With his star-spangled top hat, steely-eyed gaze and finger pointed squarely at the nation’s heart, Uncle Sam is one of the most recognizable symbols of U.S. patriotism there is. But what many don’t realize is that he was an actual person.
Just ask one of his great-great-great-great-grandchildren.
The direct descendants of Samuel Wilson — a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied beef rations to soldiers during the war of 1812 and is commonly recognized as inspiring the nickname and poster for “Uncle Sam” — were recently revealed to be living in Arkansas, thanks to research scientists at genealogy site MyHeritage.
“Tracing generations of descendants step-by-step, especially when you’re starting with a name like Sam Wilson, which is relatively common, means you have to be sure your research is taking you in the right directions,” Aaron Godfrey, marketing director for the site, told ABC News.
“MyHeritage provides access to billions of historical documents, including newspapers and censuses, and millions of family trees. … The challenge is knowing where to start yet not knowing what you might discover.”
But while the greater public may have been unaware of their existence, for Helen Painter, eldest sister of seven and matriarch to Samuel Wilson’s living descendants, the revelation has been common family knowledge for as long as she can remember.
“I’ve always pretty much been aware of the connection to Samuel Wilson,” Painter told ABC News. “My grandmother was the daughter of Carlton Sheldon, who was Marion Wilson’s son, and she was the granddaughter of Samuel. Granny always kept us very informed.”