I grew up with an unusual last name, one bestowed on my g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'grandfather when he arrived in Massachusetts in the late 17th century. An official guessed at the spelling of his name and my g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'grandfather signed with an X, consigning his future g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'granchildren to lifetimes of spelling it out painstakingly. He has thousands of living descendants; I trace my lineage through his oldest son. Today I saw a blog post from a distant cousin-in-law claiming Mayflower ancestry for a relative we have in common. "Huh," I thought to myself, "I am tired of grading, so perhaps I will investigate this briefly."
As much as I can tell from a brief investigation, the Mayflower claim relies on a mixup-- two people with the same name who lived at approximately the same time. Mixups like this seem to be routine among amateur genealogists; for years I believed the family legend that we were related to James Buchanan. (That connection is no great loss, am I right? Even if I hadn't learned the truth, these days I could only say "I'm related to the second-worst president in US history.") But in poking around a bit I did find out that I am descended from Arthur Howland, brother of Mayflower passenger John Howland. Arthur and another brother, Henry, came to Massachusetts a little later than John. The internet is giving me dates in the 1620s and dates in the 1640s, so we'll just say it was a long time ago.
Arthur Howland had four daughters and a son. I am wondering what he might think about this world in which his distant descendant is bringing up four sons and a daughter. I wonder about my g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'grandmother and her sisters: what snippets of genetic material might we share? (I'm thinking, specifically and shallowly, about whether their hair was as wild as mine is on this April day.) When they were young children, John Donne was still writing poems.
Do you know who else is descended from Arthur Howland?? Winston Churchill, that's who. If I've counted on my fingers correctly, he is my tenth cousin once removed. Who knew? Perhaps I should smoke a cigar in his honor.
Unfortunately, this also means that my eleventh cousin is Richard Nixon, who was descended from my g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'g'great-uncle Henry. Hold the phone-- maybe this means I am actually related to the second-worst president in US history.