Taylor Swift’s Formidable Female Forebears

Thanks to this mother-daughter duo, she’s got cousins around the globe

Megan Smolenyak
11 min readFeb 23, 2024

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Please enjoy this admittedly idyllic, AI-rendered image generated from the author’s prompts speculating what Taylor’s 2nd and 3rd great-grandmothers might have looked like beside the shore of a totally made-up version of Simon’s Town, South Africa.

When it comes to genealogy, I prefer fresh territory, which is why I usually avoid the mega-famous. If someone is universally renowned, it’s a given that hundreds, if not thousands, have already poked around the branches of their family tree, so what’s left to discover?

But on the few occasions I’ve gone ahead anyway, I’ve almost always wound up tripping across neglected or hidden pockets of ancestry, so when a journalist friend reached out with a specific request involving Taylor Swift, I agreed. I admire the hell out of her, so why not?

As is my habit, I started from scratch (too much sloppy research floating out there online that can lead you astray), and it didn’t take long to answer his question. That should have been the end of it, but an intriguing ancestor — the genealogical equivalent of a shiny object — had grabbed my attention and I had to know more.

In this case, it was a colorful great-grandfather who made me dig deeper, but once I did, it was his mother and his mother’s mother I couldn’t get enough of. And while it wasn’t Taylor’s beloved grandmother Marjorie’s branch, it was the one that had produced a man worthy of her.

Shiny Object Ancestor

So why did this particular great-grandfather make me do a double take? Well, his name was George Finlay, but sometime in his twenties, he appended the name of Lancelot. After that, he mostly went by Lance.

That raised an eyebrow.

George Finlay in his late 50s circa 1932 (New York, U.S. District and Circuit Court Naturalization Records, 1824–1991, FamilySearch)

Before long, I found a record that said he had been born at sea. OK, this was becoming more interesting.

As I followed his paper trail, though, I found five documents citing an “at sea” birth, but another ten saying England and a further five stating Scotland. Hmmm…did he have something to hide? Given that he bounced around New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, New York, Rhode Island, and — oh, yeah, Trinidad and maybe Cuba — it was certainly a possibility.

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Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (www.MeganSmolenyak.com)