Monday, May 16, 2011

Fame, Fortune and Relatives

Ever wonder if you are related to someone famous? That’s a reason for starting family research that I hadn’t mentioned the other day. Mostly, the chances are slim, but it’s still fun to check it out.

My mother’s paternal grandmother was a Boothe. Actually, the way spelling was handled in those days, her surname was often spelled Booth. She’s the one in the photo on Tuesday’s post. I don’t know much about her, but one thing I do know: someone in the Booth family was quite a story teller.

Every since my childhood, I remember my grandfather telling us younger family members that he was related to John Wilkes Booth. Considering this southern gent was telling that to a bunch of “Yankees,” we’d gasp in horror. And squeal, of course, because that’s what young girls do.

A bit of age put some perspective on that tall tale, and I set it aside.

Remember those online genealogy forums I told you about? One day I was poking around online, seeing what I could find about my family, and can you believe I ran into someone else posting that same story? I did some quick calculating based on what I knew about the person on that forum, and figured he was a distant cousin from the Texas branch of our family.

I must have burned the phone lines up, sending out my forum post so fast. And the return volley back at me qualified as a bona fide splat. Keep in mind, with the forum, everyone else saw my post, too. And you know what? A whole bunch of people grew up hearing that same story, too.

What a weird way to meet a bunch of distant cousins!

I still haven’t found any missing link to connect my Boothe family with the real John Wilkes Booth, though someone in my family back then christened his son as namesake of the infamous actor.

That doesn’t mean you should always discard family rumors. Word of mouth was what connected me online with a distant cousin on my father’s side. My older brother happens to be an actor—something any distant relative is sure to take note of. While I was researching a different distant surname, someone online contacted me to try and figure out if our lines were for the same family. He brought up that very question—if I were related to this actor. We’ve since shared quite a bit of data from our research, which has helped both of us.

That scenario can play itself out in the opposite direction, too. I was in Chicago, visiting my husband’s family, kibitzing with a genealogy-prone cousin about the proverbial “brick wall” ancestor that had stopped our research cold in its tracks. Out of the blue, this cousin blurted out that that ancestor was related to a nationally-known sportscaster. OK, the last name matched, but it’s a common surname—and, besides, what are the chances? But he was pretty sure of his call.

I did some networking online with my trusty genealogy forum pals and, out of the blue, ended up getting an email from this very same celeb. Yes, it is true, we are related—and he sent me some wonderful snippets of family history to help push beyond that mystery brick wall that had stopped our research.

So, whether you are related to someone famous or not, pay attention to those stories. Whether they tell a tall tale or the truth, they may just help connect you with someone in your extended family.

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