Family ties revealed

What drew me to genealogy was the idea that my family could have been part of a major historical event. When you learn about history in school, the different events – whether it be the Holocaust, the French Revolution, or the English Civil War – always seem to be so far removed from that moment. You never expect to learn that you might have personal ties to that event.

For example, I was fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic; I swear that had nothing to do with the massive crush my 13-year-old self had on Leonardo DiCaprio. When my father took me to see the movie Titanic, and we had dinner afterwards, I never expected to learn that my great-grandmother, Margaret Farrell, had tickets to travel on the ill-fated ship and, by a stroke of pure luck, missed her train and, subsequently, the ship. In that moment, I had a personal connection to a major historical event. The Titanic is merely one example. As I continued to learn about my family’s ancestry, I discovered more connections, including the Irish potato famine; the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria; and, more recently, Prohibition.

The Mayflower is no different. Though my family may not have this particular claim-to-fame, such connections are hidden in plain sight. A few years ago, I was assisting an old family friend with his genealogy. Our families have been tied together for years – our sisters were friends, his mother drove me to pre-school, and now my niece and his granddaughter are in the same class. When I was working with him, I never expected to find that his family had entered this country on the Mayflower. That is exactly what I discovered, though.

[Significant] historical connections continued to arise, from the Salem witch trials to the founding of the American Red Cross to the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.

Instantly, this man that I have known all my life was like royalty, because his family had been among the first settlers in America. From there, significant historical connections continued to arise, from the Salem witch trials to the founding of the American Red Cross to the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Additionally, other friends are tied to the Nanking Massacre and my stepmother can proudly say that her family played a significant role in the founding of Park City, Utah.

In my experience, discoveries such as these tend to jump start an interest in genealogy. When one discovers that an ancestor was on the front lines of history, one becomes eager to find out more, to see what other world-changing event their family effected. The Mayflower is just one example. What connections will you uncover?

Maureen Carey

About Maureen Carey

A native of San Francisco, Maureen Carey has a B.A. in European History from Regis University and a M.A. in American History from the University of Colorado. She is passionate about genealogy and has enjoyed tracing her own ancestry to colonial America. Her many research interests include America, Ireland, and Italy. In her free time, Maureen loves to read, travel, and spend time with her family, friends, and pets.

23 thoughts on “Family ties revealed

  1. Maureen – I have Mayflower, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, invention of the reaper ancestors in my background. I suspect that is why I always found American history more interesting than world history.
    As far as the Andrea Doria is concerned, my connection is that when the Stockholm came into New York afterwards, I went down to the dock to see the bow close up. And I too am fascinated with the Titanic (I have four of the movies) along with strength of material calculations for the steel and many articles in a 3-ring binder.

  2. Once I was saturated with birth, marriage and death records, I branched out into the historical events my ancestors lived through. Then I started on genealogy road trips. It’s been rewarding to learn American history through their lives and visit the places they lived.

    I’m most particularly grateful to the more recent historians starting in the 60s who wanted to learn about the more “common” people — the men, women and children who did the work of creating this nation. Both the good and the bad of its creation.

  3. I am proud to say that I have a Mayflower passenger, founders of Windsor and Hartford, Ct. Several of my lines go back into ancient England as well as some of the kings of Europe.
    Among all those is my father’s Finnish ancestry which I have just scratched the surface.on,.so far I am up to over 4000 ancestors ID’ed so far on ancestry.com

  4. My grandmother was born the day the Titanic hit the iceberg and was fascinated by the Titanic her entire life.

  5. Like you,Maureen,my graduate degree is in history, so genealogy and history have almost always meshed for me. And yes!! who and how were ancestors involved, or, the reverse, what does their story tell us about what was going on. And, sadly, no Mayflower ancestors. On that subject we generally say , “Missed the Mayflower; came on the Fortune.”

  6. Currently, I’m digging into my ancient Massachusetts and Connecticut lines, have found many towns where they were first English settlers of the Great Migration 1620-1640. In those early lines and others, I have early settlers and founders of Norwalk, Connecticut; Newark, New Jersey; Herkimer, New York; later, towns in southwest Wisconsin. I’ve really enjoyed taking trips to some of these places and am looking to do more of that. This is all much more meaningful learning of history than what I recall from school!

  7. No Mayflower ancestor. As I’d tell a verified descendant friend, my earliest English had the good sense to wait a few years (1634) until basic services had been established before sailing from Weymouth Eng to Mass Bay, settling on Marblehead Neck! many years later, a dau-in-law was involved (as a character witness) in the Salem Witch Trials

    However, my most famous connection to American history was many-times great uncle and Quaker pacifist Herman Husband whom the British wanted to hang for being one of the instigators of the Battle of Alamance in NC. He escaped to the wilderness of SW Pennsylvania, where he was visited by Gen. Washington. After it was safe to emerge, he laid out the town of Somerset. The home he built there still existed in 2005. He was a prolific writer and a member of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Diana Gabaldon included him as a minor character in two of her Outlander books. In 1894, at the end of his life he was wrongly accused of being an instigator of the Whiskey Rebellion and taken to jail in Philly, 400 miles away. Upon release 6 months later he was so anxious to return to his famiky in Somerset that he began walking home despite his wife and others already on their way to get him. Poor conditions in the jail had ruined his health, so he only got as far as a tavern 6 miles from it, where his wife et al found hid been put to bed in one of its rooms. Sadly, he died there within days after their arrival.

    I have other ancestors deemed historically noteworthy, but none as colorful and bookended by two major events to our separation from British rule.

  8. I became fascinated by the Great Halifax Explosion of 1917 (the largest man-made explosion in history before Hiroshima) while researching my family in Nova Scotia.
    My Uncle Isaac and his family owned a store a block from the water front (they lived above). Most of the family was killed by the blast. I’ve been to see the spot where the store was and explored other sites in Halifax where other family members lived at the time. I was able to uncover oral histories by other family members and quite a few primary-source documents in the archives at Dalhousie University. I would never have taken such an interest in this event were it not for my genealogy work!

  9. As a young child I had trouble remembering dates…and therefore I avoided history classes as much as I could. Of course, NOW I am kicking myself for that!!!
    My research has led me to the Berkeley, Washington, Pope and Taylor families in colonial Virginia and their ancestors connect my family to every king and queen of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales and to some royalty in western Europe.
    If correct…I go back to Rollo, the Viking…and his grandson William the Conqueror and Charlemagne…Aoife and Strongbow …I would never in a thousand years have thought that I was remotely related to anyone who had money, power or fame… goes to show that you never know what is your family history unless you take the time to dig around.

    1. Your post gives me a chance to ask this question: Is it true that all Europeans are descended from exactly the same people so that basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne.

      1. I would say so. I have a close friend who is primarily of Spanish and Native-American descent, and she is descended from Charlemagne.

  10. Elizabeth,
    Hello! I’m not an expert in the genealogy of the royal houses, but it seems that they married innumerable times and had many outside of marriage relationships. A DNA expert on the YouTube “Answers in Genesis” says that if ONE person goes back about 21-25 generations…that they will have more ancestors than there were people alive in the world at THAT time…which supports the genealogists who say that we are all between 20th and 50th cousins at the most.
    If you watch the series on Answers in Genesis…it makes perfect sense that many people share common DNA ancestry.
    Best wishes!

  11. Thank you for your work. In doing my family history with many upstate New York ancestors, I found that some of my late husbands upstate New York lines dissected with mine. If he knew we were related a few gens back, he would have had a good laugh. Also, our 2 children are related in more ways than one!!
    Ref: to the comment that if we all traced back enough gens, most of us would be related in one way or another. My now husband who is 99.6% Ashkenazi Jew would not be related to me at all….ok, so who was the other .4%? his grandfather married an Irish lady!

  12. Elizabeth,
    The Answers in Genesis YouTube videos might be found under Ken Ham. He is the Australian man who has built the Creation Museum and the replica of Noah’s Ark near Florence, Kentucky.
    He is working with a genetic expert who had a series of lectures and questions about DNA and what it shows about family ties and where all of the DNA groups ORIGINALLY came from back in time.
    BTW…my 7th great grandfather John Figg’s first wife was an “Irish Lady” too! Two of John Figg’s sons…one by the Irish Lady and one by 2nd wife Elizabeth Mitchell …married sisters Elizabeth and Mary Taylor…descendants of martyr Rowland Taylor…. and a son and daughter of these two couples married and are my 5th great grandparents.
    I have several of these events on both sides of my ancestral lines… I am still trying to figure out how that affects my DNA matches… as I even have a case of incest at my gg grandfather’s parents! Yikes!!!
    All the best,
    Karen

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