Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are...?

There's a new series on NBC called "Who Do You Think You Are?" based on the popular BBC series that has been running since 2004. The premise of the show is to trace the family trees of celebrities. I have always been interested in genealogy, and I would love to trace my family tree. My mother always claimed her family was descended from French barons and baronesses, and my father always used to counter with, "Well, that makes up for the fact that my family is descended from Irish horse thieves." I think for both of them, the truth lies somewhere in between. As with all families, if we shake our family trees, we will shake out a few famous people, and a few infamous.

Last week's episode featured Sarah Jessica Parker. She was amazed to discover that one of her ancestors was Esther Elwell, her tenth great grandmother, who had been arrested for practicing witchcraft during the Salem Witch trials. Esther, along with two other women, had been accused of performing witchcraft on their neighbor, Mary Fitch, causing her death. However, the date of the deposition, November 8th, 1692, happened after the dissolution of the Court of Oyer and Terminer and her case never went to trial. Esther lived to be 82 years old, and she was the last woman to be accused of witchraft in Salem.

How much of our ancestors' DNA do we inherit? I have always felt a very close affinity with Queen Elizabeth the First. When I read about her, and the time in which she lived, I have a very strong feeling of déjà vu. It's almost as if I can remember things from that period of history. And she was a redhead, and there are a large number of redheads in our family. As well as our physical attributes, are our ancestors' memories encoded in their DNA and passed on to us? If so, what memories are we passing on to our descendants? When Sarah Jessica Parker was learning about her ancestors lives, she felt an emotional connection with them. Does the silver thread that connects us remain unbroken throughout the generations? Are we the sum of our ancestors' lives and experiences? Perhaps we are more closely connected to these strangers than we realize.

Who do you think you are?


Country Girl said...

I love this new show, Jo and watched the pilot episode with Sarah Jessica Parker. So very interesting. Can't wait for more!

Jo said...

Kate, isn't it great? Now I am eager to trace my family tree...!

PhilipH said...

We watched quite a few of the BBC series and enjoyed most of them. Some celebs are seemingly more emotional than others - sometimes quite extraordinarily so.

Jeremy Paxman, famous in the UK for his unrelenting interview style when confronting politicians and others, was clearly shaken by some of the details the research uncovered.

At one point, when he discovered that his great-grandma had her "poor relief" revoked because she gave birth to a child before wedlock, Paxman appeared to weep.

Yes, it can be a very revealing programme.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

That show sounds very interesting. Tracing my family tree is a must do for me too. Now to just find the time!!

DJan said...

My brother got me to join the Geni family tree network. I've got such a motley bunch of ancestors I think I could probably pick any one of several branches and find some interesting characters. You do look a little like the Queen, Jo, now that you mention it...

greenpanda said...

Tracing my family tree has something I have always wanted to do, but I wouldnt know where to start................ I need the Who Do You Think You Are team! :P

Jennifer D said...

Jo, I have been watching the show also. I am enjoying it but it am a little miffed that it is basically an Ad. I have spent many years researching my Family tree and has been an enormous help, I just wish the show didn't keep directing us toward their website.
I really enjoyed the Sarah Jessica Parker episode and I thought Emmett Smith was way too dramatic in last friday's episode. I mean was he really that unaware of how slaves were treated? The show is very good at getting across the feeling you get when you uncover your history. I love looking at census papers, such a wealth of info.

I think you should look into your family tree, I signed up for's free trial period many years ago and I never looked back... actually I looked WAY back.
Jo, you will be amazed at how much you will learn in just a day.

I did find the good, bad and ugly in my family tree and every minute was fascinating. My father's family knew very little about their ancestors and I found a great grandma who owned a "speak Easy" in detroit, her husband (my great grandpa) was an orphan from England sent to Canada on an "Orphan Ship" to work on a farm, because his father had drowned his mother in the river Avon in England and then he was hung for his crimes.I even have the name of the hangman. :-( My little orphan Great Grandpa looked like he was straight out of "Oliver", I actually have a photo of him.
A little street urchin.
It is amazing how far my family has come since then.I think we are a sum of our ancestors.

Pretty wild huh? That's just a taste of it... I also have terrific stories of ancestors traveling west to find gold and some of my people were founders of New Amsterdam (New York).

Go for it Jo!
It is a wonderful adventure.

Jennifer D said...

Greenpanda- all you gotta do is sign up on and enter your parents or grand parents names and off you go. Super easy.

SparkleFarkle said...

When it comes to your ancestry, I am also willing to bet "Royalty" would *curtseying* definitely be the ID sign hanging around the neck of your family tree!

I'm not sure where my particular knot would be tangling itself on the Silver Thread... Court jester, perhaps? Kidding aside, this is as close as I get to a "connection": Remembering grade school nun-teachers "zealously" telling religious stories (<-- that is to say, heavy on the Techicolory graghics, sprinkled with a touch or two of Catholic guilt-- lol!), I clearly recall an unusually strong, empathetic vibe coursing through me (as if I could actually feel warm, BIG cat's breath close to me) everytime the tales were told about people being fed to the lions. I also had an uncle named Jerome, whom I admired for being able to get himself out of most any scrape. Plus, GET THIS--> My dad's name is Daniel and he likes to spend time in his den! AND I can sense that same feline breathiness as I write this!

Yeah, I think NBC has a winner on its hands with Who Do You Think You Are? I've always wished a Genealogy/Ancestry-y course would have long ago been made a madatory class in high school.

SparkleFarkle said...

Oops! Not "madatory," mandatory.


I was very fortunate that both sides of my family, designated a 'family historian' years and years ago, so I inherited generations of well-kept journals; blue-prints with family trees and lineage beautifully done using the blue-print method to create the art-work and names.

On my mother's side, the family came to the USA in 1631; on my dad's side, in 1730 - while I have very little researched on any remaining family that didn't come to the USA, those who did come to America (and most of both families decided to come rather than remain in Germany and Ireland) have kept complete written records; taped oral history, and added a myriad of photograph albums and precious family items that demonstrate even more, who they were.

I have one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's many Bibles; he was my grand father's uncle. I have a few of his books that he autographed for my great grandmother as well as letters between Ralph; some of his cousins, and my great grandmother.

I am also related to Louisa Mae Alcott and there's a great deal of history about Emerson and the Alcott family that's not only in my own family diaries, but in history books.

I also used the web to locate even more when I typed the name Van Vranken into the browser and used the name Captain Curry along with the search. Captain Curry had been commissioned to do a complete set of blue-prints for the Van Vrankens who came from both Holland and Germany.

I also found some of the family on both and by simply typing in the full name; the year of birth, and location of the person at the time of birth (if known). Google does a wonderful job of giving a hand...........


Whoops, I wrote:

I have one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's many Bibles; he was my grand father's uncle.

It should have read my grandfather's GREAT uncle.

Also, my dad's side of the family (Rambow) has quite a number of people with the Rambow name on - I've met them via the web-site and now keep in touch via e-mails.

The Rambow information is hard to find in Germany, and if you do, it's all written in German, so you have to be able to read that language to learn much about them.

There are 3 towns in East Germany all called Rambow - that's what makes it even more difficult....

KrippledWarrior said...

I think Sara is a bone head. And if our DNA carries the knowledge of our ancestors. Why do we need to go to school? And why is the learning of lost civilizations gone?

Eddie Bluelights said...

Yes, I love the show Jo. I have been researching my family tree for five years and got back to about 1650. It gets a lot harder after that. I subscribe to Ancestry which is an on line Family Tree provider. So far I have discovered two suicides and a lot of naughty goings on!! Would make you blush - and me!!
I like the programme, Who Do You Think You Are? and my daughter bought me the book on my l;ast birthday - must read it soon!

kenju said...

I grew up thinking I was Irish and English, and after meeting my birth mother, found out that I am Scots and English. My husband has been doing our family geneaology for about 10 years now, so we are enjoying this program immensely. I would love to have mine traced like they do.

My (adoptive)mom was a member of DAR, and had to trace her family for that. She is descended from Captain Cook. It was fun to see his memorials in Hawaii.

L. D. Burgus said...

The PBS one is good to follow also as it really shows people with mixed good and bad history in their family tree. One personality had a family member responsible for driving out and killing a lot of an Indian tribe on the Eastern coast. I think it is amazing how much new info is out there on the web that is new the past five years.

Susan said...

A line from my guy's new song is, "Don't want to hear about your past lives; I'm sure you were a king or a queen." Isn't it the truth? So few of us want to believe that, if there IS reincarnation, we were ordinary.
My dear friend, my former mother in law, treated me to a psychic reading for my birthday one year. We were told that we'd been friends before; she was an herbalist and I was her apprentice. I can believe it.

Pear tree cottage! said...

Jo, now you have touched on a part of our lives that just keeps growing and growing..........first there were just 7 people in my husband’s life that he knew about now there are 1402..............O! Yes growing every week.........and the interesting thing is it is all out there for us all to gather. We have discovered that when Napoleon was placed on the island of St Helena by the British My husbands to be gx5 grand mother was his comforter "my husbands eye brows went up when we read the name and the information on that" lol lol lol

Gosh it is so wonderful to be here visiting again and this is so what I have missed while Rob was ill......your blog as always is a treasure.

Your blog friend Lee-ann

Kathryn said...

A great topic Jo! I have found a relative in florida who has traced my mom's family back to Richard Warren (of the Mayflower), and beyond! I'd like to start documenting all of this officially, for myself and my children. Just what I need - another excuse to spend even more hours at the computer .

Katy said...

I haven't seen the show, and I have to confess I have always been fascinated by the fact that I have zero interest in researching my family tree.

I guess I'm just so sure that my ancestors were commoners. The people who decided not to join the crowd during the French Revolution. The ones who heard Paul Revere shouting his warning during his midnight ride and fussed because of all the noise. I could be wrong of course, but if my parents or grandparents are anyone to go by, I think I'm probably on the right track here

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I, too, think this is a fascinating subject to explore. It's certainly possible that we inherit memories from our ancestors, but I think it's more likely that in such cases as your deep feelings of connection with Queen Elizabeth, your soul was actually a member of her court, or even possibly the Queen herself, in another body. Of course that presupposes reincarnation, which I find more probable than the idea that we only live once. It's possible that your clear memories are those of your former self passed down in your DNA.

Now if you'll excuse me, I would like to check out that website.

Anonymous said...

I used to watch the show in the UK, it was fab... some very interesting finds :0)

Firefly said...

They have that same show here with South African celebs. I would love to have it done for myself. I am very interested in my family tree and has started working on gathering info and photos on my mother's side. Its is really interesting.

Russell said...

Not sure what to think. I guess the odds are that most of us have ancestors who were just regular folks.

Then again, if you believe in reincarnation, we could have actually lived before.

I think in a previous life I was a .... border collie!

Aron said...

Sarah Jessica Parker had such a wonderful reaction to every bit of news, it made it much more interesteing.

By the nature of us all living in the New World, I bet almost everyone has a dramatic story from the past.

It will be interesting to see what other areas of history are explored on this show!

benjibopper said...

I think the CBC does a Canadian version of that show too.

As for me: one side of my family has done a very careful job of tracking the family tree and writing about it. I know the history well. the other side has been pretty neglectful about that stuff, and it's like there's a big hole in me on that side.

Laurie said...

As a genealogy freak, I need to start watching this show. I began tracing my roots about ten years ago, after I became a middle-aged orphan. My immediate family is quite small, but my "ancestral" family is huge and fascinating.

The most amazing thing I discovered is that after I began following my passion of playing old-time fiddle, I discovered two distant cousins who were prominent old-time fiddlers and whose styles I had admired! I'm now working on my husband's tree which is more difficult, as he is second-generation Hungarian, and Eastern European records are hard to come by.

I'd encourage you to start working on your ancestry - even if you do find horse thieves, they'll be interesting horse thieves. ;-) BTW, my mother always said our family was full of said horse thieves...thousands of relatives later, I still haven't found one!

JeannetteLS said...

I'm a mutt. Well-documented mutt. We can trace some ancestors back to the family Bach--one of Johann's brothers. And our namessake was the court artist at The Louvre when it was still the palace. We know because we saw the brochure which touted him as "The best in a period of Mediocrity." Highly affronted we went into the room with the art from the seventeenth century, looked at his work, tipped our heads and went, "Damn. Mediocre's the word."

Our great great (great?) grandfather Dr. John Starkweather was a traveling quack. We are inordinately proud of him. His apothecary supplies, including his FAMOUS elixer are in a museum.

Mayflower people, too. Direct. Oh. In the twenties, a grandfather of some order of "great" ran the apothecary and the still. One guy ran off with his "negro" maid. My great aunts did not care to follow HIM, but we all want to know.

Mostly it was sort of fun to see that musicians and artists and scoundrels abounded. Our tendency toward the arts runs deep on both sides of my family, as does a tendency to drink and tell inordinately long stories.

Hmm. I guess I'll shut up now. Almost. The truth is, I think we all thought of it more as fun, than moving, and a little bit surprising when we realized we WERE descendents of artists and musicians from centuries back. The gene pool is there, as is the gene pool for drinking. And is there a gene for scoundrelhood? Perhaps.

It's fun to think about it all, Jo. thanks

The Bug said...

I've always been convinced that my dad's side of the family has some sort of "color" mixed in - American Indian, or African-American. I would love to look back to see what I could discover about that. I'll bet most of my family were pretty common folk - but I'd like to find out for sure!

Land of shimp said...

My godmother was a genealogist and traced the roots of my dad's family which go back to the ship just after the Mayflower. So, I've actually never had much interest in it myself, but there's a reason.

As a kid, when Orline (yes, that was my godmother's name)-- who was also my great-aunt -- put together the report, sure enough, I'm also descended from one of the Salem Witches, Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged at the age of 72. Part of the reason she was suspect was that she had something like 10 children, all of whom lived....which was considered decidedly funky, and suspect.

I thought that was the coolest thing, until I was in college, and met another girl, also descended from Rebecca Nurse....and this girl was half-Norwegian. You can't imagine two people who were less like each other, it was kind of hilarious. Turns out that with those (something like) ten kids living to adulthood, and going on to be rather prolific in the progeny department themselves? Lots and lots of people are descended from Rebecca Nurse, and I truly, I felt no kinship with the young woman I met, who was a very distant relative of mine.

I think it is neat that people are so interested though, it's one way of studying up on history.

Charles Gramlich said...

I sometimes have very intense dream experiences of the days of swords and blood. BUt then I write about that stuff a lot so I'm guessing it's mostly that.

PinkPanthress said...

I'm not much interested in this kind of stuff, if they research Star & other Famous people's ancestry, I feel like they put together some major BS at times to make them look even more interesting and/or 'cool'.

But for everyday people I love it, After some light research I believe that on my mother's side there might be blood from Lazuri people & ancient Turkic tribesmen & women.
And on my father's side there seem to be german jews & even a tiny bit of scottish people... who knows. ;)

PS.: Love your father's comment on his ancestry!!!

Pauline said...

The latest one with Emmet Smith was heartbreaking. I've been using to try to nail down the connection to our family of a famous Civil War General but so far to no avail. I wish I could get the expert help the stars are getting!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Your blog's new look is very pretty.

I went as far as I could with that website last night and thought I had saved it, but today half was missing. It also insisted on marrying my mother to my father's father with my father as their child. I think it probably only works if you pay them money, or if you're a celebrity.

Nancy said...

Love your new blog look! A new "do"!

I do think we carry some genetic memory. How can we not? I missed this program. I think I'll TIVO it for next week. I have always had an affinity with the Native Americans around the late 1700's. Weird, huh?

Smalltown RN said...

I haven't seen that show but it sounds very interesting...I would love to know my grandparents on my mothers side were from Ireland and my father from Croatia...I am an interesting think that I might have some nobility in my blood would be nice.

By the way I absolutely love your new page and header....very nice...job well done!

Jo said...

Philip, I was amazed at how emotional Sarah Jessica Parker was too, and it was real!

Bonnie, *heh* I think you are the busiest person I know!

Djan, it's crazy, but I have always had a connection to Queen Elizabeth First. Strange, hey?

Stephen, wouldn't that be wonderful? I'm not sure I would want to know everyone, though. *heh*

Jennifer, my Gawd...!!! You have an incredibly interesting family history. Holy doodle...! You should do a post about them. :-)

Sparkle, goodness, the stories that I hear about nuns, they would scare me half to death. When I was little, the story of Daniel and the Lions Den fascinated me. Perhaps you do have a connection!

Diane, you're related to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott? Omigoodness...! That is so interesting! You know, I haven't really done much research into my family, but you have inspired me to do it.

KrippledWarrior, that's an interesting question - why is the learning of lost civilizations gone? I think many of them were conquered by other civilizations who didn't respect their learning. That is a very interesting question.

Eddie, I think I am going to subscribe to It sounds as if everyone who subscribes to it is finding interesting things about their families!

Jo said...

Kenju, I'm not sure what DAR is, but I think it's fabulously interesting that your mom is descended from Captain Cook. I'm going to have to tracy my family more.

L.D. Burgus, we have a show here in Canada called Ancestors in the Attic, and they find a lot of "bad guys" in the family too. Interesting.

Susan, that is amazing that you and your mother-in-law knew each other in a past life. I have met people with whom I have had a connection like that too.

Lee-ann, it SO nice to see you again. I'm glad to see things are going well for you. And your connection to Napoleon is ... very interesting. :-)

Kathryn, a Canadian whose family came over on the Mayflower. Wow!!! I'd like to hear more!

Katy, LOL...! I'm afraid most of my family tree are made up of folks like that as well.

Susan, I am a firm believer in memories being passed down through DNA, and in fact it has been scientifically proven that memories can be stored in DNA. The Elizabethan time must have made an impression on me somehow. Interesting, hey?

Eternally Distracted, yes, I found Sarah Jessica Parker's finds very interesting.

Firefly, with my mother's family coming from South Africa, I have often wondered if it is possible that you and I might be related.

Russell, LOL...! I guess that's why you and Bailey are able to have such wonderful conversations. *heh*

Aron, yes, I think the branches of our family trees hold some very strange and wonderful people, both good and bad. I would love to find someone infamous in my history. :-)

Benji, you have given me an idea. Now is the time to start, for future generations. Thank you!

Laurie, yes, the show has piqued my curiosity. And there is the DNA thing again -- your fiddle playing. I find things like that absolutely fascinating!

Jeanette, goodness! I am not surprised that you have lots of writers, musicians and artists in your family tree. Your very persona is artistic. Another good example of DNA being passed on!

Bug, I think almost all families in North America have at one point had some Native American or African American connection. I find that very intersting.

Alane, can you even imagine being hanged for having 10 children who lived? Omigoodness...! And yes, I would imagine those ten children have lots and lots of descendants. Even in a couple of generations, there would have been descendants of Rebecca Nurse everywhere. That was her sweet revenge. :-)

Charles, well, maybe you write about that stuff because you once lived it. You obviously have a knowledge of it. You're a swashbuckler...! :-)

PinkPanthress, you know, my brother did a little research, and my father's family were actually kicked out of Ireland for being horse thieves -- way back when. *heh*

Pauline, I missed the one with Emmett Smith. I would have loved to have seen that one.

Susan, yes, I think the purpose of the exercise is to hand over big $$$ and then they can find all sorts of intersting things.

Nancy, my new "do" is thanks to your link. :-) And yes, I had a friend who had an affinity for Native Americans, and it turned out she was actually descended from the Cree. Amazing, hey?

Mary Anne, the show is very interesting, and it's on Friday nights. It's amazing the things we find out about ourselves. :-)

Marguerite said...

Since I have traced my family all the way back to the 1500's, in France, I definitely understand who I am.I believe that our DNA is passed on forever and that we are the sum of all of our ancestors, combined. Fortunately, the Catholic Church, here in Cajun Country recorded every birth and death, which made most of the research easy. But, it wasn't until I subscribed to that I was able to find out the rest of the puzzle, revealing some mind blowing finds. Highly recommended and worth every penny. Good luck, Jo!

Anonymous said...

I love genealogy and history, so this is my kind of program! So far, the only episode I've seen is the one with Emmitt Smith. It was so interesting and I don't think Emmitt over-reacted. His research finally took him to Africa. And there he was...standing in the sand on a beach in the beautiful country where his ancestors lived before being caught and sold by slave traders. That got to me!

I've done a lot of genealogy research on my family, but I often get side-tracked by other interesting families. I've been known to spend hours researching people I don't know. Genealogy is just so fascinating!

Carol E. said...

This is such a fascinating topic for me.... I wonder, too, if animals inherit memories of their ancestors, so that they automatically know where to find the best water holes, hunting grounds, and who to be afraid of. I would love to know more about my ancestors, but I want Professor Henry Louis Gates to do it for me.


I really like the new blog format - just so charming. Diane

Paula Slade said...

Fascinating post Jo! I see my face in my family's pictures that are over 100 years old. I do believe we are the sum of of our DNA heritage as well as environment. So, yes, the thread continues but maybe not always "silver" - there can be some tarnish mixed in! :)