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From the Green Valley News, Sunday March 27 2011, page C2

Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG

Family Research Reveals Surprises

If you research your family long enough you are bound to find some surprises. Whether it's a pleasant surprise or not depends on whether the person found is a real "black sheep" murdering scoundrel or a prominent, historical figure such as a president, general, etc. Either type provides interesting material for your family narrative.

One mustn't get puffed up over a link to a prominent person however, as it doesn't mean all his descendants are similarly endowed. It seems intelligence and common sense are learned, not inherited traits. The unlikeliest parents can spawn a genius while intelligent, successful parents wind up with a ne'er-do-well. But let's get back to surprising finds.

When Californian Debra Schafer decided to research her daughter's husband William Jodee Ross's family tree, she first accessed Imagine her surprise when she found Ross's birth date and social security number in the Social Security Death Index! Schafer contacted Ross's family to confirm his death, and learned he died in a motorcycle accident in 1982. So who was her son in law?

Ross at first refused to give the Bakersfield, California police his real name. Using a DNA sample they were soon able to identify him as 47 year old Timothy Rodger O'Neil. Under Ross's name, O'Neil held several jobs, had a previous marriage, bought a house and cars, and obtained a social security card. Even more surprising his police record included arrests for spousal abuse, spousal rape, assault with a deadly weapon, battery causing great bodily injury, vandalism, petty theft, and obstructing an officer according to the Bakersfield Californian.

O'Neil plea bargained and pleaded no contest to a felony count of unauthorized use of another person's identifying information. A count of marrying under a false name was dismissed. Bail was set at only $20,000. Fortunately, Schafer and her daughter Angela never saw his violent side.

Watching NBC's Who Do You Think You Are (WDYTYA) frequently reveals surprises. March 11 saw actress Kim Cattrall's travel to England to learn what had happened to her grandfather. He disappeared leaving his wife and three young daughters behind when Kim's mother was eight years old.

Kim was shocked and surprised to learn he moved only a couple of hours away and remarried within a year. His new family eventually included four children. After about 20 years he and his second family moved to Australia. Cattrall's mother and her sisters were saddened to learn their father was not only a bigamist but lived so close for so long and never tried to see them. In a happy ending, the older women went to Australia recently and met the half-siblings they never knew.

In an earlier episode singer Lionel Richie was surprised to learn his great grandfather was the body servant of a Confederate officer in the Civil War, the son of a slaveholder who was the probable father of Richie's ancestor. I was surprised to see genealogist Mark Lowe, CG helping Richie with his research. Lowe is a prominent Tennessee professional who spoke at our local Society seminar here three years ago.

My only frustration with WDYTYA is the way a celebrity walks into a library or archive and finds an official waiting with all his/her family documents spread out making viewers think it's an easy process. Don't we wish! Of course, has paid professional genealogists to go ahead of filming and dig up the documents.

If you haven't watched WDYTYA the broadcasts will likely be repeated by NBC later in the year. NBC has announced the show has been renewed for 2012. It's one of the better reality shows and interesting to see that celebrities are as excited about finding their families as the rest of us are, surprises and all.

Correction: The correct Web address provided for FamilyTreeDNA in my last article is (no spaces.)

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