By Wyatt Emmerich, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
One of my hobbies is genealogy. It is truly amazing how the Internet is transforming this field.
Fifteen years ago, I purchased a software program called Family Tree Maker. I uploaded some text and photos and put a fair amount of our family history on computer. Then I just lost interest. It’s a lot of work.
Fifteen years later, at the encouragement of my son John, who has taken an interest in genealogy, I decided to upgrade my Family Tree Maker. Wow!
The new program syncs automatically with the Web. It connects your family tree with thousands of others. The program suggests extensions of your family tree. If their suggestion meets your approval, you OK the new link. Your family tree grows by leaps and bounds.
I can see where all this is heading. Soon there will be an app that will instantly determine the family relationship between any two individuals.
Imagine meeting someone at a party. You type in your name and the other person’s name. Then you instantly find out you shared a great-great-grandmother. What a great conversation starter! I wonder if we’ll be nicer to people when we know how we are related?
Family Tree Maker is owned by Ancestry.com, which has scanned millions of birth certificates, death records, census records and ship manifests. If you fork over $100 a year or so to sign up, you can quickly view a scan of the ship manifest showing how your ancestors crossed the pond.
I have to admit, it’s pretty addicting. You just keep on clicking and going deeper and deeper into history. Some lines peter out but sooner or later, you will hit royal paydirt.
For me, it was the Wyatt line — my father’s mother’s maiden name. From Wyatt to Doss to Miles to Vance to Kennedy to Stewart to Bruce to Huntington to King David of Scotland to Princess Margaret to King Edmond and then, finally, to King Alfred the Great, born in 849, founder of all the Anglo-Saxon kings. King Alfred was my 35th great-grandfather.
On the Buntin side (my mother’s maiden name), I am the 30th great-grandson of Robert the Magnificent, father of William the Conqueror. As it turns out, I can link to Robert the Magnificant on the Wyatt side as well, which means my mother and father were actually cousins. This inbreeding obviously explains why everybody in my family seems to be crazy.
I was so excited about being royalty that I did a quick math equation to determine just how special I am. Let’s see: If there are 30 generations and each generation has three children, how many people could trace their lineage all the way back to King Alfred?
That number — four to the 30th — is two hundred trillion. Alas, not so special after all.
Truth be told, we are all related to royalty. And now you can prove it. It’s really quite fun. If everybody would put their basic family genealogy on ancestry.com, we could quickly establish the relationship of everyone in the country. How cool is that?
After a few hours of manic ancestry noodling, I have found I am related to many families: Anderson, Ash, Barksdale, Beauchamp, Brooks, Bruce, Cardwells, Chambers, Cox, DeShazo, Doss, Dyson, Ellis, Dunbar, Elmore, Fry, Gibbs, Hamilton, Hampton, Hancock, Harper, Hudson, Huff, Hughes, Huntington, Ingram, Johnston, Jones, Lacey, Lucas, Mabry, Miles, Montgomery, Murray, Orr, Parker, Pendleton, Robertson, Rutherford, Shows, Spencer, Stanley, Stewart, Sumner, Watson, Wylie, Wright, Wilson and many more. Think of how many new cousins I have just here in Mississippi.
And for those who have let those old family records find their way to the trash bin, there is genetic linking. With a Q-tip you can swab your cheek, mail the swab off and use genetic testing to track your ancestry.
What’s great is that once you put your family geneaology online, it will probably be there forever — barring the destruction of the Internet. So if you are the keeper of the family history — as I am — you really have an obligation to get moving.
You can upload photos, documents and other family history. Once it’s online, it can be shared by anyone — and all generations in the future.
Mississippi has always been a state with a rich sense of tradition and history. Our roots run deep. Now the Internet is making this much easier and accessible to everyone. It’s fun for sure, but there is a higher purpose. Linking the present to the past will always give us a greater sense of responsibility, appreciation and insight.