig further and here is what I came up with:

    Polly (Bliss) Weeks (Married to: Shiverick Weeks)- 10 May 1766 (New York???) – 17 April 1818 (???)
    Joseph Weeks
    Diantha (Weeks) Perry
    Florence Adda (Perry) Baker
    Clifford Mark Baker
    Vergil Delores (Baker) Duhamel
    Larry David Duhamel
    Joshua David Duhamel

    My question would be is my Martha (AKA Patty) Bliss the same person as Polly (Bliss) Weeks (Married to: Shiverick Weeks)? If Martha was born in Massachusetts and Polly was born in New York, it’s a no brainer, but I have no proof that Polly was born in New York and Polly generally is a nickname used for Mary. If i’m, right Josh Duhamel is not related to Thomas Norton. Is there anybody who can clear this up or is there a place I can Go to find the facts the experts used to verify their findings? I searched Ancestry until my eyes hurt, with no luck!

    Here is a link to my family website , it will take you directly to Martha (AKA Patty) Bliss, and help would be appreciated!

    Leslie Kyle

  9. Tracy Tomaselli

    I just watched this show and am confused as to how they linked Thomas “Rackmaster” to Thomas Norton who died in Guilford, CT (d.1648). I live in Guilford, am a genealogist, historian and also a direct descenant of Thomas Norton. The town of Guilford history books show the Thomas Norton (of Guilford, CT) was the son of William Norton and Dionesia Cholmeley (spelling variations on her name) and that William Norton was the son of Richard Norton and Margery Wingate). While Thomas “Rackmaster” may have been a relative of Thomas (d. 1648 in Guilford, CT), if it is an error in the show to have Josh repeatedly state that Thomas “Rackmaster” is his “12th great grandfather”, then it should be corrected (and shame on them if they did this just to “sensationalize” the episode. If the there is evidence (in England) that proves this lineage (and therefore, makes the history that is in Guilford, CT erroneous), then that history should be corrected. If anyone has the records to prove the lineage between Thomas “Rackmaster” and Thomas “of Guilford”, please post. Thank you.

  10. Fairy Diane Bosley

    Enjoyed the comments on Thomas Norton. I am interested in finding out the names of Mayflower passengers and also those on ships that came to US from England or Holland

  11. Randy M Fessenden

    It’s like this” my D,N,A. It’s gene’s & cromazone’s are quite ” the rarest¿? in more ways …….~·<·~=÷×+-¬·~·¬-*·~>©

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