Sunday, January 18, 2015

Civil War Sunday - The DNA of History

Sometimes, I wonder what I would find out if I took a DNA test to discover my ancestry.  I can do that, apparently for "only" $159.

Two actors, one of the 20th century, one still alive and acting today, turn out to have interesting ancestry.  Wouldn't it be nice if I was related to someone who change history?

DNA tests won't reveal that, but it sometimes seems that famous people through the ages are related to each other.

To find out about one of them, we need to go back 150 years.

150 years ago this week, a man by the name of Francis P. Blair, Sr. was working to try to broker a peace agreement between the United States and the Confederate States of America. The war between our States had been going on since April of 1861.  Many people were exhausted, and efforts were being made to negotiate a peace. (Those efforts did not succeed, in case you are wondering.)

If you saw the Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln, you saw this character in action, played by actor Hal Holbrook.

Blair's role in American history is extensive, although he is not a household word today. For trivia lovers, his life contains plenty to be fascinated about.  For example, if you've ever heard of Silver Springs, Maryland, you can thank Frances Blair. He fell in love with a spring, made silvery by flecks of mica, when his horse threw him near it - or, so the story goes.  Silver Springs grew up around that spring.

If you have ever visited Washington, DC, our nation's capital, you may have seen Blair House, the guest house for visitors to the White House.  Yes- it was once the house of Frances Blair.

It was in Blair's house that Robert E. Lee was offered command of the Union Army - but, when Virginia seceded from the Union, Lee resigned and took command of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia.

Union General William Sherman (of "March through Georgia" fame - or infamy- was married at Blair's house.

And, in 1950, two men tried to assassinate then President Truman at Blair House.

So many famous and influential people have stayed at Blair House.

But, as infomercials tell us - But wait!  There's more! (Sometimes, I love clichés.. Sorry about that.)

Francis Blair, Sr., the founder of the Republican Party, and the father of a Civil War General, was also the great-great grandfather of actor Montgomery Clift. (I have also read that Clift was adopted, so I am not certain if that relation is by blood or adoption.)  Apparently, this was not the only connection Clift had with the Civil War.

Clift starred in a movie called From Here to Eternity in 1953.  His character's name was Robert E. Lee Pruitt.

Clift starred in a movie called Raintree County (with Elizabeth Taylor) in 1957.  The plot was related to the Civil War.  But the movie was still being filmed when Clift (who had a major drinking problem) got into a car accident during the filming of the movie. 

He was permanently disfigured. He was only 45 when he died, in 1966.

Meanwhile, it turns out Abraham Lincoln has a link with a movie actor of modern times - George Clooney. Clooney, it would seem, is a half-first cousin five times removed from Lincoln. 

A DNA test wouldn't tell me who I was related to, but I wonder what untold stories are waiting to be told by my DNA. 

I might just think about saving up for that test.

Would you want to get your DNA tested, if you could afford it?


  1. The idea of testing your DNA to find out your heritage is crazy, but also cool! I live really close to Silver Spring, and I never knew that's how it got the name. Very cool! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Alana, fascinating! I had no idea how Blair fit into those pieces of history. I had heard of Blair House. Now I really have to round up the movie, Lincoln. Today, there are TV shows that purport to tell you who you're related to. I thought they did use DNA as one tool. and the archives of-- no kidding-- the Mormon Church are rich with resources about who we're related to. I have a relative buried at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg and another who explored the N and S Poles. It's fun to look into your history. Thanks for the terrific post.

  3. I think it's really fascinating to learn about a person's heritage. While genealogy is helpful in that regard, DNA tests can help find out who you're related to from that scandalous affair great great great grandpa Joe had 200 years ago. THAT would be interesting to learn. lol

  4. Interesting history! So are you going to get yours done? You'll have to let us know who you're related to, of course. I had a great, great (etc.) grandfather that fought in Napoleon's war. That's pretty cool to know, I guess. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I thought I (used to) know my basic American history, especially 20th century, but somehow the Truman assassination attempt was simply gone from my memory. How could that be? After reading your blog, I read up on it a bit.

  6. There's also 23andme, a little cheaper and a little different. My DNA shows I am related to Stephen Colbert! Even better, I am 2% neanderthal!

    Traditional genealogy supplemented by online family trees (which may be unreliable) indicate that I am distantly related to Ernest Hemingway and Richard Nixon!


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