Family History Programs

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2004

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years we all have become familar with the different versions of the program; ” Who do You think You Are.” and there are a lot of things in it that can be very helpful in doing our own research.  But the other night I came across a program called, “Finding Your Roots“, I found myself pleasently surprized by not only the quality of the program but by also the fact that you get to see where the information came from and also some of the stories of the various ancestors of these people.

In this episode we get to look at the family tree’s of Robert Downey Jr; and Maggie Gyllenhaal, both are well known actors and both share a lot in common in their family tree’s.  Both have Jewish ancestry on one side of their tree and european ancestry on the other side of their tree.

Throughout the program you saw the use of different resources, such as state and federal government records.  Also the use of libraries, Historical & Family history societies and also the use of family information.

English: Actor Robert Downey, Jr. at the 83rd ...

It was interesting to note that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s surname means, “Golden Hall.”  And that one of her ancestors was a puritan minister and quite a well known one. His name was Reverend John Lothrop and who, along with some of his congregation, was banished to the America’s from england at a time of intense persecution of non-conformist religions.  John Lothrop & his parishoners arrived in Boston, Massachusetts  in 1634AD .  John Lothrop was one of the founders of the town of Barnstable, Massachussetts, USA.  And is an ancestor of many notable american figures. One of the homes he built in Barnstable is now a library and is considered one of the oldest libraries in the USA.

Robert Downey Jr can count among his ancestors his 5th great grandfather, Tobias Schucker (1747 – 1813), who fought in the American Revolution. He enlisted in the Berks county Militia, Pennsylvania in 1780 as  a private.  After the war finnished and at the end of his life, his will showed that he owned over 100 acres of land.  Tobias was descended from German emigrants and even though he lived and died in the USA, he never forgot his german heritage.  His will was written in German and he probably spoke german most of his life.

One of the most interesting segments in this program is the use of DNA matching. Both Maggie Gyllenhaal & Robert Downey jr supplied samples of their DNA. These samples were used to determine their genitic origins.  The DNA testing was carried out by a company called .  Despite the fact that both Maggie & Robert have jewish ancestry in their family tree.  The tests showed that Robert Downey Jr has only 20% of his genetic makeup comes from the jewish side of his ancestry.  Whereas Maggie Gyllenhaal’s genetic makeup is 100% jewish.  The tests also showed that Maggie’s  linage is part of the 40% of the american jewish population who are descended from a group of 4 jewish women who lived in the land of Judea over 2000 years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this program and am looking forward to watching the rest of the series. I do not hesitate in recommending it, not just for its entertainment value but also because it is a good example of how to do family history and shows the resources that are available to us in our search for our ancestors.


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