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dave obee Elvis, the great genealogist

By Dave Obee

Genealogy was back in the news a few weeks ago. In case you missed the story, I'll give you a hint. The Social Security Death Index has 17 people named Frank Sinatra. There are 124 dead Americans named Tommy Dorsey. If you're looking for John Lennon, the index has 191 to choose from. But there is only one Elvis Presley.

Elvis hit the newspapers because there is a new book out that claims Elvis's ancestors came from a quiet corner of northeast Scotland. That prompted a bunch of bored journalists and TV crews to head to the village near Aberdeen.

The book claims that on Aug. 27, 1713, eight generations before Elvis' birth in 1935, his ancestor Andrew Presley married Elspeth Leg in Lonmay. Their son, also called Andrew, became a blacksmith and was the first Presley to leave Scotland, emigrating to America in 1745.

One of the officials of Scotland's Elvis fan club said that fans have suspected for years that their idol was connected to Scotland.

But I had this nagging feeling that something wasn't right, so I did a bit of digging.

It turns out that in 1991, a book claimed that Elvis had German ancestry. His ancestor was Valentine Preslar, born in Germany circa 1669. He and his wife, Anna Christina Framse, born in Germany circa 1674, were Palatine immigrants to New York in 1709. Among their three sons and two daughters was Andreas Preslar, who was born in Germany in 1701 and died in Anson County, North Carolina in 1759.

That would make Elvis a distant cousin of former President Jimmy Carter, who also descends from Valentine Preslar and Anna Christiana Framse.

The author of this 1991 book was Henry Z. Jones. I know Henry. He is a highly respected Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists who is very well known for his extensive work with the genealogy of the people from the Palatine, in western Germany. Somehow I don't think Henry would make a mistake.

The funny thing about Henry's book was that at the time it came out, it was claimed that the book debunked the previous theories that Elvis's ancestors had been from Ireland. So really, who knows anymore. I'm sure that if I spend a bit more time in Ukrainian archives, I will be able to prove that Elvis descends from a peasant named Elvis Preslovich.

All of this is a reminder that we shouldn't be too hasty in assuming things to be true. A lot of bad work has been done over the years. I'm sure, though, that Elvis would get quite a kick out of all of this interest in his family tree. I'm convinced that he was quite the genealogist, and would have spent a lot of time in the local Mormon library if he hadn't been more interested in drugs, sex, and peanut butter sandwiches.

Consider some of the songs he sang. Whenever we can't find someone in parish registers, we should think of Crying in the Chapel. When we're facing a huge project, we have to remember that It's Now or Never. If ever we can't read an entry on a census, there is always the chance that, as Elvis said, Marie's the Name.

Elvis's interest in genealogy was obvious right from the start. His very first hit, back in 1956, was about where he had been conceived. Down at the end of Lonely Street, down at Heartbreak Hotel.

Posted August 2, 2004


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