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.


[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.View all posts by Jeff Record