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Published February 08, 2011, 12:00 AM

Parenting Perspectives: Tracing family history

The other day while channel surfing, somewhere between Ryan Seacrest and “Real Housewives,” I stumbled upon what could be my new favorite show: “Who Do You Think You Are?”

The other day while channel surfing, somewhere between Ryan Seacrest and “Real Housewives,” I stumbled upon what could be my new favorite show: “Who Do You Think You Are?”

It takes us along for the ride as expert genealogists trace celebrity’s family trees. For example, Sarah Jessica Parker learned her ancestor was burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials, and Brooke Shields found out she’s related to French royalty.

Something inside me wanted to find out if my family tree was that exciting. Besides, I’ve always wanted to know if my grandmother’s claim that our family is somehow related to William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, is true.

My family related to one of the great explorers in history? Unlikely, I know. We’re not exactly an outdoorsy bunch. My husband jokes that if it had been up to the Briggs family to settle the West, the frontier would have ended somewhere in Delaware. But having a little Clark DNA in the family? That would prove we come from hardy stock.

It didn’t take long for me to discover the good news on Ancestry.com. We are related to Clark! But only through marriage. Bummer. That probably doesn’t really count. I guess it doesn’t make you hardy just because you marry someone hardy. That would be like saying Lisa was a great farmer on “Green Acres” just because she married Oliver.

But even after I found out the truth about Clark, I was hooked on this ancestry game and learning so much about my family. I found an old picture of a castle and learned my ancestors, a Scottish lord and lady, lived there in the 13th century. I knew my 8-year-old would be as excited as I was.

“Honey, look. Here’s the castle where our ancestors lived.”

“What, were they servants or something?” Obviously, she inherited her father’s Scandinavian humility.

Next, I uncovered a possible family tie to hockey great Bobby Orr. Now that I think of it, I believe I did witness greatness when my daughters skated as a cupid and a Fourth of July girl in the Moorhead Ice Show last year. Skating brilliance like that must be in the genes, right?

While it’s fun to think about our possible ties to the rich and famous, it’s been much more fulfilling to read about the regular folks in the family – ancestors who never got their names in the paper but had lives full of drama and hardship.

It’s not quite the Salem witch trials, but our family has ancestors like one great-great-grandmother who survived the Irish potato famine by eating potato peels and another ancestor who froze to death on a Revolutionary War battlefield.

I kept thinking how cool it will now be for my daughters to be able to put family names and faces with the things they learn about in history class. My husband and I would like to take it one step further. Eventually, we’d love to take the girls back to Europe to trace our ancestry. As they say in “Who Do You Think You Are?”, “To know who you are, you have to know where you came from.”

Sounds good. Now, I wonder if my cousin might let us stay in the castle?


Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is an employee of Forum Communications Co.

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