A Way With Women

By Rhonda McClure Premium

Many a handsome Hollywood actor is haunted by gossip about women from his past. But when you’re talking genealogy, paying attention to whispers about yesterday’s women can pay off big time.

For example, as I began to research the family tree of actor William Holden (born William Franklin Beedle Jr. on April 17, 1918, in Illinois), I came upon stories of a family relationship to President George Washington. An interesting coincidence struck me: Both men’s mothers were named Mary Ball — a promising possibility for a link. Proving it took some time, though, primarily because Holden’s maternal lineage dated from early 1800s New York. That’s a particularly difficult research location and time due to a scarcity of traditional genealogical sources.

I used published family histories and original records to pursue Holden’s Ball surname all the way back to the late 1500s. It turns out that William Holden and George Washington are third cousins nine times removed through Richard Ball and his wife, Elizabeth, who hailed from England. Holden descends from their son John, born in 1593, and George Washington’s ancestor was another son, William, born in 1615.
Genealogists spend a lot of time looking for famous ancestors through paternal lines, but exploring maternal lines often leads to the truth. With each new female ancestor identified, you uncover a new surname — and every new surname has the potential for Hollywood connections.

From the February 2004 Family Tree Magazine