Tethered branches

The other day, while rolling about in a school bus through the streets of our fair town, my co-worker – a vociferous and practical-minded young woman we’ll call Cathy – chided me, saying, “Why that’s just impossible! You think you are related to everyone!” Well, I have to admit, I stammered a bit at this, and wasn’t quite sure what to say. Cathy’s no-nonsense attitude made what I wanted to extol, an overly simplified explanation of “We are all possibly related to each other – it’s just a matter of proving how,” feel a bit too dumb in the moment. It wasn’t even a matter of me (stupidly) explaining to Cathy that there is always going to be some form of a relationship from one person to the next, be it by blood or marriage, and that whatever relationship there might be can remain, well, simply undiscovered. No, like many folks, for Cathy any such ‘unknown relationships’ are impossible to understand and generally a waste of time to try and figure out. For many, such discoveries reek of a silly false bravado, and are more whimsy than fact. Her reaction caused me to wonder, though: What if Cathy is right? Was I kidding myself in my efforts to discover possible genealogical relationships wherever I might find them? (Dang, so much for my hope of establishing my kinship to Willy Wonka or 007…)

You see, all of this came about the other day when I accidentally discovered that one of the students in our care and I share a great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. I know this is no big deal, but like a fool I hadn’t done the genealogically prudent thing and kept it to myself. (Note to self: Remember the “ice cream stares” that come when discussing genealogy with many of the general public.) Rather, on a particularly ordinary day, while transporting our very remarkable students, I’d shared this (and other similar discoveries) with my co-worker(s). I’d made this discovery (that our student was in fact a cousin of mine) in the usual way, serendipitously, with a DNA match of my own to a family by the name of Mood, and from there followed through using that great genealogical method of going one step beyond…[1]

There in “the beyond,” and perhaps bored with too much of “ye olde pandemic life,” I began to “study-out” my connections to the Mood family and attempted to fill in the blanks. As all of you here know, it’s soooooo easy to get a bit “lost in the blanks” with one thing leading to another. To make a long story short, suffice it to say that one of the Moods married a Tucker, and, with a relative-or-two along the way, I found one of those Mood-Tucker folks buried in a local historic cemetery near our fine town. While the name of Tucker is quite common, a local interment of a Mood-Tucker caused me to take note. Remembering that Cathy and I take care of a student, one Mr. Tucker, this seemed a bit (yes, wait for it) serendipitous, and intrigued me enough to check into it further. A look at several local obituaries revealed that the said “Mood-Tucker” buried in that local cemetery was indeed the great-grandfather of my student. From there our ancestor in common, one George Clevenger, happened along.[2] (Hence, a hitherto unknown seventh cousin kinship was born…)

From there our ancestor in common, one George Clevenger, happened along.

I know you get it. After all, you guys “do” this stuff too. It’s just not always easy finding folks who believe us. I realize that all of “this” isn’t perfect or perfected. I know we don’t always get a clean-cut paper trail, or the good fortune of finding a DNA match that lines up with a vital record out of Walla Walla, and then links us to a FindAGrave memorial that leads us to a probate record, and is then mentioned in a published genealogy, or, better, in a well-researched periodical like Mayflower Descendant.

No, most of the time it comes from spending way too much time on familysearch.org with their kinda funky relationship finder, a place which honestly can resemble a bad remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers[3] and become a host cocoon for all those “copy-and-paste” relationships that link all of us to both Eleanor of Aquitaine and “Joe down the street.” However, as you guys know, once in a while it isn’t a matter of the old “copy and paste” being simply wrong or just wishful thinking. Sometimes we get lucky; sometimes “we” actually do get it right.

Take “Eva” for instance. Normally, I wouldn’t have paid much attention to Eva. “The step-mother of my step-mother,” Eva’s place in my family tree can best be described as resembling an “honorable mention” only – no blue ribbons here please – and not a lot of focus or attention gets paid to the extremities of Eva’s pedigree on those grafted branches. Now, I don’t have anything against old Eva. By all accounts she looks to have been a good person, and a lady who lived a long and fulfilling life. Yet, recently curious about some of what I like to call those “ancillary support lines,” those auxiliary lines that connect to my own, I wondered if there wasn’t any more of a “familial” or biological connection between myself and my step-parents than readily meets the eye. This led me back to Eva, and I was curious if Stiefmutter Eva was more than than just some legal Lady Tremaine[4] to my own Queen Grimhilde.[5] However, Eva, like the rest of us, has proven that she has her own ancestral tales to tell…

I mean, who would have thought that “my father’s second wife’s father” would marry my mother’s seventh cousin? Ewwww…. Weren’t empires felled for such things? It seemed all too unlikely that such a relationship (however copy-and-pasted that relationship might be) should prove to be true. My first thought was, “Here we go again, another silly hook-up through Edward III or via the great-grandmother of Barnabas Collins … right? ” (Please, no offense to “Cousin Eddie” or to any of my blood ties back in old Collinsport.[6]) It just didn’t seem “normal” for there to be any biological (or a further legal) tie to Eva. I felt much like my co-worker “Cathy” in wanting to exclaim, “Why that’s just impossible! You think you are related to everyone!” Yet at least in this instance, that certainly was proving to be the case, as a quick check of Eva’s lineage found a very real and verifiable common ancestor, one David Sage of Middletown, Connecticut,[7] making my step-mother’s step-mother my maternal cousin. (Yikes – Is my mother rolling over in her grave yet?[8]) Hey, what can I say, Cathy? Gee, it’s a small world after all…[9]

Sadly, and last of all, there’s Heidi. Heidi was a childhood friend of mine who passed away unexpectedly about three years ago. While growing up, Heidi and I shared great secrets, even going so far as to send Morse Code flashlight messages from our facing bedroom windows. Heidi was Nancy Drew to my Frank Hardy, and though we grew up together, the course of life naturally took us in different directions. Nevertheless, news of Heidi’s passing hit me hard, and when a call came in from Heidi’s sister that their mother had recently passed as well, all those mysteries Heidi and I had “solved” together seemed to come to the forefront once again.

What can I say? My genealogical inclinations took hold. I had to know if I didn’t share a deeper connection to Heidi, beyond the 1960s and our episodic interests in “the ghosts” of Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene.[10] My problem was, I knew it was going to be nearly impossible to find such a connection. I knew that with regard to Heidi, I wouldn’t turn up any shared great-grandfathers, as I had with my student and the Mood-Tucker clan. I knew, too, that it would be unlikely that I would ever find anything traceable in “the mix.” Yes, Heidi would never appear in anyone’s great published work of genealogy, and might very likely go completely unmentioned in any old unsourced family tree. You see, my friend Heidi was adopted.

Well, that doesn’t work for me. If the Mood-Tucker clan down the street, or the “step-mother of my stepmother” can “do it,” then Heidi can do it, too. But how? You probably already know that I’m not going to be able to write to you here about some amazing DNA discovery linking Heidi to me (at least not yet…). Heck, about the only thing actually linking us together are the forgotten memories of our childhood and a street directory for Contra Costa County, California for 1965 – a directory in which neither one of us would have been old enough to be listed. So much for the paper trail and the random chromosome theory. However, I wondered if there might be another way, so I took that “one step beyond” to look at Heidi’s adopted parents.

Okay, so you’ve already figured out where I’m going with this, but someday you too may want to see if that student, step-mother, or childhood friend of yours isn’t connected to you by some means other than random chance. (Though I get that my co-worker “Cathy” may well argue this point.) I have to tell you that my methodology here hasn’t been perfect when it comes to finding my connection to Heidi, and that yes, it’s all a bit sentimental and rusty, and (yes, co-worker “Cathy”) maybe even a bit whimsical. True enough, too, there are plenty of verifications still pending in “ye olde admixture,” as they say. However, imagine my joy, indeed my utter glee, when I discovered that a family tie appears to exist between my own mother and Heidi’s (adopted) one.[11]

[Imagine] my joy, indeed my utter glee when I discovered that a family tie appears to exist between my own mother and Heidi’s (adopted) one.

Finally, I had that connection I was looking for. Finally, I could make sense of my own Manifest Destiny, if you will. Finally, I could find a way (albeit an unorthodox one) to add Heidi into my own family tree. Yes, I know the relationship I’ve found here has only the remotest shadings of a “ninth cousin one removed” – but say what you will, now my friend has a place in a family tree, and I hope that wherever she may be, she’s happy to have a place to call her own.

So I’ve written this in favor of and advocacy for those random familial relationships we might all have, and in peaceful protest of all those who may object to our focus upon them. I’m writing about this to remember the separation of loved ones caused by this incessant pandemic, and perhaps simply because it’s getting close to Thanksgiving. The truth is that we all have so many varied connections for which to be grateful.

I hope that you won’t take any of what I’ve written as an advocacy for any sort of “copy-and-paste” method of genealogy. I’m surely enough of an acolyte here to know better than that. Yet in this day and age when we are all so very divided with so many differing opinions and shifting reasons, I hope you will find joy in celebrating those many genealogical connections we do have in common, be they connections you readily know of, or the hidden ones, or the ones you just might recall on the school bus, found among the tethered branches.

Notes

[1] “One Step Beyond” is a play on words and refers to the ABC television series that aired 1959-61.

[2] George Clevenger (1714-1809) married Deliverance Horner.

[3] Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a 1956 American science horror film produced by Walter Wanger.

[4] Lady Tremaine, the step-mother in Cinderella.

[5] Queen Grimhilde, the step-mother in Sleeping Beauty.

[6] “Collinsport” refers to a fictional town in Maine, home of the vampire Barnabas Collins from the ABC television series Dark Shadows that aired 1966-71.

[7] My grandmother was Alta (Sage) (Lee) Dixon (1909-2004).

[8] Yvonne Kay (Lee) (Record) Guerry (1935-2018).

[9] “Gee, it’s a small world after all…” refers to “It’s a Small World” the song created by Richard Sherman for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and subsequently used at Disney attractions.

[10] Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene were the names for the group of ghost writers who penned the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery books.

[11] In a shared descent from Joseph Clarke (1642-1726) and Bethia Hubbard (1646-1707).

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

22 thoughts on “Tethered branches

  1. While wrestling with the idea that we may all be related to each other, remember the blood differences between the Rh Negatives and the Rh Positives. While the Rh Positives seem to be related to other animal life on earth, the Rh Negatives are not.

    That, of course raises the next question of ‘where did the Rh Negatives come from?’ And therein lies the best question of all.

  2. Laughing at the “ice cream stares” – I’ve found that a good friend at work is actually an 8th cousin, another one who is about the same, and that my father and step-father are approximately 9th cousins. When I make the connections, I feel like I’ve found a needle in a haystack, but jut get the “and… so what?” response from others. The most shocking one I found was that my parents are 6th cousins; people’s ears perk up at that and I hear “well, that explains a lot!”

  3. Jeff,
    Great post – it’s a very small world sometimes! And with family lines littering the greater Bay Area from Santa Rosa to Salinas – particularly Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties – we could share some more distant cousins than just John Howland!

  4. I loved your article…..yes it is hard to explain to ‘regular’ folks why we family history nuts head off into tree branches….but find those bits of links in the tree is so rewarding. I found my 5th great grandfathers daughter married the son of my husbands 5th great grand father….so are we related? Since neither the son or daughter was in our direct lines…some would say not since we don’t share a common ancestor…but the link is in both our tree.

  5. Any relation to Alice Tucker (b 24 Mar 1721 Amesbury MA, dau of Benjamin & Alice Davis Tucker)) who married Zebulon Farren on 9 Jul 1747, died probably 1767 in Sandown NH?

  6. I always enjoy your posts, they are funny and inspiring. While helping my daughter-in-law with her family tree, I found that she was related to my son ( ninth cousin once removed). This makes my grandchildren twins, brother and sister, and tenth cousins once removed. How is that for “silly” relationships.

  7. Ah, Jeff. You must have had The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook (1960 or 1961). I picked it up the 1st week it was out. For it’s time and as a YA, it was very informative. There was a revised edition sometime in the 1970s. After that, it was full-on Holmes for me.

    2nd, thanks always for your “latest” career in education for special needs kids. They all have stories of their own, don’t they.

    3rd, no chance of figuring out Heidi’s birth parents? Did she even know? Or the sister?

    4th, could you tighten up the narrative a bit? Asides can be fun and informative [footnotes inside a paragraph], but, ya know, an aside to an aside is too many sides to reconnoiter.

    5th, always thanks for sharing.

    1. Robert, in answer to your questions: – No, I just devoured as many of their mysteries as I could back in the day, but sadly no Detective Handbook. 🙁

      2nd – “my” special needs kids are AMAZING people – no thanks necessary (but thank-you!)

      3rd – She knew, but by then Heidi and I had lost touch a bit from being on opposite sides of the country (and life) and it was before the days of modern sleuthing into such things. (And during the days when such things were still kept under wraps…)

      4th – Ah yes, my “aside dishes?” Oh my friend I very much promise to try, but sadly there are many good reasons why an old man is still riding that school bus!!!

      All the best, and many thanks for tolerating my eclectic ways!!!!

      JR

  8. You have a lot of curiosity! I’m struggling enough with nine generations of my husband’s family to even think of researching a childhood friend or co-worker. My cap’s off to you for your detective work. On your other subject, relationships, I think you and my husband might be umpteenth cousins. His ancestors were first settlers of Middletown, CT too and there are Hubbard and Sage “ancillaries” on his Whitmore side. Also, his maternal grandmother is a Tucker.

  9. There are two kinds of people in the world: those whose families are only the people they know, and those whose families are limited only by what can be known. I recently came into possession of a WWII-era scrapbook, lovingly made by a young soldier’s father. I felt that the soldier was a “really close” relative, because I could describe him in only three steps…none of which involved the word cousin. He was my great-grandfather’s sister’s step-son, and I spent quite some time with this great-grandfather. How could my sons not see how intimate this relationship is (even though I never met my great-grandfather’s sister, let alone her step-son)? Well, poo to them! I am honored to be the custodian of this album, since I know the soldier never had children.

  10. Hi Pamela! What a treasure and an honor to have that scrapbook. I totally get it. Many thanks for your keen understanding here of what “people like us” go through when it comes to the odd or otherwise random connection. Best to you!

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