finding your roots

A Boringly Quintessentially American Family

Stephen Haynes April 10, 2012

Chester E Jackson

I suppose there’s something ultimately, boringly, uninteresting about a family that, along most lines of forebears, stretches back (from me) six generations or more in the United States and in some cases the Colonies, often into the 1600s, arriving here contemporaneously with (and in one case part of) the Mayflower colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Until the most recent three generations, these were largely simply-schooled people, many of them pioneers on the American frontier as it moved west, at least as far as Racine, Wisconsin. In some cases the path led from the East Coast (often Connecticut or Massachusetts), to western New York, to Ohio and Michigan. The families mingle largely in New York and Michigan, and that’s where my own roots lie, at least on Emily Josephine Bates’s (my mother’s) side, in the small town of Ovid, Michigan. On my father’s side, the roots are in Ohio (with forebears again from the East Coast).

So far as I know, none of my ancestors escaped persecution in England or Eastern Europe, no one was brought to this country against his or her will, no one made very large waves (although we have a few prominent preachers, a few Revolutionary Warriors, and a few war-dead Union Army members back there), and no one rose to great financial heights.

My ethnicity is hugely English Protestant, with a smattering of Irish Protestant and a wee bit of Scots. Go back far enough, and we find Norman English, landed gentry and royalty, but that’s another story. Go back really far, and you’ll find I’m descended from the Holy Roman Emperor — that may well be a romantic fantasy. Perhaps to our disadvantage, there’s nothing of Jewish, Hispanic, African, Asian, Eastern, Central or Southern European roots. (Maybe DNA testing would prove me wrong.) Like I said, horridly boring.

Family names are also quintessentially Anglo-Saxon: Haynes, Bates, Jackson, Keys, Cobb, Whitney, Doty, Kennard, Langtree, Jeffers, Hugg, etc., etc.

When you come right down to it, my ancestors and my contemporary relatives all form the bedrock of America. Not renowned, but diligently persevering through the centuries.

The story is only now finding its way online, including hundreds of older family photos:

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  • Bill Edmiston

    April 13, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I have a manuscript that is about 75 pages regarding my family tree. May I send you a copy for your parusal? It goes back from 2012 to 1682 & is connected to William The Conqueror in 1066.
    Bill Edmiston

  • Stephen Haynes

    April 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    To Bill: Sure, although I’d prefer a PDF sent to If it’s not in PDF form, please email me for normal postal delivery address.

  • Beth Blakely

    April 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Very boring here as well. Very similar – ancestors on the Mayflower and others who came just after, although one branch was in Denmark about 125 years ago. But you know what, our “boring” is the back-bone of what a great country this country is. Just the people living and trying to make things a little better for the next generation. Boring… but I’m proud!

  • Bert

    April 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    There is nothing boring about Stephen Haynes.

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About the Series

The basic drive to discover who we are and where we come from is at the core of the new 10-part PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the 12th series from Professor Gates, the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Filmed on location across the United States, the series premieres nationally Sundays, March 25 – May 20 at 8 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

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