One finds relatives in the most unexpected places.

I know a lot about my relatives. I am that family member—and there is always one—endowed with the genealogy gene. I inherited the published books, the old photographs, letters and diaries, and the odd notes and jottings that constitute my families’ archives. It’s all in the plural because I ended up with file cabinets full of material from both the paternal Cutlers and the maternal Prestons.

A few years ago I went digital with all those records: bought a copy of Family Tree Maker and took out a subscription to Ancestry.com. Yup, the Latter Day Saints collect from me on a regular basis. I started entering data, and the more data I entered the more data I found. Finally my academic training kicked in and I started tracking my sources and looking at all personal sites with suspicion. A lot of attractive but unverifiable ancestors got dumped. Since then, many more have been added. Recently I put a name in and a pop-up window informed me I had just accumulated 4,200 names in my genealogy. Ye gawds and goddesses!

While I was still working on paper and counting generations on my fingers and toes, I discovered that some ancestors were dangling from different branches on the family tree. Ah yes. It’s a limited pool of marital candidates in 17th-century New England. Not only were widowers marrying sisters-in-law but cousins a generation removed from each other were making goo-goo eyes.

As the tree grew it bore unexpected fruit.

My cousin David the Doctor discovered that he and his wife Janet are something like fourth cousins; both are descendants of Henerie Hericke who arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1629. I was charmed that my mother and father were cousins of a sort as well. The relationship calculator on the program won’t look past the fact that my parents were husband and wife, but Dad’s dad and Ma’s mother were eighth cousins once removed and I think that makes Dad and Ma ninth cousins once removed. Certainly not close enough to represent risk of inbreeding. Apparently they had a common ancestor in the Johnson family of Scituate, Massachusetts, in the 17th century.

My Dear One has amused himself at various points locating my relatives both famous and infamous. I am proud of a remote connection to presidents John and John Quincy Adams. Apparently I also can claim the actor Richard Gere, which is nice.

About a week ago, My Dear One and I were enjoying an episode of Antiques Roadshow, trying to distinguish between the identical twins Leigh and Leslie Keno and guess the values of people’s treasures, and guffawing at the sartorial excesses of Nicholas Lowry of the Swann Auction Galleries. Hard to tell whether it was the schooling in England or the prolonged residence in Prague that explains his coiffure and astonishing suits. Roadshow was in Milwaukee and lots of fun stuff was showing up. The camera settled on J. Michael Flanigan, a middle-aged woman and a framed sampler and a couple of 19th-century silhouettes on the table between them.

We looked at each other knowingly. Flanigan is a Baltimore-based dealer. I invited him up to the house not long ago to ballpark estimates and provide guidance in getting appraisals and doing estate planning. A charming fellow and pretty much the guy he seems to be on Roadshow where he frequently displays his expertise.

The camera zoomed in on the sampler as the woman told her story. Her name was Mary and her grandfather had left her the sampler because the little girl who had made it was also named Mary: Mary Partridge.

Almost simultaneously my Dear One and I said, “Well, that’s Cousin Mary!” My father’s family line is dense with Partridges.

Apparently Mary Partridge had married Aaron Willard of the famed clockmaking family. That connection—and the 1772 date on the needlework—commanded the dazzling valuation of $17,500.

Mary Partridge Willard, I easily discovered, is a relative. She is my second cousin five times removed. She is also fourth cousin once removed to the husband, David Harlan Sanford, of my three-times paternal great-grandmother, Sarah Parkhurst Daniels. I cherish a sampler Sarah embroidered in 1814, which Flanigan estimated would bring considerably less than $17,500.

My precious relic is in far better condition, however, than Mary’s. It recently visited the restorer and was remounted and reframed to an archival “T.” It hangs in my bedroom below a much smaller embroidery by Mary Budd, my three-times maternal great grandmother. She was two years younger than Sarah.

Remember my connection to Richard Gere?  Mary can claim him, too. He is a direct descendant of the Partridges of Norfolk County, Massachusetts. Maybe we should have a family reunion?

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