Genealogy was her favorite insanity. — Anthony Trollope
When I start talking about genealogy, people often don’t understand how
I can get so excited about dead people. They might think the only reason
people are interested in genealogy is to claim descent from royalty or
someone famous. But genealogy teaches far more than ancestral pride.
My interest in genealogy began from stories my grandfather told me
about growing up in Marquette. After his death, I wanted to learn more
about my family, including why they had come to Marquette. To find out,
I visited the local cemeteries, the Family History Center at the LDS
Church in Harvey, the County Courthouse and the Marquette County
History Museum. I discovered my ancestor, Basil Bishop, had owned a
forge in New York and came to Marquette to work in the iron industry.
After learning a great deal about my Marquette ancestors, I decided I
wanted to know about their ancestors.
I learned Basil Bishop’s father and grandfathers had fought in the American
Revolution. Their ancestors had been New England Puritans. I discovered a
vast amount about the Puritans from researching those family members.
The most prominent ancestor was Thomas Dudley (1576-1653), second
governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He presided over the notorious
Anne Hutchinson trial and signed the charter to establish Harvard College.
Although Dudley is not a household name today, his contributions to
American history are vast. His descendants number in the tens of thousands
and include Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and Presidential
Nominee John Kerry. But what about Governor Dudley’s ancestors?
Have you ever considered how many ancestors you have? You have 2
parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents. Each generation back,
the number doubles. Thomas Dudley is my 11-greats grandfather—one
of 8,384 ancestors in that generation, and one of only 6 whose names I
know. I wish I knew the other 8,378 ancestors’ stories.
Another 7 generations back, to my 18-greats grandparents, provides over
one million ancestors in that generation. However, the numbers do not
consistently double because people married someone who was at least a
distant cousin, so many ancestors appear multiple times in a family tree.
The result—everyone ends up related in multiple ways. In fact, Thomas
Dudley is descended from King Alfred the Great (reigned 871-899) by 28
My point isn’t to impress you with my ancestry but to reveal the human
family’s closeness. DNA research reveals that everyone of European
descent alive today is descended from everyone who lived in Europe and
had children before 1200 A.D. (See Mapping Human History by Steve
Olson). That means every white person alive is descended from
Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, and William the Conqueror.
Consider how such a connection affects questions of race. When people
ask what nationality I am, I might say Dutch or Irish because my ancestors
came to the United States from the Netherlands or Ireland, but because
I’m descended from everyone who lived in Europe and had children before
1200 A.D., I have ancestors from every European country from Spain to
Finland to Hungary to Greece. I’ve done the research to confirm it.
Genealogy proves that race does not exist. For example, one of Thomas
Dudley’s ancestors was King Edward III of England (reigned 1327-1377).
Was he really English? His mother was Isabella, Princess of France.
Isabella’s grandmother was Princess Isabel of Aragon (now part of Spain).
Her mother was Jolan, Princess of Hungary. Her great-grandmother
was a Russian princess, who was descended from Swedish royalty.
Racism becomes ridiculous when you consider the bigger picture. In
1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy defeated Harold the Saxon
King of England. I’m descended from both of them. Which side do I
take? I’m descended from Irish kings as well as the English kings who
invaded their lands.
Recently, I discovered I have Asian ancestors. One of my European
ancestors was a Byzantine emperor. He married a Persian shah’s daughter.
Her ancestors included Indian maharajahs and Chinese emperors. Xerxes
the Great (known today from the movie 300) is one of my countless Asian
ancestors. I may not look Chinese, Persian or Indian, but their blood
is mingled in me with the French, Polish, Hungarian and Swedish. No
doubt I have African ancestors also, whom I look forward to discovering.
My ancestry is your ancestry. Race does not exist. It’s time we realized
we are all one family and we need to get along.
Editorial note: Explore your own family history by joining the Marquette
County Genealogical Society, searching online at familysearch.org, researching
county records, and interviewing family members.
Tyler R. Tichelaar is the author of The Marquette Trilogy and recently
published The Children of Arthur series. Genealogy research inspired his
novels. For more information, visit http://www.MarquetteFiction.com.
Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2009 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
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