December 15, 2010

“Who Do You Think You Are?” returns in 2011

In a previous post, I mentioned a genealogy themed TV show produced by Lisa Kudrow of “Friends” fame. If you caught it, you were treated to some interesting and often tear-jerking stories of celebrities discovering their family history. Matthew Broderick discovered his link to a Civil War hero similar to the one he portrayed in “Glory”. Meanwhile his wife Sarah Jessica Parker traced her lineage back to the Salem Witch Trials.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” will return January 21st, 2011 for another series of trips down genealogy lane. This season’s celebrity seekers includes Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Vanessa Williams, Lionel Richie, Ashley Judd, Steve Buscemi and Kim Cattrall. Look for it on NBC. Learn more here.

November 27, 2010

Major Minorities & Minor Majorities

A lot is made in our world about race relations. This has been going on for hundreds if not thousands of years. We try so hard to make everything fair and everyone equal. But have you ever noticed that we aren’t so diligent with individuals? Most people make much ado about some minor part of their racial make-up.

“I’m one-sixteenth Native American.”

“I have a little Polynesian blood in me.”

“I’m descended from a Cherokee princess.”

When Halle Berry won an Academy Award for Best Actress, it was a big deal because she was the “first black woman to win the Best Actress Oscar®”. President Obama is our “first black President”. In both cases, they have one white parent and one black, yet the minority side of their race is what they (or the press, or we) identify them as.

Why is the minority in us given dominance? Is it because we like to cheer for the underdog? Are we looking for sympathy or special treatment? Or do we want to highlight the hardships some of our predecessors had to endure?

As far as I know, I am 100% white man. I’m not necessarily proud of that. That’s simply who I am. When thinking about my family history, what I am proud of is the minority of people who truly did something revolutionary: the ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War, the ancestors who fought in the Civil War, the ancestors who left family and friends to pioneer the western frontier, the ancestor who had a town named after him. Out of the 5,000 or so people currently listed in my family tree, a very small number of them did something brave, extraordinary or just original. These are the people I try to identify with and hope to find similar qualities in myself.

November 11, 2010


It’s been a while since I posted anything here. And it’s been a while since I’ve touched any of my genealogy. And so goes this perpetual hobby…

But this brief intermission hasn’t been without noteworthy events. I learned, or rather was informed, that I am related to someone at my Nashville church. This came as a surprise to me since my family rarely seems to have ventured far from West Tennessee. This made attending the wedding of my newfound cousin that much more meaningful.

I’ve found it interesting that most female genealogists tend to focus on their maternal lines. Male genealogists, like me, are usually obsessed with the paternal line or following their last name – a practice that has left me wanting. Is this genealogical sexism or just an innate need to relate to our ancestors if only in a superficial way? A recent episode of “Nova” talked about the history of domesticated dogs and how scientists usually focus on mitochondrial DNA (DNA passed down through the maternal line) because it changes very little over time. Perhaps there’s greater value in following the maternal line.

May 20, 2010


This is a good example of what you can do with Photoshop...

Before <---------------------------------------------> After well as a good example of the kinds of mistakes we made before Spellcheck.

April 2, 2010

Profile: Lewis E. Pierce

Born: December 25, 1844 South Carolina
Died: June 30, 1934, Bolivar, Tennessee
Relationship to me: 3rd Great-Grandfather

Lewis E. Pierce was born on Christmas day in 1844 to Joseph and Nancy Pierce of South Carolina. During the Civil War, Lewis fought in the Confederate army. According to family legend, Lewis served under Nathan Bedford Forrest for a time during which he found himself in Hardeman County, Tennessee. He was sent out to scout the area surrounding the camp and to seek food and supplies from nearby farm families when he met a farm girl named Rebecca Radford. The two fell in love. After the war, Lewis moved to Hardeman County and married Rebecca. They had nine children together.

On September 14th & 15th, 1900, a reunion was held in Hardeman County for veterans of the Confederate Army. Lewis was one of the over 3,000 people in attendance.
My 3x Great-Grandfather, Lewis E. Pierce in 1900 at the last Confederate Reunion in Hardeman County, TN.

Rebecca died in 1928. Lewis died six years later on her birthday.

March 12, 2010

Random, Bouncy, Nonsensical Syllables

Until I was a teenager, I honestly thought my grandparents' given names were "Maw" and "Paw". When my sister gave birth to my parents' first grandchild, one of the first orders of business was to decide what the newly dubbed grandparents would be called. They decided on "Nana" and "Paw".

Grandparent names are just as random, bouncy, nonsensical syllables as "momma" and "dadda." But they are much more diverse and meant to be just as cute as the child that will be using them.

So, let's hear them. What are your silly grandparent names?

March 4, 2010

Say Uncle

Everyone has more than one familial title. I am a son, a husband, a brother, a cousin and a nephew. But I think the title I take the most pride and joy in is uncle. I remember as a kid I mispronounced “uncle” calling my mom’s brother “knuckle Joe”.

I was so excited when I became an uncle for the first time. A whole new dynamic was added to my family. All of a sudden my sister was a mom, my parents were grandparents and my brothers also became uncles. As my nieces and nephews grew in numbers and years, we had to start utilizing our new titles.

“Can you say hi to Uncle Phil?”

“Thank Uncle Phil for the birthday present.”

Being an uncle is a lot like being a grandparent. You get to play with the kids, brag about them to friends, write shameless blog posts about them and really enjoy them without the hang-ups of having to change diapers or discipline. I always looked forward to becoming an uncle and I hoped that I would be the “cool uncle.” I try to remember birthdays, sending a card with stickers every year.
Uncle Phil with Emma, Noah & Hope

And we uncles do it all for no special recognition although there is a little known “Aunt & Uncle Day” every July 26th. The title of uncle isn’t specific to blood relatives either. Pretty much any close male friend of the family can be called uncle.

I realize I am following in the footsteps of a lot of famous uncles before me. Here’s my ten favorite uncles of all time:

Uncle Rico (Napoleon Dynamite) – If the coach had put him in the game in ’82, they would-a went to state, no doubt in my mind.

Uncle Fester (“The Addams Family”) – The best uncle trick: making a light bulb light up in your mouth.

Uncle Buck – For showing us how to make enormous pancakes with a snow shovel.

Uncle Phil (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”) – Nice name.

Uncle Ben – Like white on rice.

The Man for U.N.C.L.E. – Actually this is two men who may or may not be uncles.

Uncle Remus (Song of the South) – Zip-a-de-doo-da!

Uncle Dave Macon – The Dixie Dewdrop of uncles.

Uncle Sam – He wants you, and it's nice to be wanted.

Uncle Owen (Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope) – Just a simple moisture farmer who raised the last of the Jedi and the galaxy’s only hope for peace.

Who are your favorite uncles?