Family historians love to find links to the famous and infamous.
They're thrilled to find themselves in the lineage of some royal family or a NAP (Native American Princess).
I guess I'm no different. But in my defense, and maybe yours, you can't control who you run into while pursuing your roots.
While I was completing my old-fashioned "paper trail" of family history years ago, going back to the early 1700s in Lithuania, my son Adam asked me if I had found any royalty. He was stunned when I said I had--a link, albeit tenuous, to Saul Wahl, a rabbi who was tied in with the Lithuanian royal, Prince Nicholas Radziwill.
Wahl (German for "election" Is there a Wolinsky/Wahl-insky tie?) supposedly was was named king of Poland for a day--Aug. 18, 1587--and improved the lot of Jews in the hood with various proclamations (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Wahl)
My research in the Lithuanian Archives and in talking to my grandmother in fact led to two connections with the Radziwills--in their towns in Keidan and Slobodka, where the liberal-minded Radziwill (remember Jackie Kennedy's sister married into the family, so we have Kennedy Camelot roots as well) treated the Jews well. He invited Jews skilled in weaving, which I guess must have included my family back when,to live on his estates and protected them.
(I took this photo of a statue of the Prince in Keidan in summer 2007.)
My DNA roots have shown a link in the G Haplotype (specifically G5) with prominent Chicago attorney Newton Minow, the head of the Federal Communications Commission under JFK (double Camelot) (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton_Minow) and the late actor James Franciscus, whose opus includes a Jackie K biopic in which he plays JFK (www.imdb.com/title/tt0082572) (triple Camelot) and even better "Beneath the Planet of the Apes."
Not to forget the infamous: Christopher Knight, a distant genetic cousin, in a new book, "Son of Scarface" claims to be the grandson of Al Capone. (www.sonofscarface.com) Rat-a-tat-tat from my Chicago homeboy Scarface Al.
Now with the glitz of Google backing and very smart marketing, 23and me is starting to attract the rich and famous, and the famous and rich, to spit into a jar and have their genomes tested for potential disease and also for their family roots. The always entertaining VC Guy Kawasaki describes in his blog How to Change the World attending a "spitting party" (http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/11/23andme-party.html, where actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell give up samples for the cause. Earlier this year, investor Warren "Berskshire Hathaway" zillionaire and singer entrepreneur Parrothead Jimmy "Magaritaville" "Let's Get Drunk and Screw" Buffett found they are not closely related, but do share ancient ancestors. (Check out postings on this from Blaine Bettinger's thegeneticgeneaologist at www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/2007/05/30/warren-buffet-jimmy-buffet-and-23andme-continued/)
Celebrities and near celebrities are the new frontier in the increasingly competitive world of Genome-tainment: National Geographic's Genographic Project (www3.nationalgeographic.com/genographic) landed comedian Stephen Colbert, as Spencer Wells, the Indiana Jones of popular genetics, explained discovering Colbert's apparently unknown Jewish roots. I could kvell. DNA Ancestry dnaancestry.com) landed Alex "Roots" Haley's nephew. (Check out guru Megan Smolenyak at www.rootstelevision.com/blogs/megans-rootsworld/2007/10/those_of_you_who_were.html) Haley found Irish roots on his paternal side (www.kutv.com/content/news/topnews/story.aspx?content_id=1a8ec79a-ed88-4f3f-9a0f-51b6c2941b15).
Historian Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr., who just launched African DNA www.africandna.com/?gclid=CKWmgJu1848CFRgXIwod1GVqFg), already has done Oprah's DNA and wrote "Finding Oprah's Roots" (www.amazon.com/Finding-Oprahs-Roots-Your-Own/dp/0307382389).
Star power can only help popularize and make mainstream the up-to-now admittedly nerdy world of genetic testing for family history.
But watch out who you match. Do any of the DNA firms have Britney's DNA? Or how about Paris'? Or Lindsay's? How about Hitler's? (Confession:I hear I match Stalin's grandson's DNA--very distant.)
And with family history and no doubt genetic material popping up in the political realm, such as the Cheney-Obama link, will people starting voting their genes? If you can't trust family, who can you trust?