Just for fun (and a little late for Memorial Day), I thought I'd show you this fun genealogy site. BE WARNED--it can be addictive! It may also completely surprise you! I've been amateur-sleuthing my family tree for 30 years now and I was shocked, excited, and even horrified to find out who some of my closest famous relatives are.
RelativeFinder is a new program that was developed by Brigham Young University. It extracts genealogical information from FamilySearch collaborative family trees, compares them to a list of illustrious world figures, and shows you how you are related to them. (FamilySearch is purportedly the largest genealogical organization in the world and is maintained by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormons].)
Some things to know about RelativeFinder:
- You do not have to be a member of the LDS Church to use FamilySearch or RelativeFinder. (You do have to set up a FamilySearch account, which is easy and FREE.) The LDS Church will not use your account information to proselytize to you or for any other nefarious purpose.
- It is not guaranteed to be accurate. FamilySearch trees are collaborative, which means that pretty much anyone can contribute, which means that there is a lot of messed-up stuff in there. On the other hand, the sheer numbers of people contributing information means that it's sort of self-policing, like Wikipedia. Really egregious errors are likely going to get corrected by people who spend their entire days hunting down inaccuracies. (It's kind of a sickness, but we're grateful.)
- There are a lot of famous people who aren't in the database. I know that I am closely related to astronaut Neil Armstrong, but he isn't in the database of Famous Americans, so he didn't show up on my list. However, you can send in a request to RelativeFinder to add your famous ancestor to the database, so I think I'm going to submit my buddy Neil, because, c'mon. Really, the first man on the moon wasn't famous enough to make the cut?!
- Because the database was developed by BYU, it includes a lot of notables in LDS Church history. If you are not LDS, you may not be interested in these. By clicking on the Relative tab (see below), you can check only the databases you would like to see.
- It shows you the results in order of the most closely-related to the least.
- You can set up groups to which you can invite people. That way you can see how you are related not just to famous people, but to your friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
- Prepare to be surprised/excited/shocked. As I said, I've been hunting down ancestors for 30 years and I didn't know a lot of this stuff!
So, what did I find out that shocked me so?
We have been working with a client for the last year on her personal history. You know how some people you just immediately click with, as if you've already known them forever? Well, she is one of those. I adore her. Imagine my surprise when the 5th person down on my list was--my client's grandfather!!! That means we are fairly close cousins!! No wonder I felt such a kinship with her.
2. My closest famous relative was a really nasty person.
Nicholas Noyes (my 8th great uncle) was a colonial minister in Salem, Massachusetts and was the official minister of the Salem Witch Trials. Sarah Good, one of his victims, cursed him in her famous last words: "I am no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink!" Years later, he suffered a hemorrhage and choked to death on his own blood. Make of that what you will. (I also have four victims of the trials that appear on my first page of relatives, so does that balance out the bad karma?)
If any of Noyes' victims cared to haunt me, they have had ample opportunity. In my younger performing days, I spent a summer working in a dinner theater at the historic Hawthorne Inn in Salem. My fellow actors claimed to see all sorts of ghostly manifestations while there. Me? Nada. Zip. I didn't see so much as a shadow. So either they've forgiven me or my ghost radar is broken.
3. My second closest relative was a famous Native American who saved the Pilgrims' butts.
Apologies to my dear departed mother, who was right all along! Massasoit, leader of the Wampanoag people and political genius who saved the Plymouth Colony from starvation, is my 11th great-grandfather and the second most closely-related person to appear on my list. He is my direct ancestor! Who knew?!
Mom always insisted that we had Native American blood somewhere. She didn't remember where she heard it but she thought it had something to do with her grandmother's maiden name being Crowfoot, which sounded "Indian." (Later I discovered that Crowfoot was a derivation of Crawford, which is Welsh. "Sorry Mom, but we're just totally white bread," said I.) It just goes to show that the most unbelievable family legends could possibly have a grain of truth! Looking at this picture, it also explains a lot, because my nose looks exactly like his.
how does it work?
First, set up a free account in FamilySearch if you don't already have one. (Did I mention it's FREE? And you can also use it to search through their amazing collection of records for FREE?) You can set up an account here. After setting up an account you will want to set up your Family Tree and link yourself to a relative that is already in the FamilySearch database. They have really good instructions and tutorials on the FamilySearch website that show you how to do this.)
Go to RelativeFinder.org and sign in using your FamilySearch account login.
It will bring up a screen that looks like this. The default setting includes people from all the "famous people" databases. (To narrow the focus, see below.)
To select which databases to show, click on the "Relatives" tab in the green toolbar.
Click on any combination of databases you would like it to pull from. Click "Show Relatives" and you're there! Remember that it will show your kin in order starting from the most closely-related.
By clicking on the "View" in the "Chart" column next to your ancestor's name, you can see in chart form how you are related to that ancestor. You can also export the data to a CSV form.