It’s time for the third season of one of the most wonderful reality shows to begin. “Who Do You Think You Are?” returns Friday, Feb. 3. In honor of this most auspicious event in the Stuart household, I am rerunning this post from last year. Enjoy!
When I began dating the man who would become my husband, he corrected my spelling of his last name.
“It’s not S-T-E-W-A-R-T,” he said. “It’s S-T-U–A-R-T. The ‘royal’ spelling.”
Without anything more than a gut feeling, my husband has long believed he is descended from Mary, Queen of Scots. It’s been a “thing” in our marriage, he pointing out the royal-ness of his last name, me countering with the virtues of being a full-blooded Italian.
In a twisted way, I feel more royal than he; there is, after all, a German play about the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots, titled “Maria Stuart.”
So, for all the years I’ve known my husband, I’ve had fun with the royal thing, poking gently at his belief (or, maybe, hope?) that royal blood flows in his veins. I maintain that I’d much rather be descended from people who make stuff — art and opera, wine and love — than off-with-their-heading royals. I trump his Mary, Queen of Scots with my Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Sophia Loren.
But so what if I have the upper hand in fashion sense and music, in cooking ability and drama? As a second-generation American, I grew up with an abridged family, while my husband has this faded photo of four generations of Stuart men, taken when he was a baby in his great-grandfather’s arms. He has photos of relatives from back even farther than that. Heck, he can go to cemeteries in mid-Michigan and visit the graves of relatives stretching way back, great- and great-great grandparents, and aunts and uncles who owned and worked the land.
I envy his deep American roots, which spread far and wide. We didn’t learn just how far and wide, though, until our son fell in love with “Who Do You Think You Are?” The NBC series follows celebrities as they track down their ancestors and find out amazing things about their heritage.
“Please, please, can we join Ancestry.com,” my son pleaded last year. The online genealogical community sponsors the series.
The cost of membership was something to consider, but the chance to build a family history for my son — the only child of older parents — won out. Well, that and my curiosity to see if I was descended from Leonardo da Vinci.
So, I began traveling the path that led from billion-year-old carbon to my funny little boy. The tools available to pajama-clad, living-room genealogical sleuths through Ancestry.com are breathtaking, and I was able to do a ton of family tree building piggy-backing on the work of others.
The names of my grandparents appeared on passenger lists of ships sailing across the Atlantic from Italy to New York’s Ellis Island: Bertolo Tolot. Giovanni Ricci. Ottavia Innocente. I found the names of most of my great-grandparents: Visilio and Augusta Zanotelli; Guiseppe Ricci and Maria Pieragostini; Carlo Innocente and Maria Santarossa.
Then the trail into my genealogical past abruptly went cold, so I started tracing my husband’s side.
I was lucky enough to know my husband’s grandmother, Irene Nevills, who was married to Victor Stuart. Other names I found I quickly recognized from trips to mid-Michigan cemeteries: Arthur and Alice Stuart; Fred Nevills and Amelia Edick.
Outside of his grandparents Thomas and Annie McGurn, who came to the U.S. from Ireland in the early 1900s, my husband’s family has lived in the U.S. and Canada since way before the Revolutionary War.
One day, after I made the genealogical leap across the Atlantic, I stumbled across an ancestor born in Kendal Castle in England. A birth in a castle means a royal must be close, I figured. Could it be the elusive Mary, Queen of Scots?
One Kendal Castle relative led to another. It was then that I ignored my “direct-blood-lines only” search method to take one step sideways to lay claim to Katherine Parr, the last wife of King Henry VIII. She is my husband’s first cousin, 14 times removed.
I was in Mary, Queen of Scots territory; I felt it in my bones. But while the connection to her remained elusive, other “royal” discoveries fell into my lap. There were dukes and duchesses and sirs and ladies, and then there was Maud La Vavosaur, my husband’s 23rd great grandmother who is believed to have been Maid Marion of Robin Hood fame. My husband’s family descended from a child she had with her first husband, Theobold Fitzwalter, whom she married when she was 12. Robin Hood was her second husband, Fulk Fitzwarin.
The farther back I got in my husband’s lineage, the more interesting things got until I hit the genealogical jackpot: Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who lived from 742-813. Charlemagne is my husband’s 42nd great-grandfather.
I’ve found direct ancestors of my husband with descriptors as part of their names: the Fearless, the Bastard, Bluetooth, the Great, the Short, the Fat. I also found Edward I, King of England, who lived from 871-924.
But, alas, no Mary, Queen of Scots.
However, serendipity decided to have a little laugh at my full-blooded Italian expense: Bernard, King of Italy, who lived from 797-818, is my husband’s 40th great-grandfather.
The third season of “Who Do You Think You Are?” begins at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3 on NBC.