Hearing that “are you related to?” question so often in my childhood is surely what sparked my initial interest in genealogy. But answering the most logical follow-up question has proven to be 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. 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 scenario that remained implanted in my memory into adulthood was that at some unspecific previous generation, specifically in Alsace-Lorraine, a paternal ancestor had been adopted.
With the paucity of information and tools available last century, that was it. We accepted that we would never know.
As it turns out, the possible break in our family line hit a lot closer to home when my great grandfather James Ami was born in Iowa on April 2, 1855. His unmarried mother, Sarah Berry, remained a single mom for 4 years. In 1859 she wed the man who provided a surname for James and his prolific progeny, including me. But is that all he contributed?
As to answering the “are you related to?” question, at some point during my schooling I learned that famous, even infamous, people have biographies and that you can find out about their families. I found the answer. Back in the 1900s, however, illegitimacy was not commonly mentioned except discreetly among close friends and family. So my honest response would often produce a shocked look on the face of my school-aged inquisitors:
“No, I am not related to him unless it was illegimate because he was never married and had no known children.”
Thus, I could finally deny any link to the assassin who took the life of the most beloved American President in Ford’s Theater on April 15, 1865.
The second question remains more elusive. Despite much research and countless hours analyzing and comparing DNA tests, I still lack a completely satisfactory answer. I continue to search, and I hope that DNA tests will eventually provide a unequivocal answer. Whether it is someone on the current suspect list, including Sarah’s husband Benjamin Franklin Booth, or someone as yet unknown, I remain open. I just want to know the truth if it is possible to find it.