27 July 2010

Cousin Joanna Barnes Invited to Next Barnes Family Reunion

In my last post, I talked about how it is impossible to trace the descendants of all of your ancestors. Even finding all descendants of just one ancestor, though possible, is daunting, and I haven't attempted it. I'm just too involved in other endeavors, and frankly, I don't think anyone is particularly interested. Besides, a lot of it has been done here and there, just not compiled in one place.

At our family reunion I was asked twice about Joanna Barnes, the actress. "Is she a relative?" "I always heard she was a cousin!" Now I had heard this claim, too, but was keenly aware that the sources were prone to exaggeration and/or wishful thinking. Yet, most family stories/myths end up having more than a grain of truth to them: fact and fantasy intertwine seamlessly and need to be separated carefully. So like a good genealogist, I wanted to verify this information before confirming the family story.


This is Joanna Barnes* (1934–  ). You can see her listing in the Internet Movie Database at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0055645/. My uncle, William Humphrey "Billy" Barnes (1920-1992), used to boast that Joanna was a relative. He'd bat his eyes winsomely, swoon and generally get all soft of expression. He was quite the jokester, and I always thought he was making it up, or simply wishing it were true. She was a beauty and he fairly turned inside out everytime she came on TV. Whelp, we just had a Barnes family reunion this past weekend, and the subject came up. I was sceptical about the relationship until I heard she was from Hingham. Since I know that my immigrant ancestor, Thomas Barnes, was the only Barnes with lots and lots of progeny in the area, I thought it plausible that she, too, had descended from him. 

So I googled her when I got home, and once I saw her photo, I knew she was related. She's got those wide-set, light colored eyes and dark blond hair, thin upper lip/thicker lower lip, oval face, with heavy eyebrows. Lots of Barnes descendants seem to have these features. In fact, I think she looks a lot like my sister.

 I also knew that she could not be a close relative. I'm aware of everyone descended from my great great-grandfather, Israel Merritt Barnes I, on down. Israel I's father, Joseph Barnes, had moved from Hingham to Scituate to marry Polly Vinal, and they were given the old Capt. Israel Vinal homestead, built about 1723 on what is now Booth Hill Road, as a wedding gift, according to family stories. The land had originally belonged to John Booth (hence the modern street name) but was sold to Israel Vinal early in the eighteenth century. That home remained in the family until Uncle Billy sold it in the 1960s.

Joseph and Polly had eight children, the youngest of whom was Israel, born in 1820. I was pretty sure she wasn't descended from any of them because they remained in Scituate or moved to Boston. None went back to Hingham. Joseph only moved to the next town, but he did not seem to have many interactions with his siblings except in a few land dealings. That still left five previous generations. 


Joanna is too young to appear in the census, since 1930 is the most recent to which we have access. It appeared that she is still alive. I didn't want to get all caught up in invented or undocumented family trees and was hoping to find some original information on the web since she was so famous. I googled "Joanna Barnes" and "daughter of" and found a newspaper announcement from 1959 in Hingham which said she was the daughter of John Barnes. From there I could go to census and on back bouncing vital records off of census and other records–– easy peasy––until I found she is descended from John, grandson of the immigrant ancestor. So she is my sixth cousin once removed!

It's got to be coincidence that she looks the way she does, but it was still fun to find Barnes relatives in Hingham more than two hundred years after our own ancestor left. I know there are scads more, but since Hingham is so easy to research it feels more like record-keeping than genealogical research. Countless people have transcribed original records, and written town histories and genealogies, so it is not as compelling as solving those brick wall mysteries. I think I'll leave it until I'm older and can't get around as well...

Cousin Joanna, nice to know you're part of the family! We hope you can join us at the next Barnes Family Reunion, not yet scheduled, but sure to occur in the near future!



* Photo of Joanna Barnes courtesy of "Ace Photos" website (http://www.acephotos.org/c13578426/joanna-barnes-photo.html : accessed 26 July 2010).

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