Friday, September 11, 2009

Family Ties

Just so you don't think that jewelry and beading is my only "obsession," I recently revived an old interest. Several years ago, I had worked on tracing my family tree, building on work that my father's cousin had done before she passed away. It was fairly easy to do on my father's side of the family; my great-grandfather had been the brewmaster of the Stroh brewery in Detroit. He was followed in the same position by his son (my Great-Uncle Herman) and grandson (my dad's cousin Herman). So the family was fairly well-known and well-documented in Detroit. I was able to trace it back to Germany on my father's father's side and a couple of generations on my father's mother's side. Interesting stuff. But I got away from it and hadn't done anything more until I was contacted by a previously unknown distant cousin on my father's mother's side who was looking for some information. We traded the info we had and were both pleased to "meet" a new "cousin." But the exchange got me thinking about the whole family tree thing again. I revived my subscription and got to work. I discovered that other people had done more work on my father's family, so I could build on what they did. But my mother's side? A very different story -- and the place where things got very interesting!

Someone had traced my mother's father's family back several generations to the 1690s in Germany (oh, yes, I'm completely German through three of my four grandparents). But my mother's mother? Well, a little on my grandmother's father's side, but absolutely nothing on her mother's side. I didn't even know her mother's maiden name. She was just listed as "Mattie May." Well, as happens sometimes, I became obsessed with finding out this woman's name! After much digging and some rather intricate internet searches, I found it. Her maiden name was Mattie May Estabrook. Success, right? Well, actually, that was just the beginning.

I added the name Mattie May Estabrook to my tree on -- and it went insane!! Leaves popping out. Branches extending. Names appearing. Links to other family trees jumping out at me. I began to think, "What the? Why on earth is there all this interest in what is [to me] a regular farm family from Illinois?" Well, after I'd gone back several generations, I started to get some idea. My grandmother had always said that her family was Scots-Irish and that they were descended from Highland Clans. Well, sure enough, going back down several of the branches, I came across good Highland Scots names like Finlay. Yep, a good Highland Clan, even if it was one of the smaller ones. But I kept going back, and other Highland names starting appearing -- Douglas and Stuart! Ummmmm, yeah. Those were the kings of Scotland!! But then, I came across something even more amazing.

Here, I have to backtrack a little. When I was in junior high or high school (back when dinosaurs walked the earth), I read a book that I just loved -- one that ignited my interest in British history. It was called "Katherine," and it was an historical novel about Katherine deRoet. She had been the long-time mistress of John Plantagent of Gaunt, a younger son of King Edward III. (Katherine was a very strong and independent woman, and she became kind of a personal heroine of mine.) They had four illegitimate children together. John of Gaunt recognized all of them and gave them the last name of Beaufort, after one of his many landholdings.

Well, as I was going back in the family tree (in about the 1300s), I came across the name Joan Beaufort who had married the head of the Douglas Clan. Beaufort? Beaufort? Nah, couldn't be! So I kept going. Joan's father was John Beaufort. And his parents? Yep, John of Gaunt and Katherine deRoet! Yep, I'm royalty! (There will be bowing, please.) Okay, illegitimate royalty, but royalty nonetheless. Technically, I'm in line for the British throne, but most of Europe and the U.S. would have to die first. But still, it's there. Heh.

Having found this, I had to keep going. Oh, yeah. I'm a direct descendant of people like William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Edward the Confessor, James I of Scotland, and a whole host of other people. In tracing other branches, I found that I'm also related to Martin Luther (I'm a direct descendant of his brother). As a good Lutheran, I was thrilled. I think I have a straight path into heaven now! LOL.

Oh, yeah, I was proud. But, ummmm, in every family, there's another side. I'm also descended from King John of England. Ever see a Robin Hood movie? Remember evil Prince John? Yeah, that's the guy. My great-great-great-whatever grandfather. I'm also descended from people like Ethelred the Unready, Fulk the Rude, and (my personal favorite) Alfonso the Slobberer. Yep, that's a real guy with his own Wikipedia entry. Apparently, he would have fits of rage so severe that he would foam at the mouth. Lovely.

Ahhhhh, but then, the other night, I came across the "best" family member of all. I had pretty much covered my grandmother's mother's mother's side and decided to move over to her mother's father's side. (That's where I found Martin Luther and some guy who came over on the Mayflower -- and promptly died. Hey, we were Pilgrims -- just not very hardy Pilgrims. Didn't even make it to the first Thanksgiving.) As I was tracing back, I came across one family name in particular. I'm descended from several generations of this particular family in New England before and after the American Revolution and back into England. The family had lived in Massachusetts for some time; my branch split off and moved to Rhode Island (and later Vermont), but I noticed that another branch remained in Massachusetts. This family name and the Massachusetts connection really stuck in my head, and I became suspicious of a possible relationship with a pretty well-known person. So I went back to the Massachusetts branch right where we split off (in the early 1700s) and began to trace forward. After several generations, I found the end of that branch and was thrilled (?) to find that it ended at a famous distant cousin of mine.

Oh, the family? Yeah, it was the Bordens. And my distant cousin? Lizzie Borden!! Okay, I think Lizzie Borden trumps royalty in any family tree. I now have a picture of Lizzie up in my office (and on this blog -- see above). On the one in my office, I printed, "I'll go all Lizzie on your ass."

So the lesson is? Be prepared for anything if you look into your family history. For every William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great, and Martin Luther, there's a Prince John, Alfonso the Slobberer, and Lizzie Borden!