Now What: Researching Famous Historical Ancestors

Now What: Researching Famous Historical Ancestors

How do you research the history of a famous ancestor? David A. Fryxell answers your genealogy research questions in Now What.

Question: I think I might be descended from Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Where could I find his genealogy?

Answer: Learning you’re related to a famous historical person can unlock all sorts of family history, since their genealogies likely have already been researched and documented. In this case, there’s even a Roger Williams Family Association. Although the association isn’t set up to answer genealogical queries, its website offers resources, a bibliography and a report with more than a thousand descendants. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has the first volume of the 1910 compilation Descendants of Roger Williams by Dorothy Higson White, and you can access a digital version online by visiting your local branch FamilySearch Center. You also can learn more about Williams and his family from the Rogers Williams National Memorial.

As with all published genealogies, when researching a famous ancestor, keep in mind that you should take such secondary sources with a grain of salt. Try to find primary sources, such as censuses and vital records, to back up the claims. But it may not be possible to independently verify some information dating from before primary sources existed. At a minimum, check the list of sources for any published genealogies you consult.

Exercise even more caution with online, user-submitted pedigree files, which you can find for Roger Williams’ ancestors and descendants at sites including Geni, WikiTree, WeRelate and Roots­web.

From the December 2017 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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