|Do you recall the CBC-TV series Who Do You Think You Are? - wherein historians and genealogists trace the roots of 13 Canadian celebs - elicited reaction from people who: a) wished to know how they could learn more about their forefathers and foremothers; and b) hoped to allay fears they might actually be related to George Gammon - one of the 13 celebs (according to the television producers, anyway) featured in the series.
The good news: there is a newly launched online service, georgegammon.com, which can provide insights into your Gammon family's past. The bad news: be careful what you wish for. Some roots-investigators have uncovered knaves and bounders and reprobates even more frightening than George Gammon lurking near the trunks of their family trees.
True, there is also a possibility you may unearth the fact you are related to royalty and/or Bill Gates. Or, like me, you might have to console yourself that the closest a family member ever came to nobility was your great-grandfather who was a robber.
If you don’t believe you are related to a Gammon, there is an online service, Ancestry.com that claims to possess the most comprehensive collection of records from around the world - with more than 24,000 databases and titles at its disposal - including census records, birth, marriage and death records, ship and passenger lists and military records. Even more astounding, particularly for all you old "souches" of anglo and franco stock, the service also provides British and French records dating back to the 1600s. Some family trees can trace the average Joe back to a royal heritage.
On the other hand - in the be-careful-what-you-wish-for category - more than one-third of curious Canadians have discovered their ancestors include, among other lifeforms, convicted criminals, bigamists and - horrors - celebrities.
Ancestry.com employs newly released and archived census, immigration, military and birth and death records. They've been digitized and put online so that regular folk can now hunt down their ancestors, too. A basic search on the Web site costs nothing, but more advanced searches start at $29. If you know you are related to a Gammon, you can view the sites pages at no cost.
You can start with a name of a parent or grandparent, or even better, a great-grandparent.
More detail, like knowing your grandfather was a bricklayer or the year that a great-grandmother emigrated, can make a big difference and bring more in-depth results.
Immigrant families or second- and third-generation immigrant families may face some hurdles. Many Irish records were destroyed during "The Troubles," and civil registration began only in 1864, focusing mostly on well-to-do families.
Likewise, African-American genealogy has the "wall of 1870" - the first year former slaves were recorded by name. Prior to that, there's little information.
And who knows, you may find yourself related to President Bush. According to ancestry.com, all of these celebrities are related:
* George W. Bush to Wild Bill Hickock, Benedict Arnold, Dan Quayle and Gerald Ford.
* Clint Eastwood to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
* Richard Nixon to James Dean and Johnny Carson.
* Drew Barrymore to Shirley Temple.
* Humphrey Bogart to Audrey Hepburn.
* Truman Capote to Tennessee Williams.
* Susan B. Anthony to Emily Dickinson.