A Funny Thing Happened While Climbing My Family Tree

Aug 3, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Diana Bulls, Hometown History, Reedley News

by Diana Bulls

Those who know Jim and I well, know that we love history and all things historical which includes our family genealogy. Jim’s mother, Minnie Bulls, could almost be a professional genealogy researcher and, fortunately, my relatives were really good record keepers.

One of my retirement goals was to get both our genealogies entered into the computer, complete with family notes, stories, documents, photos, etc. I hoped to empty out several book shelves and get rid of a lot of loose papers.

I went to work, entering data, scanning photos and documents, pouring over cryptic comments and trying to decipher faded handwriting in old letters and on the backs of photographs. Jim started plotting out the westward migration of the Bulls/Grahams (his side) and the Dutcher/Webers (my side) on a big map. He used two colors of yarn for each family, representing the paternal and maternal line for each of our four grandparents—different colors for everyone, of course.

Diana's family tree

The Bulls ancestors, Jim’s father’s side, arrived in Jamestown Colony in 1610 on the second ship Mary Margaret (paternal side) and the Grahams arrived in Duxbury, Massachusetts by 1638 (maternal side). The Dutchers were established farmers in Dutchess County, New Amsterdam by 1620 (my Dad’s paternal side), and 11 hardy souls (from Dad’s maternal side) arrived in Plymouth Colony in 1620 on the Mayflower—only four of those colonists survived that first winter.

Jim's family tree

As the colored yarn started wending throughout the eastern seaboard and then westward, we noticed that the yarn crossed paths in some cases, sometimes paralleled and sometimes was in the same place. We laughed and wondered if our families had ever met in their travels.

This isn’t so farfetched. In the brand new country, there weren’t a whole lot of people here. It makes sense that if families lived in the same location, they might actually know each other.

I started looking for clues that might prove our theory.

It happens that Jim and I have family lines that go back as far as 12 generations. There are over 400 names in each of our family trees, so it’s hard to remember every name. Looking at arrival dates, I decided to start in Massachusetts. The town of Duxbury was incorporated in 1637 and was less than 10 miles north of Plymouth. The entire population of Massachusetts was estimated to be about 500 in 1635, so Plymouth/Duxbury it was. Next I needed to look for a common name or reference.

Plymouth-Duxbury map

I’d worked out Jim’s Duxbury ancestors, and I knew they were Wests descending from Frances West who emigrated from Salisbury, England about 1637-38. I decided to check back and see if any of my Plymouth colonists hailed from Salisbury. Before I got that far, I realized that one John Alden and wife Priscilla Mullins moved to Duxbury in 1627. Quick, back to the family tree chart. There it was—John Alden’s great granddaughter, Martha Simmons, married one Samuel West Jr. from Duxbury! Samuel Jr. was the son of Samuel, Sr., who was the son of Frances West who emigrated from Salisbury, England!

Frances had a large family. There were at least eight children, with a possibility of an additional four. The important thing was that my Samuel had a younger brother named Thomas, and they were both sons of Frances. Thomas led me down Jim’s ancestral line. Jim and I had a common grandfather—eight greats on my side and nine greats on his.

Jim and I are first cousins, eight times removed on my side and nine times removed on his side.

And that makes our daughter Amanda, her own first cousin!

It also proves that the nuts don’t fall too far from the tree.

Diana Bulls is an ongoing contributor to our
Hometown History section, having collected vintage kitchen utensils for over 40 years; she is also actively involved with the Reedley Historical Society.


  1. wow. That is so cool. I want to do that too. Frankly, it is just overwhelming to me to start digging…yikes. But I love history and love the stories… a friend recommended ancestors dot com–do you have any suggestions? It sounds like you just jumped in with both feet but a lot of anecdotal data which I don’t have…

  2. The best and easiest source to use when trying to find your family’s history is to speak with family. If you have older family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins, try to spend time with each one to see how many additional names they can add to your Family Tree.

  3. Thank you. Most have passed away, but I’m still digging. It was kind of you to reply… best, Victoria

    • Victoria–
      Definitely start with ancestry.com–there is lots of useful information there. If you are lucky, you may have some family papers that can help you out as well. On ancestry you may also be able to connect with someone researching your family and willing to share info.


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