According to a just released 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 78% of Americans are somewhat or very curious about their ancestry, and more than a third (34%) have already researched their heritage. Not surprisingly, television executives have noticed the soaring popularity of genealogy and responded with celebrity roots shows -- most notably British import, Who Do You Think You Are? (NBC), and an annual PBS series with an ever-evolving name (Faces of America, African American Lives, etc.) hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I've worked on all these shows, so I was delighted when Kyra Sedgwick talked about her experience with the latest Gates series on a recent appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman.
Though Dave was clearly a skeptic, Kyra insisted that she "found out so many things she didn't know" and protested, "But it was on PBS! You have to believe PBS!" Among the revelations she shared were some of her famous, distant cousins -- Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Marilyn Monroe -- but it was the last name she dropped that grabbed Dave's attention. Apparently, Kyra and her husband, Kevin Bacon, are 10th cousins once removed.
She described this discovery as "a little upsetting," but it shouldn't be and Dave should tuck aside his skepticism. Here's why. I'll spare you a treatise on genealogical math, but suffice it to say that we all have millions of cousins, so a few of them are bound to be famous. And though we tend to make kissing cousin jokes about West Virginia, the phenomenon is far more widespread and pronounced than many realize. In fact, if you and your spouse both have deep colonial American roots or both have French Canadian ancestry, the odds are excellent that you're cousins.
Both Kyra and Kevin fall into the colonial American category (for an interesting taste of Kyra's family history, read In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family by John Sedgwick), so while their cousinship wasn't a given, it's not shocking either. Even so, I imagine they're probably thankful that their connection is more distant than six degrees.