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Being asked, “Are you related to that guy?” so often in my childhood surely sparked my initial interest in genealogy. But answering the most logical follow-up question has been even more challenging: If I’m not related through him, then who were my paternal ancestors?

My dad’s family line always carried an air of mystery and uncertainty about our surname. There were the rumors and theories, the various versions of family lore discussed within the extended family about “the problem” with my dad’s lineage. The storyline as I remember it went like this: At some unspecified previous generation, specifically in Alsace-Lorraine, a paternal ancestor had been adopted. At which point, we would have had a switch of surnames.

As it turns out, the possible break in our family line hit a lot closer to home. My great grandfather James Ami was born in Iowa on April 2, 1855. His mother, Sarah Berry, was single and remained single for four more years. In 1859 she married the man who provided a surname for James and his prolific progeny, including me. But is that all he contributed?


My grandma Hazel, dad Wendell, grandpa Dale, great grandma Elizabeth, Lelia, and great grandpa James Ami Booth

Descendants of James Ami are divided about whether Benjamin Franklin Booth (BF) was actually James’ father. Some insist that BF visited his brother who had relocated to Iowa, met Sarah while there, and that thing that makes babies happened between them. Other’s are equally convinced that BF was not James’ father, and they have their reasons, too. My family group is among the latter.

With the information and tools available last century, that was it. We had a short paper trail that didn’t yield an indisputable answer, so we accepted that we would never know how far back our surname was valid.

As to answering the are-you-related-to question, during my school years I learned that famous, even infamous, people have biographies. I found the answer. But back in the 1960s, when questions of legitimacy were only whispered about, my bold and honest response to that question would often produce a shocked look on the face of my school-aged inquisitors: “No, I am not related to him unless it was illegitimately because he was never married and had no known children.” No apologies.

Thus, I could finally deny any link to the assassin who took the life of President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865. The assassin’s name is well known; I need not mention it.

The answer to the second question still remains elusive despite much research and countless hours analyzing and comparing DNA tests. I continue to search, and I hope that DNA tests will eventually provide the unequivocal truth. Whether it is someone on the current suspect list, including Sarah’s husband BF, or someone as yet unknown, I remain open. I just want to know the truth if it is possible to find it.