Saturday, October 27, 2012

An Uncommon Reason for Family History Research

Sometimes different parts of my life cross over.  One of my coworkers at BART, where I am a part-time train operator, met someone I know from genealogy while they were shopping at a grocery store.  The genealogy acquaintance saw my coworker's uniform and commented that she knew a genealogist who worked at BART.  So the next time my coworker saw me he asked if it was true.  When I confirmed it, he said he wanted to show me a family tree he had created.  The next day he brought in an eight-page hand-drawn tree showing fourteen generations of descendants from one ancestor in England, a Mr. Clap.

He had obviously put a lot of work into his research, and what was particularly interesting to me was the reason he had created the tree.  His son had applied to Harvard University, and at some point in the application process they were asked if they had any relatives who had graduated from Harvard.  Apparently this would make his son eligible for some financial aid as a "legacy."  So off dad went to find out the answer.

He ended up identifying more than fifty descendants of his son's 11th great-grandfather who were Harvard graduates!  Surprisingly, only seven of those people were legacies themselves.  Among the alumni were the first president of Yale University and a man who created a pear cultivar which was named after him.  Even though all of the graduates were men, one female descendant is said to be the first woman who attended all of the required classes for a degree, albeit at a time when women were not permitted to matriculate.  Because of the specific focus he had while creating this tree, he only listed descendants with the family name, but he also included some Harvard alums who married Clap women.  And not a single one of the Harvard graduates was a direct ancestor.  But the effort was good enough to earn the financial aid.

I was happy to hear that now that the financial aid is wrapped up, he says he's going to go back and research all the other relatives in the family tree.  I hope he publishes it some day, because he's doing an amazing amount of work.


  1. I wonder if the amount of aid is in direct proportion to the number of ancestor grads? The more grads you have in your lineage, the more money you get?

  2. If they didn't have to be direct ancestors, that would certainly encourage more research on collateral lines!


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