April 4, 2011

Turns out Jack Kerouac is my 10th cousin twice removed!

Day 94 of Vintage 365

A good friend - and fellow genealogy enthusiast - of mine, Louise, once said something to me to the extent of, "If you're French Canadian (as she is, and I'm partially), it means you're 8th cousins with everyone else who's French Canadian". I smiled ear to ear when she said, as - while not strictly factual in every instance - there is more than a modicum of truth to the sentiment behind that statement.

My French Canadian blood hails from one of my maternal great-grandmother's family, and though my genealogical research over the past year and a quarter (I jumped headfirst into researching both sides of my family tree in January 2010 and have been diligently working at this deeply rooted passion of mine ever since) I've been able to trace her line back several centuries (and have discovered that some of my direct ancestors were amongst the first to leave France in the 1600s and settle in what would one day become the province of Quebec).

Thanks in no small part to the wonderful work of many passionate genealogists throughout history, there is a wealth of information available to help those interested in French Canadian/Acadian genealogy, some of which have helped me to add literally hundreds of names to my list of ancestors. As such, my French Canadian branch is the currently the largest in my tree.

Recently I've been using a fantastic feature on one of my favourite family tree websites, Geni.com, to see (for the sake of my own history loving curiosity) if I'm related to anyone famous, for which Geni has a searchable tree for (this feature allows site members who have a copy of their tree on the site, as I do, to check it against those of other profiles to see if two people can be connected in any way).

Thanks to my trove of French Canadian, as well as my German (for which I currently have the second largest number of ancestors in my tree), relatives, much to my delightful surprise, I've actually been finding a few fascinating connections between my tree and those of some rather famous folks.

Knowing that the two largest groups in my tree are French and German, I've been primarily concentrating on plugging names into Geni's search feature of well known people who are one of those two nationalities.

From painters to royals, writers to war heroes (part of me was hoping to be related to Lafayette, but alas, no connection was found - so far), for the past several days, I've been nabbing a few moments here and there to see which historical figures are hanging out amongst the diverse and far-reaching limbs of my family tree.

So far some of the more interesting finds I’ve made have included the following connections:
-Gorm the Old, the first historically recognized king of Denmark was my 33rd great-grandfather! (That's a rather marvelous find, as I never knew - but always secretly hoped - that I was descended from royalty!)

-Marie Antoinette is my 15th cousin 9 times removed (ok, I'm the first to admit that's a rather distant connection, but nevertheless, you can imagine how wide my Georgian era loving eyes lit up when Geni delivered that result!).

-Catherine the Great is my 14th cousin 13 times removed (again, not exactly close enough to hold hands on the ol' family tree, but given that I'm part Russian and have studied the history of Russian royalty quite extensively, this result made me especially happy).

-Bing Crosby is my 17th cousin 10 times removed (yes, we're still wayyyyy out there in the nether regions of the tree, but still...Bing is only my favourite vintage crooner of all time, so sufficient to say I squealed with joy when I learned about this connection!).

-Speaking of immensely famous singers, Celine Dion is my 9th cousin thrice removed (at the risk of sounding overly confident, I was almost certain that we'd be related, given that she's French Canadian - my friend really wasn't far off when she said what she did!).

-Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's seventh prime mister, is my 6th cousin 6 times removed (does having a distant relative on the Canadian $5.00 bill mean I'm entitled to all of them for free? :D).
-And speaking of people who dabbled in Canadian politics (in this instance with less favourable results, execution falling rather lower on the scale than becoming prime minster!), Louis Riel is my 6th cousin four times removed.

-Ok, this one is admittedly a massive stretch (and isn't technically a blood relative), but I'm including it here in honour of my paternal grandma, who always been a massive Elvis Presly fan. The King of Rock and Rock is my fifth great grandmother's husband's first cousin once removed's husband's third great nephew's wife's daughter's ex-husband.

-And for today, I saved what has to be my absolute favourite for last. The immeasurably cool, emphatically talented, beyond legendary beat poet and writer Jack Kerouac is my 10th cousin twice removed.

{Elegant black and white vintage photo of *my cousin* Jack Kerouac via Knol.}

I was a mere nine years old when I first discovered Kerouac's writing in the form of his classic - and arguably most famous - novel On the Road, which I poured over ever single word of before writing a "pick-any-book-you-wish" book report on it (to this day I still think my 4th grade teacher was slightly dubious that I wrote that report  myself, which is understandable given that gritty beat novels aren't exactly what most nine year olds choose as light reading, but I promise you, Mrs. Kuben, I wrote every last word of it).

For many years afterwards, as I explored the whole spectrum of 1950s and 60s beat writers and poets, I made a point of rereading On the Road each summer, devouring it from cover-to-cover with the same gusto and interest every time.

It's through my French Canadian blood that I can call Jack a distant cousin (though he was born in the States, both of his parents hailed from Quebec), tying one of the best, most original writers of the the 20th century to my family tree.

My experience lately with seeking notable names amongst my relatives - both living and departed - has been nothing short of superbly fun and wonderfully informative - and I definitely know that I'll keep checking for further matches for as long as I use that great genealogy website.

Should you happen to be a Geni.com member, too, or if you know of any famous folks in your tree as well, I would be deeply interested in hearing about them! Smile


  1. My great grand mother was French Canadian. That's means we're somehow related too! Heehee. : )

  2. Wow, that is so cool! I'm personally more impressed by Marie Antoinette being distantly related to you, being a lover of French history, not to knock your cousin Jack ;) I keeping hoping to find famous relatives in the course of my genealogy work. How were you able to make the connections?

  3. Hi ladies,

    thank you very much for your terrific comments, I really appreciate them! (Love knowing that we may be distant relatives, too, Vintage Kitten!!!).

    To answer the ever-lovely Lizzy's question...

    While I've been able to add quite a large number of folks to my tree so far (particularly thanks to both of my maternal grandma's parents, whose line I've had a lot of luck with), aside from one distant female relative who was married to a somewhat famous Hollywood music composer (of the 30s and 40s), I hadn't found any well-known names via my "elbow grease" research. Or, not at least, until I utilized one of the features of the site (Geni), that I was mentioning in my previous email.

    In order to see if Geni's behind-the-scenes search algorithm can find matches (be they famous or not, you can certainly look for matches between two "ordinary trees", too), you need to have a copy of your family tree (if you have a version of your tree stored as a gedcom file, I think you can upload it easily that way to Geni, which saves tons of time over having to manually impute all that data! I've used Geni all along as my primary family tree building site, so I haven't actually tried to add a gedcom file to that site yet) up on the site.

    Once your tree is up, you can use the search feature (on the upper right hand corner of the page) to type in any name you would like to search for a match for. There's no guarantee that a given name appears in an existing, publicly accessible tree on Geni, but I've had a lot of luck with the famous names I've typed in so far (and would imagine that most really famous folks - especially royals - are there, as Geni is quite a popular site with a lot of users).

    ---- comment continued below, as Blogger caps the character limit per comment.

  4. Once you've tracked down the profile (via the search function) of the person you're looking for, Geni will load a little area on the top of that person's profile which asks "how are you related?" (to said person). If you click on that question, Geni's algorithm then goes to work trying to see if it can find any common profiles in your tree with the tree of the person whose profile you're on.

    So say for example you were searching for a match between your tree and Abraham Lincoln's profile (and tree), and one of your sixth great uncles turned out to be the brother-in-law of Abe wife. If that man (your great uncle) appeared in both trees (Geni helps determine that you're dealing with the same person, not two individuals with the same name, by using other data like DOB and DOD, too), then Geni would return a match stating the family tree path between you ("Lizzy") and Honest Abe.

    If Geni can't find a match it lets you know that, too. The really doesn't seem to matter how distant the match (case in point, the crazy distant path it made between me and Elvis Presley, as noted in the post above), if Geni can tie your tree to another person's via that individual's profile, it will let you know.

    I should point out that I never actually tried (as best I can recall) this feature before I was a Pro Member (aka, I paid for the pro account version of Geni, which I did for the first time earlier this year), so I'm not sure if it's available to those who use the free version of the site (which I have to say, is really good - you can do so much more with it than most free versions of genealogy sites!).

    This wasn't intentional, I just was so into trying to build my tree with everyday folks that it didn't occur to me to actively search for famous names, too, until quite recently (of course I'd always kept an eye open for famous people as I was searching - and always will in the future - but it was just a couple weeks ago when I started using this feature on Geni and trying to see if I was connected to any historical celebs! :) ).

    I hope that this helps to answer how I found those famous folks in the distant branches of my tree - if I can clarify any points, please don't hesitate to let me know.

    Oodles of thanks & blissful Tuesday wishes, sweet gals!


  5. What cool finds! That is what makes geneology so fun and rewarding. Hope you are having a wonderful day.

    Best Wishes,

  6. Very cool I now know so much from you lol

  7. Great post and great blog! Our ancestors must have been on the boat together. Mine were the first to settle Quebec in the 1600s, too! Thank you for the Geni.com tip. I'll check it out!

  8. As a fellow genealogist (another love we have in common), I totally love this post. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your connection to Elvis Presley!! Too funny!!

    I haven't tried Geni.com, but I'm going to visit that site. I use Ancestry.com and Family Search's Personal Ancestry File. So far, I haven't found royalty in my blood. I'm okay if I dont' find royalty, but if I find some distant connection to my beloved Gary Cooper, I would be VERY happy with that.

    Actually, I have discovered some surprising things, not the least of which is that my 2nd great-grandfather died in a coal mining accident in 1900. I NEVER even knew there were coal miners in the family, much less that one was crushed in the mines by a piece of slate.

    Also, I've discovered that one of my 4th great-grandfathers and 2 of my 3-greats were soldiers in the American Civil War...for the Union. Now, what's so funny about that is that although I was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, right after high school, I moved to Florida. I fell in love with the South and love all things Southern...including the Confederacy. (Loving the Confederacy doesn't mean I love slavery.) I actually wrote a novel, entitled Beloved Rebel, and it was set in Mississippi during the Civil War. My hero was a Confederate soldier. I always envisioned Confederate soldiers in my lineage, and here I am with Union soldiers! I shouldn't have been surprised, because, after all, my family had been in PA for generations...it was logical that they would have fought for the Union.

    Anyhow, I love researching my ancestors and learning about them. Now...if I can just discover that connection to Coop.