Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The new “official genealogy” database for the family of Frank & Jesse James is gigantic. Researchers now will have more paths of discovery to kinship relationships, not only with America’s iconic outlaws, but also with presidents, office holders & public servants, famous arts & cultural icons, and business behemoths who changed the nation.
It’s been a decade since the popular SURNAMES genealogy database on Stray Leaves was last updated. While visits to the database rose as high as 55,000 daily, its content was replicated across the internet. Meanwhile, new research did not stop growing the database.
Eric F. James has compiled the SURNAMES database since 1997. “Most genealogists only research their own family surname. So did I – in the beginning. But soon I learned that the in-law families of the James knew more about the James than the James knew about themselves. So I started to research the genealogy of the in-law families just as much, if not more. That’s when the explosion came.”
The more his research expanded, the more the names of other historical American icons entered his genealogy. “In 2002, when I showed Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great grandson, my findings about his previously unknown ancestry, he was not so surprised. James family lore historically foreshadowed his relationship to the French Bourbon Kings, but never to Judah, the King of Judea. As a lifelong Democrat, though, Judge Ross was dumbfounded completely to find himself related to the Presidents Bush.”
One research discovery now produces more controversy for the James than does their relationship to outlaws. “In today’s social climate, what can you say when you find out Wal-Mart’s founder Sam Walton is your cousin?” As Eric F. James is called upon often to defend kinship with the criminal career of Jesse James, he’s just as often called upon to defend the business practices of Wal-Mart. James thinks he found the perfect answer, though. “I simply tell people this when I request the family discount at WalMart, I never receive it.”
Stray Leaves’ new SURNAMES database expects to serve more than just genealogists and family historians. The database now includes 273,469 people, in 94,761 family groups, almost double the size it was before. “It got that way,” James says,” because a third tier of research was added. Beyond the James family and their in-laws, I also explored the relatives of the in-laws of the James. That’s when a lot of new James family history was discovered.”
The third tier of research led Eric F. James in unexpected directions and down pathways he never would consider taking before. “Soon, not only was the genealogy piling up, but a lot of new history, previously unknown, was revealing itself, too.
“That’s when it became necessary to start writing the history of the Jesse James family. I had to explain with more than just a skeletal genealogy format what happened with the James, with whom, and why. That’s also why his book Jesse James Soul Liberty is just the first of five volumes to be published in the coming years. Volumes of new history have emerged from the genealogy. “I could write more than just five volumes.”
“The new SURNAMES database includes many of the characters who populate my history books. Readers will be able to go to the database, and clearly see the relationships, how they went back generations, and why their existence was not so surprising after all. The James family were not isolated. The James were part of a large influential community, that cut its path across America together, all the time creating the fundamental identity of America and what it stands for in the institutions they founded, that still hold sway and influence in American life today.”
What will another decade hold for the SURNAMES database? “Believe it or not, the database had to be cut back about 15% in order for the software to compute and report kinship. The process of very selective trimming took almost two years. The database continues to grow exponentially. In the future, there may be more than one gigantic database. There may be many databases that will be all interlinked.”
James adds, “My time for this may be running its course. The next stage probably will be handled by someone younger, coming up behind me. I love everything I’ve learned hanging out with the dead. But, really, I’ve got to get up from this desk.”