Tag Archives: Research stories

James Dean: Of Winslows and Wishful Thinking

Photo of James DeanFew cinematic icons have endured in our collective consciousness as well as James Dean. Nearly seventy years after his death, his short and quixotic life has caused many to study not only his life and legacy, but also the possibilities of his ancestry. Indeed, with over fourteen hundred James Dean family trees on Ancestry.com, it seems that interest in this proverbial 1950s bad boy isn’t going away anytime soon.1

For me, there’s still an unabated curiosity revolving around the possibility of Dean having Mayflower ancestry. A quick look at several biographies and a myriad of trees reveals all the “old names” (Dean included) that might lead back to our cousins at Plymouth Rock. Yet nowhere among them could I find anything definitive, beyond the most tepid of answers or the vaguest research. I kept expecting someone to say that Dean had descended from the irascible Doty or the pious Brewster, or perhaps simply confirm that all possible Mayflower connections had been unequivocally disproved. Thus far, I’ve only found one researcher who was willing to make a definitive statement: “no such descent has been found.” That conclusion was drawn in a mid-1990s article by author Richard E. Brenneman.2

Continue reading James Dean: Of Winslows and Wishful Thinking

California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot

Promotional photo of Cass Elliot from 1972Even the smallest bit of nostalgia can set me off down a new genealogical rabbit hole. The other day, when I heard Cass Elliot singing Make Your Own Kind of Music1 in a car commercial on television, I knew right away that I was in trouble. Wouldn’t it be incredible to discover a genealogical connection with that legendary 1960s chanteuse? Okay—maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but for this aging flower-child, the thought of it was uber-cool. Curiosity piqued, I decided it was time to dig deeper.

Almost immediately, I saw that Cass Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen in 1941, was Jewish by way of both her parents.2 Let’s face it—unless I’m ever able to find a 14th-century synagogue on the Orkney Islands , I have little chance of finding any similar lines here. This was disappointing, but I figured there had to be more to the story. I began to wonder who Cass had married, and if she had any children to whom I could establish a connection. Continue reading California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot