I started tracing my family tree when I was a teenager. History is fascinating, and the opportunity to connect myself to it in some way was irresistible. Which is why, as a teenager, I found myself picking through overgrown cemeteries, haunting the historical society's library, and badgering my elderly relatives for details. This was a joint project with my mom, who was driven by the same interest in what happened before we were here.
This was all in the era before the internet, of course, and so getting access to the geneaological work of others was much more difficult. There were magazines to help, but no easily accessible, central repository of that work. So I did as much as I could, and drifted away from it when I went to college. I did find Eli Terry, who I posted about here when it occurred to me last week, for no real reason, to look for him on wikipedia.
Well, that and some e-mail discussions with an across-the-pond reader (Hi TP!) reawakened my interest. Perhaps, in the era of the internet, it would be possible to fill in the blanks I couldn't figure out in the 1980's. So I joined one of the big geneaology websites, and I've been researching these connections till the wee hours all week long. (I'm kind of tired this morning.) This time I'm doing my son's tree, which brings in a whole new slew of possibilities on Mr. T's side. According to my new work, Mr. T and I have strikingly similar lineages -- we are both from solid, salt-of-the-earth German and Swiss peasant stock. I haven't found a common ancestor (yet!) but several lines of our families were from the German communities in Pennsylvania.
But last night, I focused on a line on my dad's side. As the family lore goes, my father's grandmother appalled her very wealthy, well-bred family by marrying an intelligent, charismatic nobody. I had always wanted to know why that family thought so highly of itself. I had traced their lineage fairly far back, but had hit a wall back in the 80's. But last night, I was able to link into someone else's sources for part of this line, the Sheltons. Yay! Pay dirt! As I kept going, I found that the Sheltons came to America from England in the early 1600's. And I kept looking, until the woman popped up who married my ancestor John Shelton: Anne Boleyn. Wha? I checked the year -- born in 1475. So it couldn't be that Anne Boleyn. Moreover, that Anne was only married once and it didn't end well. So I looked at my Anne's parents. They were William Boleyn and Margaret Butler. Time for wikipedia. Turns out William Boleyn is the paternal grandfather of the Anne Boleyn, and my direct ancestress is the aunt of the Anne who was separated from her head courtesy of Henry VIII. And of course once you start following the Boleyns back you get to the Plantaganets and Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Ultimately, though, everyone in England and half the people in America can probably trace their ancestry to the Boleyns -- and certainly to the Plantaganets -- so it's really not a big deal. Plus you have all the caveats about proving each branch of the tree -- and googling around shows me that there are some documentary holes, though I'm not sure where they occur yet. But it's undeniably neat to think about a line from me directly to the Boleyn family. History in action!
Anyhoo, the Sheltons became the De Sheltons in the 1300's, and were apparently from a place called Shelton in Norfolk, England.
Also, in other news, it turns out Mr. T is Clark Gable's seventh cousin, once removed. This is fun.