One of my favorite television shows is Finding Your Roots on PBS, a genealogically geared program that explores the roots of celebrities, politicians, and other notable living people. I have watched every episode multiple times and always keep an eye and ear open for a possible connection. Tennis star and feminist icon (for her “Battle of the Sexes” win against male tennis player Bobby Riggs) Billie Jean King appeared on an athlete centered episode titled “Born Champions.” Nothing stood out when watching it, except for the fact that Billie Jean is amazing and I could watch that clip of her beating Riggs a million times. As a feminist myself, I consider her something of a hero.
Last night I was doing what I spend most nights doing (hunting down ancestry records) when I came across one of those delightful leafy hints on Ancestry.com. I opened it and saw a page from the Finding Your Roots companion guide to Billie Jean King’s episode. The page mentioned that Billie Jean’s 6th great grandfather was named Shubael Luce. My 6th great grandfather’s name was Shubael Luce. Wait, wait, wait. I backed up and re-read it. On pages 56-59 of Finding Your Roots, Season 2: The Official Companion to the PBS Series (which I was able to read online using google books), it mentions that Shubael Luce was the son of David Luce and Jemima Corwin (check and check- those were my Shubael Luce’s parents, too) and his birth and death dates lined up with what I had in my tree, as well. My connection to Shubael Luce has already been established by DNA testing and shared ancestors so I knew I was correct about at least that part. If Finding Your Roots had their information correct as well, Billie Jean and I are cousins! I have not been able to find out which child of Shubael Luce Billie Jean descended from, but if Shubael Luce is 6th great grandfather to both of us, we are somewhere in the realm of 7th cousins.
So how did I, avid watcher of Finding Your Roots, miss this?! The answer is I didn’t. I went back and re-watched the episode and it looks like Shubael Luce was not even mentioned, as the episode focuses on different lines of Billie Jean’s tree and not the Luce line where our connection lies. The information only appears in the companion’s guide…something I may not have found were it not for that Ancestry.com hint.
Through the book, I was able to find out additional information about my Luce ancestors that I did not know, but I really was curious to find out the exact connection of Billie Jean and myself. I did more digging…and found another surprise.
Numerous records that I have found indicate that Shubael’s father, David Luce, had a brother named Benjamin Luce. Their parents were identified as Eleazer Luce and Sarah Wines. I kept going up the line. Curiously, a link to a book (uploaded online) titled Pedigrees of Some of the Emperor Charlemagne’s Descendants. Volume II. Chapter XLIII Mapes, Wines, Luce, Denny… popped up. From what I knew of my tree, I definitely had a Luce, I had a Wines, and I had a Mapes. But it couldn’t be. I have pursued possible royal connections before (a possible link to the Guidi Di Bagno family in my DiBagno family tree as well as an unlikely, but possible, connection to King James I of Scotland through my Lyle family) and have never been able to find hard written proof. Curiosity overcame suspicion and I clicked the link. To my surprise, Shubael’s uncle Benjamin was listed…then their parents Eleazer Luce and Sarah Wines…Sarah’s line continued up…and up…and up…until it stopped at Charlemagne.
Now I know that many people are related to Charlemagne. By many, I mean millions. So, while not extraordinary, it was a complete surprise and not something that I was looking for at the moment.
I am still slightly suspicious. The book listed Benjamin as the descendent, not my 7th great grandfather David. The book was tracking a specific line so I assumed that’s why, but still, it would be nice to have written proof. Though I have found numerous documents online stating that Benjamin and David were brothers (with the dates lining up), I still do not want to state for certain that this is true. This is also assuming that this book is accurate, which it may not be (though it was compiled by the Presidents of the Order of the Crown of Charlemagne in the United States, so I assume they know what they are talking about more than most). However, if this connection were true, I would assume it would have been brought up in the Finding Your Roots companion guide, but I saw no mention of it. Who knows. Maybe they did not feel the need to dive deep. It is definitely something I would like to continue researching.
At the end of the day, I may be a great granddaughter of Charlemagne, but I am most certainly a cousin of Billie Jean King. Through this same Luce connection, I am the 7th cousin 3x removed to the co-founder of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated magazines, Henry Robinson Luce.
Cousin Billie Jean. Feminist icon. Athletic powerhouse. Who needs Charlemagne?
(Who am I kidding? That would be awesome, too.)
The ? Luce’s in white, I have not been able to positively identify. They are most likely males considering the Luce surname is still present in John Luce (though maybe a female Luce married a male Luce so who knows)
Update April 2019: From doing some detective work using census records and the enormous, 4 volume Luce family genealogy book, I have since uncovered the identities of the two unknown links in Billie Jean’s tree. Shubael Luce’s (1732) son is Nathaniel Luce (1773-1813) and his son is Shubael Nathaniel Luce (1805-?).
Gates, Henry Louis. Finding Your Roots, Season 2: The Official Companion to the PBS Series. UNC Press Books, 2016, books.google.com/books/about/Finding_Your_Roots_Season_2.html?id=2sg3CwAAQBAJ.
Langston, Aileen Lewers, and J. Orton Buck. Pedigrees of Some of the Emperor Charlemagne’s Descendants. vol. 2, Polyanthos Inc., 1974, https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/48069/CharlemagneDescII-000547-i?backurl=&ssrc=&backlabel=Return#?imageId=CharlemagneDescII-000549-iii
McCourt, Martha F. The American Descendants of Henry Luce of Martha’s Vineyard. Boston, MA : New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1994.