Teens dig through past to uncover family roots

Jacob Fulton | Staff Writer

Mason students are branching out to investigate their family trees.

Though the past is a mystery to some, many web services such as Ancestry.com enable students to look into their family histories through historical documents and genetic tests.

Senior Tori Berry tested her DNA through 23andme.com, a website that provides information on a student’s geographical ancestry and any genetic traits they may carry. Berry said that though the process was lengthy, it was well worth the wait.

“I ordered the test online, and they send you a kit in the mail,” Berry said. “You return a DNA sample. In about three months, they give you your personalized results online. It was hard to wait for, but once I got my results, it didn’t matter.”

Berry said the results were not what she expected, which made them more interesting.

“I found out that I have DNA from all over the world,” Berry said. “I didn’t really know much about my dad’s side; based on looks, he appears to be Spanish, but the test showed me he may (be) partially Middle Eastern. I also found out I’m more Native American than I expected.”

Berry said her drive to explore her family history came from the mystery surrounding her father’s heritage.

“I’m naturally curious, and it’s always bothered me that I didn’t know where my dad was from,” Berry said. “I went to Spain this summer, and a lot of the guys there looked like my dad, which made me wonder whether that was where he was from. I really wanted to know more about who I was, and it was awesome to find that out.”

Freshman Lindsay Rogers’ family looked into their history through Ancestry.com. The site enables people to look through historical records to trace family origins. Lindsay said her family found out they were related to people involved in major events in American history.

“The first person we dug up was Cyrus Gritten, who fought for the Union in the Civil War,” Lindsay said. “We couldn’t find much information about him. The next really exciting person was Thomas Rogers. He was born in England, traveled aboard the Mayflower, and was one of the signers of the Mayflower Compact.”

Lindsay said the discoveries were exciting for everyone, but her dad was the most intrigued.

“My dad in particular was pretty amazed; he majored in history so discovering our family was a part of a monumental event in American history was exciting,” Lindsay said. “We also discovered the Mayflower Society. Anyone who can trace their ancestry back to a Mayflower passenger is eligible to join.”

Lindsay’s father, Reade Rogers, said his motivation for discovery came from family heirlooms he owned.

“I have a number of items that have been passed down in the family and I wanted to find out more about their background,” Reade said. “I have a pocket watch from 1895 and Civil War discharge papers from an ancestor who served in a regiment from Kentucky. I found out more about the owner of the pocket watch and the battles my ancestor fought in.”

Senior Maddie Wilson’s family has also looked into their heritage, with surprising results.

“My mom’s second cousin, Linda, got really interested in our family history,” Wilson said. “She was doing research (into) our family tree, and came upon the name Martha Custis, who she found was actually the wife of George Washington.”

Wilson’s grandfather kept a physical tree, and she said both trees were researched using methods aside from the websites many families use.

“My grandfather used websites for some information, but for the majority of his research it’s just been talking to relatives and looking into historical documents,” Wilson said. “Linda didn’t use a website. She talked to relatives and looked into what they told her. Some days, she’d go to the library and spend the entire day researching. She’d read through history books, records, anything she could find. It took her more than two years (to finish).”

Wilson said the research resulted in a drive to go in depth when learning about the past.

“Knowing this makes me more interested in history,” Wilson said. “Because I know I’m connected to these amazing events, I want to know more.”

Berry said her research helped her feel more connected to her family and the world around her.

“Everyone comes from unique places,” Berry said. “There are people all over the world, and they’re all related somehow. None of us know all of our history, but when we look we can find out who we are.”