Faced with a grandchild’s school family history project for the third time in as many years, Muriel Hagen Jones hired two professional genealogists in a desperate attempt to identify a famous relative. In an interview Monday, just after opening the reports from genealogist Debbie Whitmer (CG), and historian Pat Roth (PhD, AG), Jones said she would have been happy with even one mildly interesting story from an ancestor.
“One of my friends talks about how they are 6th cousins with Mitt Romney, or can trace their heritage to Brigham Young,” Jones said. “I was really hoping for something like that […], at the very least having an ancestor on the Mayflower like everyone else. But I’ve got nothing.”
“I just really wanted to send my grandson to school with something he could be proud of,” Jones added, shaking her head.
Whitmer is based in Illinois and took on the Hagen line. Jones’ grandfather Thomas Hagen, was a small but solvent Nebraska farmer who managed to keep his family fed and clothed. He learned to farm from his father John, who had moved out West after his brother inherited the family farm in Ohio. John’s father appears to have been born in North Carolina, but the record trail goes cold there. “I’m surprised I couldn’t find anything especially interesting in this line,” said Whitmer, who admitted they are usually able to find at least one mildly compelling relative. “The best advice we can offer to people like Mrs. Jones is to attempt to become famous or interesting themselves.”
For help with her Mormon pioneer ancestry, Jones turned to Salt Lake City-based Dr. Pat Roth. Jones knew from her own research that her Grandma Jorgensen’s family had made the trek to Utah in 1858. What she didn’t know was that the family patriarch, Jorg Jorgensen, had planned extremely well for the journey. He, his wife and 4 children all made it to the Salt Lake valley without incident, where he and his 2 sons and 5 grandsons would become part of the 72% of Mormon men who had only one wife. “I guess my great, great grandfather wanted to play it safe — like apparently all my forebears,” Jones said. “I know that those solid monogamous marriages should probably make me feel good, but it just makes my story that much blander.”
The final blow came when Jones received the results of her DNA test. “I don’t care what ‘science’ says,” she lamented, “I know Aunt Sarah Hagen wouldn’t have made up that story about us being descended from an Indian princess.”
Shortly after Jones’ results, both genealogy researchers added a proviso to their contracts stating they will not refund money for revealing a boring lineage.