Do you love NBC’s genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? as much as I do? The show, sponsored by Ancestry.com, takes some of America’s most beloved celebrities and documents their journeys as they trace their family trees back to the root. It’s always fascinating to see where they end up, and I always come away with an incredible, powerful sense of how connected to the past we all really are, and just how easily forgotten those connections can be.
When I was growing up, my family never really had a sense of where we came from. My friends all knew that their families were Irish or Italian or what have you, but for me the answer was just “Chicago”. My Dad’s great grandparents were German, we suspected that Grandma was probably Irish, and my Mom’s family name is undeniably English… and that was pretty much everything I knew. Would I ever be able to trace my ancestry back any further than turn of the century Chicago? These kinds of questions are precisely what Ancestry.com helps its subscribers to answer. I’m a research junkie at heart, so I claimed my 14 day free trial to find out.
What did I learn in 14 days for free?
- My Dad’s great grandparents in Chicago emigrated from Germany, specifically Bavaria and Saxony. Very cool to find the record of my great-great grandfather’s Atlantic crossing!
- I found my grandfather on a census record, age 4, living just two neighborhoods away from where I live now. I could ride there on my bike.
- My mother’s family detours through nearly every royal family in Europe to William the Conqueror, Charlemagne, and Mark Antony. Yeah, that Mark Antony. And his wife, the one he cheated on with Cleopatra.
Whoa whoa whoa, you say. You can get all of that with a 14 day free trial? Yes, but all of this info comes with a few points that are well worth keeping in mind as you go.
Nearly everyone of European lineage is somehow descended from William the Conqueror.
Historians and genealogists have some interesting theories about why this is true, but the fact is that pretty much everyone on the planet is descended from royalty. So my find is not particularly special. That doesn’t make it any less thrilling when you find the connection, though. And it will impress your aunts and uncles at your next family reunion.
While royal lines are very well documented, less glamorous ancestors are a lot harder to nail down.
That leads to a lot of frustrating dead ends that can be difficult to get past without the sort of serious digging that goes well beyond a two week free trial. But once you find a connection, the whole project kind of takes on some crazy momentum that, if you keep digging and digging and digging, will lead you to Catholic saints, Viking rulers, Russian warlords, Scottish kings and, yes, Julius Caesar’s BFF.
Following hints on Ancestry.com is not a substitute for actual genealogical research.
Professional genealogists will tell you to research connections yourself before committing them to your family tree. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and you don’t want to mistake someone’s wishful thinking for a valid piece of your family tree. I freely admit that I did not do this for every connection, but I will say that Wikipedia was a fantastic quick resource when something seemed fishy or needed clarification. In my case, my tree included an English princess, married off to a Scottish king, who was erroneously attributed to the king’s wife rather than to his mistress. Interestingly, once properly attributed, it was the mistress who led me back to the Roman era.
It’s stunning what you can discover about yourself in just 14 days. I came away with a much deeper sense of my roots, from 21st century Chicago all the way back to the Roman Empire. Amazing.
Who’s lurking in your gene pool? Check out the 14-day free trial at Ancestry.com and let us know who you find! And don’t forget to sign up for Brad’s Daily Alerts to get more tips and deals like this one delivered to your inbox!