The Small World of Genealogy

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from one of my matches on (a DNA genealogy website).  I was particularly pleased to hear from Duncan because unlike most of my matches, he was English with a tree full of English people and possible connections.  I have nothing against Americans, but there tends to be a bit of a dead end when their ancestors cross the Atlantic (mainly due to the US census, which lists their birthplace as “England” without any specifics), which makes it really hard to see how we are connected.  Duncan grew up in Cornwall (where my dad’s family, the Brents, originate) and lives in Essex (where, as you know, my mother’s family the Downings came from) so there were two potential leads there.  He didn’t match with my mother’s brother, so I thought we were probably looking at a Brent match.  But there were other names in our trees that matched too – he had Renshaws, and the name Renshaw is a derivative of my grandmother’s unusual surname, Olorenshaw, and we both had Bishops and Turners, relatives from Brighton, London and Leicestershire.

In the end, though, I should have known.  I mentioned to Duncan how I’d recently discovered my 5th great grandfather Thomas Pettit, and how he’d fathered at least eleven children in the late 1700s.

“Hm,” said Duncan.  “I think I have a Pettit in my tree.  Yes, I do.  Margaret Pettit, born in 1766 in Wadhurst.

You’ve guessed it – Duncan was descended from one of those children too!  But unlike my ancestor, Margaret Pettit was actually born to Thomas’s poor, long-suffering wife Mary.  Duncan and I were sixth cousins.

So that was that mystery solved.  But there’s more.

Like all good genealogists, Duncan had checked me out on Facebook.  I am the only person there with my name, so not hard to spot.  He was surprised to notice that we had a friend in common.  He encouraged me to add my “other cousin” to my tree and at first I didn’t know what he was on about or thought he was alluding to one the 59 billion other people who are descended from Thomas Pettit.  He then told me about the Facebook Stalking, and I assumed that he must have been in touch with one of my other genealogy contacts – but I was confused because I couldn’t think of anyone that I was friends with on Facebook that had anything to do with Thomas Pettit.

I put myself out of my mystery by returning the Facebook stalking, and straight away, Duncan’s profile popped up with one friend in common – the husband of one of my best friends from university.  Now I was really confused because as far as I knew this chap had no particular interest in genealogy.  Then I twigged that he and Duncan had the same surname.  Yes, you’ve guessed it.  My new sixth cousin was actually also the my friend’s husband!  And my friend’s husband was of course also my sixth cousin too!  So when I attended their wedding two years ago, I was totally unbeknownst to myself attending a family wedding!

That Thomas Pettit has a lot of answer for.

4 thoughts on “The Small World of Genealogy

  1. I love those small world stories! There have been many times that a newly found cousin and I find that we have many connections that have nothing to do with our long-buried common ancestor. We are all truly connected.

    Liked by 1 person

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