Have you seen those commercials for Ancestry.com? The people in them always seem to find fascinating stuff about their ancestors.
I’ve been trying to track down my roots for a few decades now, but for years I haven’t done much because I had hit a wall and couldn’t make any progress. What I had found was that my ancestors were very ordinary, undistinguished, nearly all obscure farmers. I was also frustrated because I couldn’t track even one of my lines to the person who first came to the United States.
Then recently my wife mentioned that she had signed us up for a membership at Ancestry.com. I really wasn’t that excited. I’d been on Ancestry.com years ago and had already exhausted the possibilities there.
A few days later I was bored and decided to take a look at the site. What I discovered is that the information posted by other distant relatives had changed everything and what I eventually found was truly startling.
I didn’t write about all the wonderful things I found for quite a while for two reasons. First, I thought it might sound like bragging, and second, what I found was so amazing I thought people might think I was making it up.
I’m not making it up. Of course, I’m relying on the research of others, so I can’t verify the accuracy of everything I found. But if just some of it is true, my roots are fascinating.
The first big find for me was that a Scottish trader who was my direct ancestor married into the royal line of the Cherokees, putting a bunch of Cherokee chiefs in the family line. My ancestors included Cherokees with colorful names like The Terrapin and Old Jenny Dew.
I also discovered that humorist, movie star and Broadway sensation Will Rogers and I share that same Cherokee line. My wife and I both graduated from Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. Will Rogers, Jr. was my commencement speaker, though I had no idea at the time that he was a distant cousin. I even wrote a blog on Will Rogers earlier this year, before I knew we were related. Spooky, huh?
Not everything you find out is good. A little research on my Cherokee people revealed that the brother of one of my direct ancestors was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, under which terms the Cherokees were forced to move from their native homeland to Oklahoma. They were rounded up by the U.S. Army and their brutal winter forced march came to be known as the Trail of Tears. Most of the signers of the treaty were murdered by tribal members in reprisal, including my relation.
The next revelations came about the role of my people in the Revolutionary War. One of my Pruitt kin, I was astounded to find out, was a spy for Gen. George Washington. Another of my forebears, Daniel Sisk, died in the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Kings Mountain in North Carolina, a battle I had never even heard of.
Then I found out something that blew me away. Two of my ancestors, a husband and wife, William and Susanna White, arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. Susanna was pregnant during the voyage and only weeks after their arrival at Plymouth, she gave birth to the first child in the colony, Peregine White. That baby is my direct ancestor.
I didn’t think I’d be able to top my Pilgrim roots, but I was wrong.
I tracked a number of my lines back across the ocean, and they nearly all led to England. As I tracked back in England, I found some family who were nobles, and then I traced the line to Edward III, King of England. In fact the whole Plantagenet line of Kings who ruled England from 1154 to 1485 were related, and among those kings was the legendary Richard the Lionheart.
Still going back, I found that because the Plantagenet kings married European royalty, my lines go back to France, Belgium, Spain and Italy. So it turns out I’m descended from the royal lines in those countries also.
It almost didn’t seem possible. This was in my namesake Pruitt line. I thought about my Grandpa Pruitt, a sharecropper who lived in poverty his whole life. That these humble relatives were descended from British kings was something I never would have expected.
There may be more. When you track your ancestors back for a thousand years, it becomes a massive research project. I’m still working on it.
What does it all mean? I’m not sure it’s all that significant. But I’m gratified to know that my genetics include, no matter how minutely, a diverse mix of kings, farmers, Cherokees, Pilgrims, and Revolutionary War soldiers. Their blood flows in my veins, and I’m somehow a crazy mixed-up mongrel amalgam.
So, thanks Ancestry.com! I’m ready to do the commercial anytime.