Greenwich resident Mickey Robinson wasn't sure what he would find when he started digging around at the roots of his family tree about a dozen years ago -- but he knew he wanted to trace his ancestral heritage back as far as he could. So his 12 years of genealogical research began. And what did he uncover? Well, Robinson now traces his lineage back to George Washington (yes, the Father of Our Country), and he says he discovered that the current president, Barack Obama, is a distant cousin. (He says his eighth great-grandfather is Obama's seventh great grandfather!)
Robinson shared his heritage and the story of his own experiences growing his family tree earlier this week with the Second Congregational Church's Women Fellowship group in a talk titled "Tracing our Roots." Greenwich Citizen asked Robinson to share some of his story with our readers.
Q: How did you become interested in genealogy?
A: I got interested in genealogy because of my father. He had inherited the family Bible of his grandfather that had births, deaths and marriages of close Robinson relatives back to about 1800. I inherited that Bible and started to work on the tree about a dozen years ago. I have more than 9,300 people in the tree and have documented individuals back to the 1400s in two cases.
Q: What are some interesting things you learned in researching your family?
A: My four great-grandfathers and two great-greats fought in the Civil War. All fought for the South except one who was quickly captured and sent home, fortunately. My Robinson great-grandfather enlisted as a Private and was captured at the Battle of Franklin, Tenn. in November, 1864, as a First Lieutenant. He was imprisoned at Johnson's Island, Cuyahoga Bay, Ohio. He did not sign the required loyalty oath until June 15, 1865, which makes it highly likely that he was a "bitter ender." The preservationists at Johnson's Island have told me that he was released with the clothes on his back and, perhaps, a small amount of money. I discovered he also took with him an autograph book that my brother had stored not knowing what it was. The books were given to prisoners by the Federal Government to record their names, where they were captured and the names and origins of other prisoners. (For more information on autograph books you can visit www.johnsonsisland.org/history/war_autograph.htm) I donated the book to the Johnson's Island preservation organization. He had to get back to Tennessee on the charity of people along the way. There are many pastors in my ancestry, including some Methodists in Tennessee in the 19th century and vicars in the Church of England in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is true on my father's and mother's sides. The most remarkable of the clerics was George Holden, a polymath who served in Lancashire, published a book on the tide tables of Liverpool and had a library of books on mathematics and books in Greek, Latin, French and English. The tide tables book was published by Holden heirs for many years. I am attaching a copy of his will at the end (see sidebar). My eighth great-grandfather is Barack Obama's seventh great-grandfather, which makes us distant cousins. I also am related by marriage to George Washington and Robert E. Lee.
Q: Any family skeletons? Any horse thieves or Tories?
A: None. However, I did find that my ancestor Benjamin Johnson, a cleric at the Deanery of Doncaster, Yorkshire, England, published a book of poems in 1802 and did not pay the printer. The printer had to sue to collect -- and this is in the court records of Doncaster.
Q: What is the best way to start exploring the roots of your family tree?
A: The best way to start is to obtain a blank tree from the internet. Fill out everything you know and then poll your relatives to see what they can add. Use dates and places when you can.
Q: What are some of the best resources for researching family history?
A: At the Greenwich Library there are free online resources such as AncestryLibrary and other databases. Below is a link to the library.
The LDS has a free online site called Familysearch.org which has source information, forms to use and family trees. There are also instructions there on how to build your tree.