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The Famous and Infamous

by Rhonda McClure
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Do You Have Famous Roots?
Discovering that you have a famous ancestor can add interest to your family tree. Professional researcher Rhonda McClure shares her tips on what to do if you suspect your tree has famous roots.

A rose is a rose, except when it's a Rosenburg. So often I read e-mails from individuals who share a surname with someone famous and they immediately jump to the conclusion that they are somehow related to that famous person. For some, this is what gets them involved in genealogy in the first place.

If you do discover a "famous" surname, don't jump to any conclusions. Research that line just as you would any other surname you are working on. Take the line back as far as you can. You need to be familiar with your own branch of that surname before you can even begin to figure out a connection to the famous person who shares the surname. Oftentimes the connection will not be made until you get back to the immigrant ancestor.

Researching Your Line

It is important that you research all of your lineage, don't just concentrate on the famous surname. You may find that your connection to someone famous comes through a totally unexpected side of the family.

By thoroughly researching your lineage, you are not only learning about your history, but also becoming familiar with the surnames you have hanging on your family tree, and taking your lineages back through the generations. Generally it will be back in the past generations that you will find your connection to the famous individual. For instance, my connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder is in the 1600s.

The Famous Lineage

While you are working on your own family history, you will also want to be investigating what exists for the famous individual you think you are related to. There are many Web sites with famous individuals on them, including our own Celebrity Trees. And of course there are a number of published volumes and lineages found on CD.

Remember, though, that any research you come upon is a secondary source. You need to spend some time looking into primary documents to verify the accuracy of the research and conclusions you have discovered in the other records. This also helps you become familiar with the lineage of the famous person. And remember that you may need to go back a considerable number of generations to find the connection.

In Conclusion

Just because you have the same name as a famous person, don't assume that you are related. However, there will be times when you discover that you do connect to a famous individual. And for many, the search is the real fun. You will not find the ancestry of every famous individual, as many of them have either not been compiled, or are not available online. Don't neglect offline resources — those that have been published may be available through your local Family History Center. And those online you may find through one of the sites mentioned above.

While it is fun to think that you might have some familial connection with a famous person or two, in all reality it does nothing to change who you are. You are still the same person whether you descend from a famous politician, a notorious gun fighter, or hard-working farmer.

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