She was a beautiful, young Irish maid, working in a wealthy English household. Her employer’s oldest son fell in love with her. When he announced intentions to marry her, his parents said they would disown him. He married her anyway. Then, bride and groom ran away to live happily ever after. “Her name was Mary Cordial,” my maternal grandmother Marilyn Matilda Dietz told me, that distinct glimmer of pleasure in her eyes—the one she always had when she retold this story. “And you are her legacy.”

This blog is a resource for those who want to--have to--find out more about who they came from.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are, Indeed

I finally had the chance to watch the first episode of “Who Do You Think You Are,” the new genealogy show on Channel 4. In this episode, Sarah Jessica Parker discovers her that one of her great grandfathers was a California Gold Rush miner, and one of her great grandmothers was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. All in all, a great show which reminded me a bit of “The Amazing Race” as SJP jets around to various locations. I wish I had the budget to visit all of my ancestors’ home towns!

There were a few moments in the program, however, that left me scratching my head. For instance, when SJP is presented with the obituary that mentions the miner died in 1849 and then the census showing him to be alive in 1850, the genealogist doesn’t explain that the information is given by the grandchildren of said miner and could well be incorrect. It turns out to be just that—he died in California in late 1850. (The old letter that confirms this is very cool—a truly rare find.) And I cannot believe that SJP was allowed to handle the 300-year-old document pertaining to her accused-of-witchcraft ancestor without wearing gloves! Did they waive the requirement because she’s a celebrity?

What I liked best about the show was watching her reactions to each discovery. I think most of us don’t realize that we have these remarkable people in our ancestry, people that participated in the events we now read about in textbooks. When I started researching my mother’s family, I thought I’d go back to England and Germany in the 1800s and stop there. Instead, I’ve found a Civil War drummer boy, a Revolutionary War patriot, a woman accused, convicted and hanged for witchcraft and two Puritans who came over with the Winthrop fleet in 1630. And I don’t think that’s an unusual family tree at all—just unknown to most folks.

It’s said that one in 10 people are descended from the Mayflower passengers. You, gentle reader, could well be one of them. You just need to do a little research and find out.