Almost Famous
7/30/2014
This expert advice from the author of Finding Your Famous (& Infamous) Ancestors will help you discover your familial claim to fame.
Think Tom Cruise, Henry VIII or Pocahontas is your long-lost relative? Most families have stories about celebrity connections — from presidents to military heroes, cowboys to Hollywood starlets. There's something special about claiming a famous cousin, even if your relationship is so remote you need to use all your ringers and toes to figure it out.
 
Though seldom will you find a relationship through a shared surname, anyone could have celebrity kin. Usually, you'll find a connection only after following the twisting, turning branches of your family tree and your famed forebear's. But after some research, you might find you really did descend from a world-renowned artist or a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Keep an eye out for the black sheep, skeleton or scoundrel lurking in your family's past, as well. Even illustrious family trees grew a few less-than-perfect progenitors. For instance, Walt Disney, famous for family entertainment and Mickey Mouse, is a sixth-great-grandson of the Rev. George Burroughs, an accused witch hanged in 1692. While sometimes hard to swallow, these bad apples spice up our pedigrees, and make great family legends. 

Whether you're related to the revered or the reviled, you'll follow a similar path to uncover stardom in your pedigree. You'll consult the same kinds of resources that you'd use to trace “ordinary” kin, focusing in particular on secondary sources. After all, many famous folks' family trees already have been thoroughly researched — especially historical icons'. So you may not have to start from scratch: You can use earlier research as a springboard for your own. That's one method I used in tracing famous people's ancestries for Genealogy.com's online Celebrity Trees feature <www.genealogy.com/famousfolks>. To uncover those star-studded pedigrees, I also relied on a few more basic sources and strategies — which you can use to find your own claim to fame.