"I Am A Cousin" - Meet Michael Stills

Michael and AJ are 25 steps apart.
 
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well the short answer I give online is Husband, Father, Son, Digital Explorer.  I am part of that “Sandwich” generation, caring for elderly parents and a 16 year old daughter.  What time I have left, I divide between my wife and myself.  

I dreamed of a career that was a cross between Lewis and Clark and Star Trek, exploring the unknown but with high tech  gadgets.  I was a National Park Ranger before I ended up with a career in Volunteer and Nonprofit Management mostly for outdoor and nature organizations. Recently I started a small business assisting members of my community, an extension of taking care of my parents. And I am dangerously addicted to Genealogy and I like puzzles. When I discovered WikiTree, I had to figure it out and in the process I got hooked.

2. What first interested you in the Global Family Reunion? Are you thinking of attending the shindig in New York next year? 

I think it was through reading the G2G feeds and the curiosity of it played into what I was doing at the time. I was tracking down relationships to the US Presidents.  I find that many famous figures have had their genealogy done for them, usually it is well done.  If I find a connection, often I can push back my own lines or better source them.  Over time I realized that it is not, “Who are we related to?” but “Where are we related?”. The themes of the project resonated with my own. I think that is what Global Family Reunion is built on and what WikiTree is excellent at finding.  Besides, everyone was having so much fun I had to check it out.

I wish I could attend the event in New York.  My wife is from New York so it would be a fun trip for us both.  But alas, my budget is small so the adventures have to be local.  Be sure to say hi to all my cousins for me though, ok?

3. What is an unexpected connection in the links between you and AJ?

Once you realize everyone is connected, finding the connection is not unexpected but it sure is fun. 
 
But what is really unexpected is that AJ’s passion for his project and his relative newness to genealogy has found an outlet that has the potential to be transformative.  It was not some big name genealogist that got the ball rolling but a relative newcomer.  That’s awesome! I feel like we have just explored the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” It will be interesting to see how this grows until the reunion next year and then to see what comes of it in years to come. Is this just another project for AJ or will the genealogy bug grab him like it has for many of us?  In any event, more fun and adventure ahead.

4. Who are some notable people you were glad to be connected to in the big tree? 

Thomas Jefferson because he was a “Renaissance man”.  I wanted to say John Wayne because my mom is a big fan, but he isn’t connected to the Global Tree yet!

I also love my ancestors in the New Netherlands Project.  New Netherlands history is a sorely neglected part of American History.  Russell Shorto’s book, “Island and the Center of the World” was a great read and very enlightening. Connecting to the supposed pirate, Anthony Jansen Van Salee and his wife, “Manhattan’s first prostitute” is a lot of fun, if a bit suspect.  But I am very glad to be able to find connections to regular folks at WikiTree too!

5. If you get AJ to invite one person to the reunion, who would it be? Who are some other notable people you would like to see connected to the tree?

Me??, …wait, I am invited!

Hmm…I can not think of one person specifically so I am going to say, history teachers.

Once you truly realize that we are all related, then we are back to “Where are we related?”  We need to enlighten those who have not yet discovered this reality and the potential behind it.  Imagine teaching history from the perspective that, “We are all related.” Not as a general platitude, but as if we are teaching about our grandparents.  Genealogy has the potential to make the experience of history real and personal.  We say the words, “Forefathers” but we do not “feel” the words.  If our common understanding of history includes the idea that we are all related (and we know exactly how), how would our relationships in the world change?  If our children understood historical figures as personal ancestors, how might their understanding of history change?

6. Who is someone in your family tree the rest of us would be proud to call “Cousin”?

My first “discovery” was learning about my great grandfather, Smith Alexander Stills. He is my primary focus and I feel a personal connection to him. Even though he was just a farmer from a long line of Tennessee farmers, what little I have about him suggests he was a good man.

Another ancestor I could point you to would be Dr. Chauncey Lee Sheldon.  He served as Surgeon’s Mate during the War of 1812, was County Clerk in Warsaw, New York, where he was also their first doctor and druggist. As County Clerk, he authenticated a lot of Revolutionary War pension applications and was a pillar in his community. He lived a lot of American history, yet he died at the age of 44 after fathering 13 children, of which at least three died very young.

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