Who's Your Daddy?

This post isn’t about my dad.  Or his dad.  It’s about his dad’s dad’s dad.  And the great-great-great-great grandmas that I didn’t know.  And my Russian roots.  Yep, I’ve been bitten by the ancestry search bug.  The genealogy obsession.  The “where did we come from and when did we get here” fascination?  The curiosity and eagerness to discover someone famous (or infamous) in my family tree.  The “let’s see if we can find any records from way back when” fixation.

No ghosts in the attic.  I didn’t suddenly wake up one day and think:  “Are the stories true that my great-grandparents were first cousins” and “did my grandmothers’ families really live in feuding villages in Russia?”  I actually didn’t give my past much thought because my grandparents and their contemporaries are all gone, having taken the history and stories with them.  Although I did sometimes feel regret that none of us thought to document, record, preserve, and cherish.

Cousin It[t].  The family tree that I’m building really took root five years ago with a distant cousin that I didn’t know even existed.  He was avidly working on his family tree and reached out to my mom and aunt, neither of whom he had ever met, to fill in the pieces.  And this cousin (who I can now tell you is my third cousin once removed on my maternal grandmother’s side), after many questions and tidbits emailed back and forth, finally provided my mom with a huge tree, which my mom shared with me, which I glanced at then filed away somewhere.  Forgotten for half a decade.

Vice President who?  My husband, however, has been interested in his past for quite a while.  Maybe that’s due to family lore about some famous relatives in his mother’s tree, two of whom have born out, the third who has been debunked as only a person who coincidentally shared a rather common name.  A cousin did the work and shared the basic facts.  My husband was intrigued.  But not enough to take action.  Then his brother started researching the paternal side of the clan and just recently my husband got his hands on the documentation.  And he was off and running researching, ready to see what he himself could uncover.

As seen on TV.  Then throw media into the mix.  My husband and I got sucked into the drama of famous people learning interesting historically facts as they trace back their own families on “Who Do You Think You Are?”  A show that relies heavily on (and is probably connected in some way to) Ancestry.com, a genealogy website.

A tree grows in Kansas.  Which brings us to last month when my husband decided to join that site, after debating the cost thinking about it first for quite a while.  I didn’t pay much attention.  Other than to consider that since I’m part of his tree, our trees converge.  Or is it “diverge.”  Which meant that I could build out from what he’d started and take the tree in my direction.  If I was so inclined.  And, suddenly I was.  Because, coincidentally, my younger brother had begun his own ancestry research as part of a school project for my young nephew.  Which meant that I didn’t need to recreate the wheel tree, just spend hours and hours and hours copying and digesting it.

And hours have been spent.  Mind boggling, vision blurring, head-ache inducing, magnifying-glass wielding, conflicting information filled hours.  As I copy facts.  As I get confused by ancestors with the same name and by ancestors with variations of the same name.  As I get distracted trying to make sense of conflicting and often illegible census records.  As I get caught up in the few stories to be told and few pictures to be found.  As I wait for documents to be mailed from distant government bureaucracies.  As I am stumped by my inability to find information online in the information age.

Daddy’s girl.  Which all brings me back to my dad.  Who is on my mind because he died 25 years ago this week.  Who was adopted as a toddler.  Who never searched for any information about his biological parents because he considered his adoptive parents his “real” parents.  Could we, decades later, with no records and no family still living to ask for details, find out more?  Could we possibly add another branch to the tree?

So many questions, so many relatives, so little patience:(

Have you researched your ancestors?  Any famous relatives?  Or skeletons in the closet?




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41 responses to “Who's Your Daddy?

  1. I suspect that tracing one’s family tree can be very addictive. My dad started looking into ours (when his own father passed away). I’m afraid I’m not as interested as I should be (or at all!) although perhaps that will change.

    Sorry about your dad – 25yrs is a long time to go without one!


  2. Miz

    Ive never done this.
    this has been on my to done 🙂 list for so long, too.

    (oh and how much do I adore you referenced A TREE GROWS UN BROOKLYN!!)

  3. I think it is a wonderful thing to do if you have the time and patience. My grandmother traced hers (and mine I guess) back to the 1200’s in England. Very interesting.

    • Very cool! I think it might be easier with England than a country like Russia. Seems to be more online resources and, of course, anything you find is in… English:)

  4. Ewa

    SInce I was born in Poland, my family records are pretty easy to search and trace way back. What I am missing though and blame my family for it, is that the family history is all but gone. Nobody seemed to care to keep the stories alive, and now it is almost impossible for me to recreate some of them, even those that are not that old. When I go back, ask, prode, they don’t seem to understand why it is so important to keep those stories alive. Maybe it is because they, still living there, feel like they are a continuation of an ongoing saga. I, being displaced, feel I need to reconnect.

  5. I had a great aunt that was into genealogy years ago – long before the internet made it easier. So for one line it goes way back (Chidsey’s in the 1600s) and there are tens of thousands of descendants in the US related to me through that. One line they gave some very spotty evidence that we were descended from the the kings of England. I think not. The evidence against is stronger.

    However my dad says he is descended from William Clark (aka Lewis and Clark) in a line of 6 or 7 William Clarks. So a straight paternal line. William Clark is really not an easy name to research. There are millions of them. I would think the easiest way to confirm or deny this would be a blood test if you could find another direct paternal line from him. None of the online sources that I’ve seen say William Clark’s second son (also William Clark) had children or was married.

    So who knows? I claim the Clark story is true but the royal family story is false. And the well research Chidsey line would stand up to any scrutiny. It is fun, but I’ve never personally researched anything.

    • I’d be just as happy, I think, to have someone do all the work for me:) Although I did email this distant cousin to ask where he got some of his information and about some conflicting names/relationships. He actually hired a researcher in Russia to help!

  6. This is so fascinating! We just recently found out that my grandma’s father was a Japanese soldier even though her mother was still married to her Taiwanese husband. SCANDALOUS. I would LOVE to track my roots too.

    I had no idea you had RUSSIAN roots. SO COOL.

    Hope you have a lovely week. I’m sorry to hear about your dad.

  7. You clearly have more viable brain cells left than I do! I find it all so interesting, but have to motivation to research. Is there still time to get famous so that show will do all the work for me?
    Can’t wait to hear what you find out!

    • We just watched an episode the other day and I was very envious of the celebrity, in this instance Reba McEntire, having someone go through what must have been hours and hours and hours worth of old records on her behalf. So, I agree with you:)

  8. Jan

    Sue just got us started on ancestry.com. It really can be addicting and also a very connecting experience with older family members. My Dad knows so much about my mother’s side of the family! There is supposed to be strong Cherokee blood on both sides of my father’s family, and the census does show some living on a reservation but lists everyone as “White”. He warned me that the family tried to hide their Native American roots. Confusing. The most surprising thing is that at least one side of my family was here by the mid 1600’s and was Swiss, not German. Who knew?

    • Fun! And those census records can be conflicting and confusing. My husband found his family surname misspelled in one. Mine is further complicated in that several ancestors started going by more Americanized names at some time after emigrating. Did you know that they only release census records 70 years after the census? I just learned that.

  9. Karen – first HUGS! Mt dad has been gone a lot of years – not as long as yours but the time does not matter – it still hurts!

    Actually, I LOVE THAT SHOW! We watch it too! My hubby is now doing research on his family. I have a relative that started this but stopped. I have not gotten into it yet. The big prob here is most of the people that know stuff are now gone.. 😦

    Thx for sharing & HUGS again!

    • Yes, it makes it harder when the people aren’t around to share what they know. Sure wish I’d thought of this decades ago! Oh, how we get wiser with age:)

  10. My husband works on both of ours in fits and starts. He is doing it right this very second in fact. He gets obsessed. I like to tease him about being more interested in the dead relatives than the living. He says he likes them more. He is some sort of connection with Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Franklin Pierce, Barbara (Pierce) Bush, The founder of Trescott, Maine and a lot of the settlers of the Mass. Bay Colony. Apparently I am of mongrel stock. Lots of rebels in the civil war and Pocahontis. I just sit around hoping my ancestors did not imprison any of his because I would never hear the end of it. My dad’s father ditched his mom before he was born and my dad’s mom died when he was young so getting information on his side of the family has been a hunt. My husband cares more than I do. I had a jailbird, he had kissing (and – ahem – more cousins). Don’t think I do not tease him about that. It certainly explains a few things.

    How goes work?

    • Wow – he’s connected! And sounds like your families have been in the States since before it was the States! Very cool.

      Work goes well. I was just thinking I probably should post about it sometime.

      • His family was better connected but mine were more badass. OK, no that is a lie. His were also pretty crazy brave.

        I look forward to your work post. The first few weeks are tiring when you start ANY new job. I hope you love it as much as they undoubtedly love you.

  11. My mom is a geneology freak!!!! She loves it and although I haven’t gotten into it yet, maybe one of these days. Not sure if you know but our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) is huge into researching your ancestry. There are huge Libraries in Salt Lake just for geneology work.

  12. My roots are too varied for me to muster the energy to start. One of my great-grandmothers was married 4 times, so that’s a whole lot of halvesies out there. I do know I have French (Richert and Chapel), Irish (Brady and Conn), Scottish (McKibben), English (Lee), and 3 or 4 Native American tribes. My cousin documented the McKibben line way back, but I’ve never read it. Nice to have it there if I ever get curious. 🙂

    • One thing my brother suggested was that I ignore all the cousins and their descendants and instead just go backwards to the older and older ancestors. If that makes sense. But this distant cousin got a lot of cousins on the tree and I’m very sequential and anal in thinking so it’s hard not to spend time adding them to mine. But, I did stop that for now:) What if I came across someone I know!? How cool would that be?!

  13. My father’s side goes way back to William Penn. Lore has it that the first of my family came over with him. I have several cousins who have devoted the better part of their adult lives to finding out more about our ancestors. Me, I am just not so interested. I like what they share and read some of it, but it is just not my passion.

    Interesting about your father being adopted. We have two adopted kids. Sometimes when they were ill as kids I would wonder about their bio-family. I still do especially what their familial health challenges are/were. We will never know though. Overall, I am okay with that.

    • Family lore has it that my dad’s biological parents died in a car accident. He was adopted when he was two. His parents didn’t adopt any others. My grandmother used to say that she didn’t think she could love another as much and we used to point out how she had enough love to go around for her 3 grandkids:)

      I think there is one great-aunt still living and that my brothers and I should ask her if she can shed any light on the adoption story while she’s still around to ask. I think she’s in her mid-90s and I haven’t seen her in decades. Odd coincidence is my brother, in his online research, found a descendant of hers online and connected and that led to him discovering her husband (my great-uncle by marriage) on facebook. So he sent a friend request and then the great-uncle died the next day:(

  14. Ooh. This is an interesting post. You could have all kinds of interesting people in your family, Karen! I suspect as I get older I will look into this more and more. The only thing I know for sure is that my great-grandmother was 100% Cherokee Indian. Other than that, I’m part of a great big melting pot.

  15. That’d be really cool if you did find something out about your father’s biological family!

    On my side unfortunately I can’t do much, my parents came here from the middle east and when I asked parent names and stuff my mom could barely tell me her mom and dad’s name along with her sister’s name! Her mom died when she was born, her dad died when she was 2, her and her sister were adopted and her sister committed suicide at 16 years old (my mom was 10).

    Then on my dad’s side he has no clue, I am not even sure what my grandma’s name is! I’ve only met her like 3 times in my life (she lives in the middle east).

    On the other hand, on my husband’s side, they’ve got their tree all done up, traced back decades ago, and the original family name is Welch. According to his family anyone with the last name Welch is related to them lol.

    • That’s sad:( One of my grandmothers actually came over herself from Russia as a young girl and didn’t like to talk about it. We think it is because one of her siblings died on the trip. I do remember he telling us though that she and a brother somehow lied about their ages because it was cheaper for twins!

  16. Karen, I haven’t taken the time to research this myself, but my aunt has traced that side of the family back to Poland for several generations. It’s a bit of a sad story, as my grandfather came in the 1920’s and escaped Hitler but the rest of his family didn’t. On my dad’s side, they came over from Russia in the 1880’a and ended up in South Carolina in the 1930’s. No one famous yet, though my little brother, who took the family deli business and started franchising successfully 12 years ago, was recognized in entrepreneur magazine last year. 🙂

  17. Cool post. Grandparents on both did extensive genealogical research all of which went to my Dad. He traced both sides even further back. I seem to have inherited all of it (several large plastic bins-worth). I joined ancestry.com last summer and had lots of fun tooling around with it. Sure is a lot easier doing research on the computer, but the old-fashioned way of travelling and tramping through graveyards does have its appeal! On my mom’s side there was a family that landed on Long Island in the 1600s and a town there bears their name (wish they’d kept the real estate!). We also have the little girl who wrote to Lincoln suggesting he grow a beard (Grace Beddell) and one of the founders of Memphis who is said to have married a quadroon (very no-no in the 1800s). I love all the family pix my Dad accumulated. Family is precious and this is one way to remember.

    • My husband wants to visit some of the graveyards in Virginia for his family sometime when we are “closer.” You have some great stories! You are so lucky to have all that information.

  18. I haven’t researched anything, yet. But I know my grandmother has, and I hope to step-in there 🙂 It’s really interesting!

  19. So far I haven’t had a desire to do much digging, but have heard some interesting stories over the years, especially from my father in regards to our ancestors. I know that the Harper brothers (of publishing fame) were my father’s mother’s uncles and my grandmother was a NYC socialite in the in the early 1900s…

  20. I googled my paternal grandfather, who I never knew, and discovered that the children of one of his sisters had published a lineage online that goes back to 1465 in Scotland.

    I started doing all of the Ancestry.com research last fall – generally, when I couldn’t sleep! We’ve got a box of letters from my maternal grandmother’s side that I need to scan and digest before they fall apart so they can become part of the research.

    The coolest thing I’ve discovered so far is that one branch that settled in Massachusetts in the 1630s actually went back & forth, England to Mass, Mass to England, several times. I always imagined the journey being so difficult that people made it one way & stayed.

    My husband and I have always joked about having similar heritage, so I’ve been relieved that so far, no branches of the trees have crossed. 🙂 So far … HE has a very cool woman in his lineage who was a well-known healing woman during the American Revolution.

    I’ve learned that if I wanted to, I could apply for the DAR. Not sure that’s a priority for me, but interesting to know.

    I watched the Reba show, too. Check out the show they do on PBS, Finding Your Roots. Our local station is going to show 2 episodes this Monday night.

  21. I wish you hadn’t written this. Really. ‘Cause now I have to get involved to see if my gram’s “he’s related to us” claims are true. *Sigh* ’cause I can’t stand not knowing, now. It is all your fault.

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