Are You Really Related to Someone Famous?

Family stories abound with tales of being related to someone famous, whether it’s George Washington, Queen Elizabeth, or Elvis. But how do you know if that story is actually true? Here’s a strategy you can use.

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A Common – and Frustrating – Way to Prove It

The most common way to try to prove the connection to a supposed famous relative is also one of the most frustrating. It’s common to start researching the famous person’s descendants and try to make a connection to your own family tree. But that method is filled with obstacles.

First, you don’t know what line you should be following. All it takes is for a generation to have a ton of children and suddenly you have a lot more lines to follow.

Second, you might not be starting in the right place. “Related to” doesn’t necessarily mean “descended from.” You might be related to that famous person as a cousin, which means the connection is further back. Then the question is, “Which of their lines should I follow?”

A More Effective Way to Prove a Relationship to a Famous Person

A more effective way to see if there is a relationship is to approach the connection from both sides. However, rather than focusing solely on surnames, pay attention to locations. (After all, for there to be a connection, the families have to be at the same place at the same time at some point.) Are there any locations where both the famous person’s tree and your tree overlap? Those are the places and branches to focus on.

Howard Chandler Christy WWI Red Cross poster featuring American flag and woman
Howard Chandler Christy WWI Red Cross poster

This is what happened with my in-laws’ family. My father-in-law told me that he was “somehow related” to artist Howard Chandler Christy. I had already done a fair amount of research on my father-in-law’s side of the family, and had never run across the Christy surname. Was there a connection, or was this a fanciful tale?

I started by doing a quick bit of research into Howard Chandler Christy and learned that he was born in Morgan County, Ohio. My father-in-law has a line in Morgan County, so that is where I concentrated my searching. Digging into Christy’s family a bit more, I discovered his mother’s maiden name was Bone. That’s a surname in my father-in-law’s Morgan County line.

Now that I had a location (Morgan County) and a possible surname connection (Bone), I focused my research on that family. I discovered that my father-in-law’s great-grandmother and Howard Chandler Christy were first cousins. (I wonder if he ever sent her a drawing as a birthday present.)

If I had focused solely on researching the Christy surname and ignored the location, it would have been a long time before I made that connection.

Jumpstarting Your Research with a Collaborative Family Tree

You can jumpstart this kind of research by using a collaborative family tree, such as the FamilySearch Family Tree, Geni.com, or (my favorite) WikiTree. Each one has tools that can show you connections between you and other people in the tree. Of course, you have to have your own family in there. Also, just like any other tree, the accuracy is dependent upon whoever posted it. However, you can find some very good clues to get your research started.

Have you ever proven (or disproven) a relationship to a famous person? Let me know in the comments!

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