Getting to Know Van: Looking Up My Ancestry By Van K. Tharp, Ph.D.

This newsletter is called Tharp’s Thoughts so I thought some of you might want to know more about what I think about on a personal level.

One of my hobbies these days is working on my family tree. It’s interesting for me although everyone else in my family seems mostly indifferent. Today with the vast amount of information stored on the internet and the ability to DNA testing, you can find out things that were impossible to learn even 25 years ago.

One reason I find my family tree interesting is that I never knew most of my direct family. For example, my grandparents on my father’s side were both born in 1865 (when the US Civil War ended). They had nine children and my oldest uncle, Verne, was born in 1883. My father was the youngest of the nine children and he was born in 1904. He was 42 when I was born. I spent most of my childhood living overseas so by the time I started high school in the US the early 1960s, most of my aunts and uncles on my father’s side had already passed away. In addition, my Dad never really talked much about his family that I can remember.

I had only one sister and she was born 15 years before me. She died at the age of 57 but my parents lived to be 73 and 85. In 1993, I became the only surviving member of my birth family. Because I never knew any of my extended family really well, I’m interested in learning a little bit more about who they were. As a result, I have a full subscription to ancestry.com and I’ve compiled a family tree with almost 2500 people in it.

Part of the reason I have been interested in my family tree stems from a family rumor I had heard in high school, that we were related to Daniel Boone. I wanted to see if that was true or just a rumor. Daniel Boone was born in 1734, so I assumed that any relationship would have been through his descendants. I set up a family tree for Daniel Boone’s descendants and started to trace it forward to see if I could find any common people but that process gets very complex and I could find no clues whatsoever. Anyway, I did everything I could to compile family information and that included taking a DNA test through ancestry.com.

I traced my relatives back in the family tree and they all seemed to come from England or Germany. My DNA test said I had the same genetic composition as someone born in England today (about 62% English and about 23% Western Europe). I also got a number of DNA matches from ancestry.com so I started to communicate with those who were close relatives (3rd cousins or closer). I asked one of those people about a Daniel Boone connection and 1) he knew exactly what it was, plus 2) he said that I was also related to Abraham Lincoln. Both of these relationships were through my father’s grandmother (my great-grandmother).

It turns out the Daniel Boone was a 1st cousin 7 times removed. I had been looking for the link in Daniels descendants but Daniel was born in 1734 so I had to go back further in time to find the link. George Boone III (born in 1666) was my 7th great grandfather and Daniel Boone’s grandfather. So, it was a pretty close link.

As it turns out, Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, was also a distant relative. By going backwards in the family trees, I found that Mordecai Lincoln II (born in 1686) is also a 7th great grandfather of mine. Mordecai is Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather. Thus, our 16th president is also my 1st cousin 7 times removed.

When you join ancestry.com you get access to tons and tons of records including numerous family trees. You can’t really trust the family trees entirely without any direct evidence but they certainly help trace one’s ancestry back a long way. For example, I’m sure of the Tharp name going back to Zebulon Tharp who was born in Virginia in 1720. Other family trees take the Tharp name back in the US to Thomas Thorpe who was born in Virginia in 1636. Then other trees take the name back to William Thorpe who was born in Bristol, England in 1585.

What’s interesting is that through the family tree connections (none of which I have verified yet like Lincoln and Boone), I may also be related to Sir Francis Drake, born in 1588, the great English sea captain under Elizabeth I. According to the tree, he is a 10th Great Uncle. There is probably less than a 50-50 chance that that relationship is accurate, however, since it’s all based upon the family trees of others with no real direct evidence.

You might have been as surprised as I was at the number of my direct ancestors who lived in the US before the Revolutionary War. People have four grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great great grandparents, 32 3rd great-grandparents, and 64 4th great-grandparents. Of that group of 64 relatives, I have identified 21 of them in my family tree. Two of them were born after the Revolutionary War and I am missing the birth date and date of death for one but the other 18 were all living in the US during the Revolutionary War. It used to be a big status symbol to be a direct descendant of Revolutionary War era Americans but it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, I found out I have at least 18 of them.

What’s more interesting is that going back even further, I have over 100 early family members who were living in the US in the 1600s and about 5 relatives (I don’t know the exact number) came to the US somewhere in the early 1600s. Jamestown was settled in 1607 and the Mayflower arrived in 1620. I haven’t found any Mayflower relatives (yet) and there could be some from Jamestown.

When you go back a generation and you keep doubling the number of direct ancestors, you only need to go back about 1000 years or so before you have more ancestors than there were people on the earth at that time. About 1000 years ago there were probably between 250 and 350 million people on the planet. The doubling method doesn’t work exactly as it turns out there’s some overlapping. I found some evidence of how the numbers can overlap in my family tree. Mary Mosher, a 7th great grandmother had two sons. Both of those sons (Rev. John and Rev. Joseph Maxxon) are 6th great grandfathers. Then one of those sons, Rev. John Maxson, had two daughters, Bethiah and Elizabeth. The son of Bethiah and the daughter of Elizabeth both married and had a daughter who is my 3rd great grandmother. Thus, my 3rd great grandmother only had 7 great-grandparents instead of 8. Lots of relatives were marrying in those days.

It’s also interesting to find living relatives who are older than I am but who are 1-2 generations further removed from me. For example, John H. Tharp was my grandfather. But I have talked to others researching their ancestry for whom John H. might be a second great grandfather and they are older than I am.

Doing ancestry research has also revealed some very interesting information about people to whom I was close (i.e., my parents) that I never knew at all. For example, my father didn’t have a college degree but he was a professional engineer in civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and even electrical engineering. All of that knowledge came from on-the-job training. That part I knew. But I didn’t know his job description when we lived in England. He was in charge of maintenance and operations of all of the US Military bases is England and Norway. That was quite a title. In addition, he had been involved in some intelligence operations. Before we used the U2 for reconnaissance flights over Russia (if you are old enough to remember that), we used to float unmanned balloons over the Soviet Union to spy on them. My Dad said he had a big role in that effort and I have been able to confirm much of this through my ancestry searches.

What also interested me is that right after World War II, when I was about 6-months-old, my Dad went to the Philippines — presumably to be involved in reconstruction there. I found ships’ manifests that listed him going to the Philippines and returning. Both of the manifests listed him as a private in the US Army, however, that doesn’t make any sense to me. When he was in his 40s, had a family in the US, and such high-level skills, why would he have enlisted in the Army as a private? I know that when we lived in Japan (we were there from 1948-1951), he had a fairly high-powered job as an engineer involved in post-war reconstruction. By the way, through ancestry.com, I even found the manifest for the flight from Japan to San Francisco with my name on it.

None of this has anything to do with transformation, psychology or trading. I just thought you might find my thoughts (this material) interesting. I certainly do.

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