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Peasant to Princess and Back Again - A Cautionary Tale about Ancestry Research

Thursday, March 12, 2015

I wanted to give my son a special, unique, personal present for his upcoming graduation from FSU. As a single mom with a son in college, I knew I was going to have to use my imagination to come up with something really cool, because my pocketbook echoes when I open it. So I decided on a family tree.

I started out with the free version of Ancestry.com. I found out that those leaves they talk about on the commercials are a quick way to follow your family lines back generations at a sitting. Most of my family lines would fade to the ages around the 1700's, while some would go all the way back to the 1600's before I lost the trail.

Then low and behold one day sitting in my favorite chair in front of my fireplace with my laptop firmly situated on my lap I came across a line that went back further. I had traced one of my family lines to a man named Edward "Mayflower" Doty. I was thrilled. An ancestor that came over on the Mayflower? I printed out some info about him and with renewed enthusiasm kept going. His parents, then his grandparents, link after link, generation after generation. I started seeing references to Knights, Lords and Ladies. I couldn't believe it. We have the blood of knights running in our veins! I kept following link after link, leaf after leaf, going back generations and found a reference to a Princess, then a Queen and a King. After that, I kept finding royal after royal all the way back to the year 10, not 100, but 10! I was amazed and so proud to be able to give this gift of such a proud heritage to not only my son but the rest of my family.

We were supposed to have a family get-together this weekend to celebrate several family birthdays so I diligently started printing out lineages and information on some of the more famous of our ancestors. Then I started noticing something odd. All of the noble and/or royal lineages were all bottlenecking to that one ancestor, Edward "Mayflower" Doty.

Warning bells started going off in my head. I dug a little deeper and found out that although there is such a person as Edward "Mayflower" Doty and I am very likely descended from him, his parentage has not been proved. In fact the following link is to an article about a man named Gustaf Ludvig Ljungberg (c1863-1942) who created false lineages for usually unsuspecting American families.

I can't tell you how disappointed I was as I called my son into my room to tell him that I had been duped. He couldn't have accepted the news with more gallantry and aplomb if he had been a king himself. I was much more devastated than he was. He had only found it an interesting bit of family history.

While for me it had colored how I thought of myself. I had spent so much of my life feeling like I was just a peasant and not worth my salt so to speak, that to think I had noble or even royal blood in my veins suddenly gave me a reason to hold my head up and think better of myself. Not pride, but at least it helped bring my self-esteem out of the gutter where it had been for most of my life.

I'm afraid to even go back and check all the documents and sources to make sure that I am in fact a descendant of Edward "Mayflower" Doty. What if that's not even true? So I will set the ancestry project aside for awhile.

I have no doubt when I do get back to it, and more slowly and carefully trace our lineage back, I will find more interesting people with colorful stories, perhaps even a knight or two. I hope so.

But for now, I need to come to terms with the fact that no matter who my ancestors were or were not, I am enough. I always have been and always will be... enough.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Loved this... You write very beautifully. It is true a lot of us see ourselves in not such good light, but as history shows not all Kings were great and sometimes the poor lowly folks have the greatest stories and were the backbone of society...
    2150 days ago
    Very interesting blog! I am not "into" family lineages but my paternal Grandmother traced her family back to a 'John Mack' who actually came over on the Mayflower. I have to agree with most of the others who commented on this: Your WAY back, distantancestors really have no bearing on who you are. We used to raise registered Paint Horses and once you got past the great grandparents the blood was so diluted that it had little influence on the horse as long as they were all quality horses. I put much more weight on the sire and dam and grand sires and grand dams! Anyway always remember that our physical being is fleeting....its our Spiritual beings that really matter! God Bless! emoticon
    2273 days ago
    You control your destiny and who your are. it is fun exploring our past though.
    2282 days ago
    You're such a wonderful writer! I'll be sure to watch for Edward "Mayflower" Doty in my family tree, and do a better job of finding documentation for each step of the lineage. Royalty or not, the gift you have created for your son is priceless. If I may suggest, check out if any of your deceased family members are on findagrave.com. Sometimes you can learn about other family members through that website. It's way cool, if you're into that kind of thing... emoticon
    2283 days ago
    Always remember that you are queen of your family and your son is your prince. You make your happiness and are who you are regardless of what your ancestry finds.
    Your ancestry is in the past and although it is fun to know you may or may not have royal blood you are so removed from it that the only thing it may be good for is a scholarship if you have the right papers to prove it. Be happy for the wonderful person you are. You have obviously raised the best son a mother could ask for. That is your pride and joy.
    Remember the commercial - if it's on the internet it must be true - well, you have to do a lot of searching and digging to find the right paperwork to make sure what you find on the internet is true. But you have the internet to help you reduce some of the research and give you more information to use to find out the truth.
    Good luck in finding your lineage - don't let this discourage you. We are all here to help you with your research and questions. And to meet your personal goals as well.

    2284 days ago
    I am hugely 'into' genealogy and the way this happened is precisely because a friend of mine, who as a hobby genealogist had done my family tree, had made a mistake which was picked up when I got in touch with a so-called relative. I decided to sort it out for myself - and the rest is history. I am descended from the Robert Browning poet family, but from his grandfather's second wife, not the first from whom RB descended, and on the other side, we go back to one of the Sir's who was accused by Henry the Eighth of having dallied with Ann Boleyn. Henry had him and four other hapless accused lovers - and poor old Ann herself - clapped in irons and ultimately beheaded. I'm minded to think that if all we have to worry about is trying to lose weight, without a few pounds disappearing after having our heads lopped off, well, maybe we're not as much in crisis as we think!

    I have often found family trees where one person has got it wrong, has posted it on Ancestry or somewhere, others have taken it as gospel and have not cross-referenced nearly enough or bothered to prove its validity. At this very moment I'm dealing with my husband's tree and have identified that the trees online are incorrect because they have followed the wrong person with the same name. They have her (DB;s grandmother) as dying in 1948 when, in fact, she was alive and kicking in 1959, because my MIL used to visit her and show her my husband when he was a toddler! I have written to the owners of the incorrect trees and gently told them that the grandmother they are following is not correct - but , do you know, they actually don't WANT to know! I have no idea why - perhaps it ruins all their work or stories they've passed down the line.

    Ancestry is a compelling hobby and such fun, especially when making contact and interacting with people who are distant relatives. It is amazing to weave this all into social history, too, when past fashions, industries, buildings, travel etc all suddenly start to come alive from the pages of otherwise sterile books. It give meaning to life and why I am here to enjoy what I have had the privilege to have and, also, to be.

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    2284 days ago
  • BEBARB149
    What little I know about my family is all about work-a-day people doing the best they can, farmers, miners, a lot of them worked in the steel mills. But that's ok. To me the real heroes in this world are the people who, through hard work and a sense of responsibility, keep it going while kings and princes collect money they didn't earn by their own sweat and start wars that destroy life and property, not to mention wildlife.
    2285 days ago
    Interesting! I think we all have both kings and slaves in our family history. ((hugs))
    2285 days ago
    Thank you for your story. It was refreshing to find someone so open and honest. You had paperwork that I know a few people who would have used even knowing that it was in error.
    I am running into problems finding someone before my Greatgrand parents. Probably because I come from poor folks who fell through the cracks. But, I have found that I have a drop of about everything I could have in my blood. It is enriching and delightful to know that I am as mutt- like as my silly little kitty. Probably explains a lot. You sound like a delightful and straightforward person and I am sure your son could not go any further back to be busting his buttons with pride. He has a great mom.!! emoticon
    2285 days ago
    Being a princess is highly overrated---LOL---You are you and that is the best thing to be!
    2286 days ago
    Lineage does not create who you are. You create who you are. Many people cannot trace a lineage for any of a variety of reasons; they do not cease to exist or have less value because they do not have a paper trail. The idea of having extended family can create wonderful stories in our heads. Sometimes they pan out that way: my husband started to trace his family and found it had already been done - including 2 huge books for different sides of his family. He even managed to meet several of them and loved it. I hope you have as much fun as he did, but your own value as a human being should not rely on what you find in the process.
    2286 days ago
  • KONRAD695
    It is not about the paper. Your nobility lies inside you.
    2286 days ago
    My dad did his years ago and even met a 100+ year old family member. My maternal grandpa did the same. We went back far enough to find that on my grandfathers side we were traced back to royalty but not of the good kind. LOL.

    How sad that someone spent their time creating false credentials.
    2286 days ago
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