My paternal grandfather and I did not have that much in common. He was fair and burned at even a hint of sunlight, while I took after his wife, my grandmother, with her dark hair, eyes, and skin that turned a coppery brown the more sun was applied to it; he was a math teacher and could murder a Sudoku puzzle in record time while I barely passed algebra in high school and had to take a summer course to catch up; he was calm and easygoing while I am prone to nervousness and histrionics. However, one thing we did share was our love for family and genealogy. I now realize that my grandfather and I were more alike in this way than any of my other family members.
Grampy (as my cousins and I always called him) was particularly proud of his Lyle family line. He had a massive book that fascinated me, containing thousands of names of Lyle descendants. The reason for this Lyle pride parade probably stemmed from the fact that this line not only contained many patriotic American soldiers (my grandfather was also one of these and so I think relished this connection), but also a member of the House of Representatives, Aaron Lyle, who served under President James Madison.
However, the Lyles weren’t the only line in my grandfather’s family who could boast illustrious connections, though he would never know it. A year after my grandfather passed away in 2017, I discovered, quite by accident, a family connection to tennis great Billie Jean King (she is my 7th cousin) through my grandfather’s Luce line. Going back, I discovered that, through this line, Billie Jean King and I share 6th great grandparents, Shubael Luce (1732-1800) and Elenor “Nellie” Swayze (1734-1800). Being both a feminist and lover of Billie Jean’s chosen sport, this was an exciting connection to make.
…but it didn’t end there.
Very soon after I made this discovery, I came across a document connected to the Luces in my Ancestry.com family tree. It was a page from a book about the descendants of Charlemagne and included who I knew were my 9th great grandparents, Mary Mapes and Barnabus Wines. Their child Sarah Wines had married Eleazer Luce and were my 8th great grandparents. Luce to Wines to Mapes and so on up…until it reached Charlemagne, King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, Holy Roman Emperor, and my 39th great grandfather. It is one of the great regrets of my life that I didn’t discover this a year sooner so I could have shared it with my grandfather. I think, of all people, he would have appreciated it.
I would soon discover that if you are related to Charlemagne, you are related to many, MANY people with European descent, including (to my great delight) a fair amount of old Hollywood movie stars. In order of relationship, I have found connections through my direct line to Charlemagne, to the following classic film stars:
- Claire Luce, 8th cousin 2x removed
- Olivia De Havilland, 13th cousin 5x removed
- Joan Fontaine, 13th cousin 5x removed
- Roy Rogers, 15th cousin 4x removed
- Alan Ladd, 15th cousin 5x removed
- Lucille Ball, 16th cousin 3x removed
- Anne Baxter, 17th cousin 2x removed
- Robert Montgomery, 17th cousin 4x removed
- Katharine Hepburn, 17th cousin 5x removed
- Orson Welles, 17th cousin 5x removed
- Elizabeth Montgomery, 18th cousin 3x removed
- Judy Garland, 18th cousin 6x removed
- Randolph Scott, 19th cousin 4x removed
- Vincent Price, 19th cousin 4x removed
- Fay Wray, 19th cousin 5x removed
- Melvyn Douglas, 19th cousin 6x removed
- Marilyn Monroe, 22nd cousin 3x removed
- Bette Davis, 22nd cousin 4x removed
Don’t get too excited! None of these are close connections. According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), 5th cousins only share about 0.0488% DNA and only 15-32% of 5th cousins will share enough DNA to even show up as a DNA connection on Ancestry.com or other DNA testing sites. Some genealogists consider anything more distant than a 4th cousin essentially “noise” and don’t even bother with those matches when trying to do DNA detective work. So it’s pretty safe in saying, with my closest old Hollywood cousin being an 8th cousin twice removed, that I don’t expect to be invited to a family reunion by any of these stars’ descendants any time soon. Still, it’s a fun bit of knowledge to have. I believe we are all, in some way, connected and sometimes it’s just nice to know how.
As we are nearing the end of this post, I must state that I don’t believe you should get into genealogy solely to find famous connections when there are so many other non-famous, but colorful and interesting characters in your many lines to discover. What I do think is that any way that encourages you to make a connection with the past and your own origin story is worthwhile…especially when it is so much fun. For me that way is old Hollywood. How about you?