Friday, August 05, 2011

Cousin Lucy

We've been at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York for the past few days learning about Iran. On Wednesday afternoon we took a short trip to nearby Jamestown and visited the cemetery where Lucille Ball is buried.

Lucille Désirée Ball was born in Jamestown, New York, in 1911 and she died in Los Angeles in 1989. Her ancestors moved to Chautauqua County in the early 1800's from Connecticut. Lucy and her mother, Désirée Evelyn Hunt, are descendants of Thomas Sherwood (~1586 - 1655) and his second wife Mary Onge (?).

I descend on my mother's side from Thomas Sherwood and his first wife Alice Tiler (1585 - 1635). My ancestors moved from Connecticut to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution. They were supporters of the British during the conflict. (The colonists who left are called United Empire Loyalists.) Lucy and I are 10th cousins twice removed.

The original Sherwood family came to the colony of Connecticut from Suffolk, England, in the early 1630s. They may have as many as one million living descendants so it's not that unusual to find connections such as the one between me and Lucille Ball.

What's really fascinating is what it tells us about populations and their internal genetic structure. I'm sure that many of the families from Fairfield Connecticut have few or no living descendants and the difference between them and the Sherwoods is probably a matter of luck and not genetics. That's what random genetic drift is all about.


  1. Wondering about the Chautauqua Institution. Did you have to sit through any religious mumbo-jumbo at all during your time there?

  2. Paul Baird asks,

    Whereabouts in Suffolk?

    Kettlebaston, west of Ipswich.

  3. anonymous asks,

    Did you have to sit through any religious mumbo-jumbo at all during your time there?

    Yes, it's a very religious place. But that's one of the reasons why I like it. It helps me understand that perspective.

    I went to a discussion group called "Groping for God" and was shocked to discover that none of the other 17 participants had ever been challenged to defend their assumptions about religion and God.

  4. I have a friend in Jamestown, nice to hear about it! Hope you went to Johnny's Lunch for, well, lunch one day!

  5. Do you have any materials from the session about Iran to share?

  6. Wow. How nice to know of a connection, however distant.

    I hope you have time later to write more about the Chautauqua.