>Who has seen that new show, Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC? It’s probably my favorite thing on television right now because it makes my lifelong passions a national pursuit rather than something geeks and bookworms do. I started to do my genealogy several years ago but life got in the way and set it aside. In my family, we have a lot of records and things about our history and I kept those things but they were incomplete and only went back to the 1600s in some lines. Inspired by the show, I decided to pick up my ancestral trail again last week and it has been quite a journey ever since. You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you come from, right?
My intention was only to prove that I was directly descended from the Jewett brothers who were the first to set foot in North America and were among the founders of Rowley, Essex County, Massachusetts, in the 1630s. Maximilian and Joseph Jewett came from Bradford, Yorkshire, England, to Boston, Massachusetts, in 1638, and as it turns out, my direct line goes to Maximilian. His descendants migrated to New Hampshire over the years, then eventually to Ohio (where they married into the Ewing family and makes me cousin to General William T. Sherman) and finally settled in Cooper County, Missouri, in 1850. The Jewett family there bought 600 acres of land for a lumber mill on the Missouri River. For the next 150+ years, my family lived and worked on that land. They were born in the same house and my mother was the last generation to live there in my line. My great uncle Gill still owns part of the original 600 acres and most of my ancestors are buried in the same cemetery that we owned. My great grandfather was in World War I as one of the first radio operators, my grandfather was in the army and so was my uncle.
Although I did prove that I come from Maximilian Jewett, I also found out some shocking things along the way in other bloodlines. The Jewetts are my mother’s father’s line. In my mother’s mother’s line, there were surprising and major ties to France, Ireland and England. I had always been told that we were not Irish and there wasn’t much French, but my research proves that I am almost equal parts French and English, and I am in fact very Irish. It seems that my Irish people married into French families who married into English families and then immigrated to North America in the 1600s. I noticed a suspicious lack of Scottish blood as I went back through the generations though. Occasionally there was a Scot who married into us but it was maybe only three Scots in about four hundred years. I soon learned that there was a very good reason for that.
It seems that my ancestry from about 1650 back to 1070 is populated by almost exclusively aristocratic and royal families. Most people stall with their research once they reach the point where their ancestors immigrated to North America but my lines kept going back and back and back. I didn’t understand why until I realized that some of the birthplaces were showing up as castles. The first castle I encountered was Shanes Castle in Ireland. Through my research, I realized that I’m directly descended from the very long line of the O’Neill dynasty, specifically the O’Neills of Clanaboy. There were High Kings of Ireland, Kings of Ulster, Kings of Tír Eógain, Earls, Lords and so on of Tyrone in my lineage. I thought that was pretty stunning in itself that I am descended directly from Irish nobility let alone a dynasty that began all the way back in the 1000s. That was just a taste of what I was to discover, though.
I found in another closely related line that I am a direct descendant of William Leete in the 1600s. Grandpa Leete was a governor of the Connecticut colony and also the last governor of the New Haven colony before it became part of Connecticut. Links to lineages to Emperor Charlemagne of France started popping up and I did some research to see if it was accurate. Apparently Leete’s mother, one of my grandmother’s, goes directly back to Charlemagne with quite a bit of European royalty and aristocracy scattered in between. As I looked around at different lines besides Leete’s line, I discovered that my direct trail goes right back to King Edward I through the Butler line and one of Edward’s daughters. Edward I was “Edward the Longshanks” aka the crotchety old king in Braveheart who had the gay son and the French daughter-in-law who slept with Mel Gibson’s William Wallace. I’m sure that movie wasn’t very accurate but that gives you an idea of where I come from – I am the great great great great (etc) granddaughter of Edward I. Along the way, I apparently had blood from all the royal families of Europe. The War of the Roses kind of put us out of commission, although we were still aristocratic after the Tudors took power.
My UK friends tell me I am more aristocratic than Kate Middleton, who might be Prince William’s wife one day if he ever decides to commit himself. I don’t think Her Majesty would be too keen on the idea of an American daughter-in-law, however, even if Ms. Middleton is more common than I am. Said with my head held just high enough to look down my nose at the common folk. Hahahaha!
One interesting thing I happened upon was that one of my ancestors was a Countess in Provence, France. I’ve been working on a novel for several months and one of the characters is the daughter of a Countess from Provence. It’s an interesting coincidence, especially when one considers that I had chosen a Civil War regiment in my first novel that I later found out had two of my great great great uncles enlisted. It’s like I know about my ancestors subconsciously and then I find them out later after I’ve written novels. I have at least three French bloodlines, including a guy named Pierre Rulon, who apparently “escaped” France to North America. I suspect he was a Huguenot. Unless my French blood is aristocratic, however, the genealogy tracing stalls out very quickly. There are a lot of mysteries among my non-aristocratic French ancestry. I know that some were Huguenots and they were from La Tremblade in the Poitou-Charentes region, which is the southwest coast of France. My aristocratic French ancestors appear to have been from the Aquitaine region, which is directly south of the Poitou-Charentes region, as well as the Provence region on the southeast coast and Paris itself.
I’m still tracing and researching! It’s a work in progress!