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Famous and infamous kin

In 2003, when I disproved the family legend - direct descendants of John Morton, a signer of The Declaration of Independence - I thought for sure that my Aunt Betty would, in jest, disown me. I softened the blow with the news that I had found other famous ancestors in our lineage and I was forgiven.

I still remember my disbelief when I discovered that, through our fifth great-grandparents, John Woodson and Dorothea Randolph, we were first cousins, six times removed, to Thomas Jefferson. Not only was he a signer of The Declaration of Independence, but he helped draft this incredible document. Additionally, he was a statesman, diplomat, architect, and a Founding Father who served as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809 and as Vice President under John Adams from 1797 to 1801. Not too shabby.

We’re also direct descendants - “Tater Hole” Woodsons - of Dr. John Woodson, Sr., who, upon his arrival in Jamestown in 1619, started serving as surgeon to Sir George Yeardley and his company of soldiers.  Aunt Betty used to say, quoting Will Rogers, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they were there to meet the boat,” as a way to say that our ancestral roots went deep. But I never expected to learn that one of our forefathers had indeed arrived in the colonies before the Pilgrims.  

I thought I found a link, via the Chastain line to 11th Century France and French Royalty, but I’ve since learned that the source, A Brief History of the Huguenots and Three Family Trees, 1932, by James Garvin Chastain, has no validity. The Pierre Chastain Family Association strives to quell this false claim.

I did, however, discover royal roots via the Randolph line, including William the Conqueror, John FitzRobert, Magna Carta Surety, King Henry III, and King Louis IV.

All of which is mind boggling, until you realize that, given the many, many generations between us and them, we’re among the millions, of people who can make the same claim. The drop of blue in our red blood is far too dilute to be more than an interesting bit of trivia.

"If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance." George Bernard Shaw.

If you prefer infamous relations, don’t despair. Via the same connection to Thomas Jefferson, we are also cousins to Jesse James and Lizzie Borden. Granted, they are distant cousins and many times removed so it’s about as genealogically unique a connection as our royal one, but it’s still fun to consider these skeletons in our closet.    

The biggest benefit of our famous connections is that births, christenings, weddings and deaths are better documented for these ancestors than for other family lines.  When I started this journey, I never expected to be able to trace our ancestors hundreds of years before we were born. I’m still amazed that I can.

Lisa Allison Albert

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