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'Genealogy Roadshow,' new on PBS, solves family history mysteries

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19 2013 3:56 p.m. MDT

Ordinary people have their family history mysteries solved on “Genealogy Roadshow,” a new series premiering on PBS on Sept. 23.

This fall, episodes in Nashville, Detroit, San Francisco and Austin will feature participants who have interesting family history claims, stories or questions that they submitted and had explored and solved by professional genealogists.

Some participants believe they are distant cousins to famous historical figures or modern celebrities. Many are searching for more information about a specific ancestor or family member. Others have stories they want verified, including ones surrounding hidden heritages, blood feuds and murders.

Over the course of the series, participants will have their claims verified or disproved, learn more about their ancestors’ lives and meet living family members they never knew existed.

David Vaughn was watching “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS in February when he saw a call for submissions of family history questions. The next morning, he filled out an application.

When Vaughn was growing up, his grandmother told him that he was related to Davy Crockett.

Vaughn, who builds boat docks and fireplace mantels and lives in Gallatin, Tenn., didn’t think much of that claim until 2008, when his cousin mentioned to him that he was a direct descendant of a Revolutionary War patriot, William Kelton.

“So that’s what got me started on my family history,” he said. “I started going through different ancestors' names, and I decided to work on the Crocketts.”

He traced his Crockett line back to his fifth-great-grandfather, Anthony Crockett, who fought in the Revolutionary War. From there he did more research until he was confident Anthony’s grandfather and Davy’s great-grandfather were brothers.

“But I had no way of proving it,” he said. “It was always a question to me.”

And that led Vaughn to apply for “Genealogy Roadshow.”

“I said, ‘What can y’all help me find out? Here’s what I have, what I believe, and what documentation I have up to Anthony Crockett.’ ” he said. “So they worked on it, I guess they said 20 to 30 hours of research, tracing back to the 1600s, and they discovered a lot of stuff.”

Vaughn has spent much of the last five years researching his family history, and he also enjoys participating in historical reenactments. While he does a lot of American Revolution reenactments, at other times he portrays Davy Crockett.

“I wear my buckskin, my cap, and I’ve got my ‘Old Betsy’ rifle,” he said. “I really enjoy doing reenactments like that because you get to teach children history that they don’t learn anymore.”

His portrayal of Davy, he said, will have a deeper meaning if it turns out he is related to the king of the wild frontier.

“I’m waiting for everybody to see … what they discovered: If I am related to Davy Crockett, or if I’m not related to Davy Crockett,” he said. “I think this is going to be a great hit, and I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see it.”

Rachel Brutsch is an intern with the Features section of Deseret News. She has a bachelor's degree in communication from BYU-Idaho.

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