Elizabeth Shown Mills talks genealogy books, brick walls and DNA tests.
1. You’re wearing fabulous gold heels. What’s your footwear choice when you kick them off?
I’m barefooted, usually. I’m a Southern girl.
2. You’ve published hundreds of articles and books. Which is your favorite?
Isle of Canes (Ancestry). It’s a historical novel. I love it because it’s what genealogy is all about to me: to get into the heart and soul of people, and see what made them tick, what shaped their lives, what efforts they made to create better lives for themselves.
3. Do you have a current brick wall, and what’s your strategy?
We always have brick walls. The most important strategy, especially in Southern research, is the “FAN club” principle: friends, associates and neighbors. Put your family in the context of others to work through your identity problems. The other important strategy is sheer thoroughness—not overlooking anything that exists.
4. You’ve mentioned the South twice. What do you love about being a Southerner?
Most of us love the culture in which we’re reared. However, my paternal heritage is Northern. What I love is Southern research, because of the challenges that it poses.
5. You’ve had your DNA tested. Did any fun surprises show up?
Did they ever. First, I had the mtDNA test done to prove the family tradition that my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s mother was a Choctaw Princess. That tradition died in a petri dish in the Houston lab. Then, my son’s Y-DNA test informed us that the Millses aren’t even Millses. We’re a 66-out-of-67 marker match with descendants of one John Witt who settled 17th-century Virginia. When I broke the news to my son, who’s a country songwriter, I informed him that he was officially a half-Witt. His retort? “I’d rather think that’s why I’m so Witty.”
From the September 2012 Family Tree Magazine.