One of the more interesting conversations I had was with someone who was trying to trace his own complex ancestry to the Boones and to the early settlement of Kentucky. The two of us happened to have a genetic match that went back distantly, but it was recent enough that we shared some genes in common. As it happens, the person had claimed to be a descendant of a sister of Daniel Boone through a marriage made by the last ancestor he had a paper trail to with a young woman of possibly illegitimate birth in Kentucky. As it happened, I had knowledge of some Boones in Pennsylvania, but I thought of Daniel Boone as a southern and western sort of figure. Daniel Boone is perhaps best known for his work in opening the Cumberland Gap to settlement of Kentucky and his descendants included people who helped settle the area of Oregon to the point where on can still drive on Boone’s Ferry Road, which is named after their efforts to help people over the Willamette River.
One does not want to make the mistake of conflating people together simply because they share a last name. It is like saying I am related to the Bennets of Pride & Prejudice because I happen to have ancestors whose surname was Bennett who lived alternatively in England, Massachusetts, and South Carolina over the course of several generations. As it happens, though, the Boones were originally Quakers who left Devonshire and then settled Pennsylvania, and Daniel Boone’s father Squire Nathan Boone was thrown out of the Quacker church because one of his daughters married an unbeliever. I found, when looking at the Boone family, something I had never had cause to look at before since I did not assume they were related to the famous Boones, that my own ancestor was a cousin of Daniel Boone who shared a common grandfather in George Boone III, who himself was a descendent of the famous poet John Milton, writer of Paradise Lost, who I had not realized was related to me until I pushed the Boone line back a few generations. Over the course of a bit of investigation my family went from being obscure early settler Boones to being related to some of the most famous people on both sides of the Atlantic over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth century.
One never knows where research will take you. In my conversation with the reputed Boone descendent, he had the advantage of having a background that made his close connection to Daniel Boone something of considerable note. Even though there were several generations of Boones in my own family, I was missing the piece of information that connected Daniel Boone, famous Western explorer with the rather prosaic stay-at-home Boones that I was related to. When I found out that there was a Daniel Boone Society, I reached out to them asking whether my own family connection to Daniel Boone’s grandfather was a close enough connection to the family to be a part of the society. So far it appears to have been the case. I have not heard of or read of any Daniel Boone society troops to Oregon or the West Coast to see what his descendants did to help settle the West, following in the family tradition. For me, though, it is interesting to think that I have a not very distant connection to such notable explorers, and that as a nomadic descendent of a rather stay-at-home line of people, that I cannot explore without running across the previous trails of my long-lost and sometimes unknown cousins. There is something comforting about knowing that no matter how far away one goes from ones origins that one never escapes a connection to the historical glories of the past. At least that thought is comforting to me. It may not be comforting to everyone.
So let us trace how this sort of thing happens. Previous research that had been done by other distant relatives of mine had created a family tree that connected my mother’s father’s mother’s line–which had long been a brick wall in my own knowledge–through the generations to the Boones of Pennsylvania, who were Quakers who, like many of my ancestors, settled in Pennsylvania in search of religious freedom. Religious and political refugees, as one would figure from my own life and my own religious belief system, have long been heavy on the ground in my own family history. In many ways, I do not fall far from the trees planted by my forebears. It just so happens that a chance conversation with someone else who was researching a different line of the family allowed me to connect their line to my own, and I was able to help the person with some names and dates and documents, as the Boones appear to have been a very well attested family in the historical record going back well into colonial days. In helping to connect someone else to their own family history I ended up connecting myself to him and to illustrious relatives closely related to a previously obscure line in my own family, and even gave me an opportunity, perhaps someday, to visit places where my ancestors came from as part of a Transatlantic migration of people seeking the freedom to practice their faith in peace. Sometimes one cannot help but be an Atlantic historian even in spite of oneself.