‘Obscure’ family detailed
BY BILL FREEHLING
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Doris Buffett has spent parts of the last 30 years traveling all over the world on a personal mission to track down her family’s roots.
That’s meant combing through photographs, personal letters, probate records, birth certificates, obituaries, church documents, diary entries and more. The Fredericksburg philanthropist contacted just about every Buffett she could find to see what insights they could offer. That list included singer Jimmy Buffett, with whom Doris Buffett traveled to New Zealand as part of the project. The pair are at best very distant relatives.
The result of her efforts is a handsome hardbound book recently published by Capital Offset Co. titled “An Obscure Family: The Buffetts in America.” The 272-page book is full of Buffett-family pictures and records, a departure from the somewhat bland tradition of genealogies.
Doris Buffett’s love for genealogy was kindled when she was 13 and received a letter from an uncle with details about her family’s past. She got serious about the project in 1983, sending out requests for information to 116 Buffetts in America.
Over the next three decades she learned that John Buffett, a French Huguenot who came to Long Island in the mid-to-late 17th century, was likely the first member of the family to arrive in the New World. Her forebears were farmers and sea captains, grocers and teachers, a congressman and an occasional artist.
In the mid-19th century her ancestors moved to Omaha, Neb., where she grew up and her famous brother, billionaire investor Warren, continues to live. Doris Buffett said her brother, who is 82 and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, was most interested to know whether old age is a trait that runs in the family.
The title of the book springs from a conversation Doris Buffett had with a genealogist in London while researching the book. She was told that information was not easily obtained because many records had burned and because she was part of “an obscure family.”
Over the past two years Myles Eglevsky and Elizabeth Mizell helped Doris Buffett publish the limited-edition book, of which 400 copies exist. It is now for sale in two places: Amazon.com and The Griffin Bookshop in downtown Fredericksburg. Signed copies cost $125, unsigned versions $115.
True to form, Doris Buffett is giving away all the proceeds to her Sunshine Lady Foundation, which helps battered women, prisoners, the mentally ill and many others. Since 1996, she has given away more than $100 million through the foundation.
Doris Buffett said she met a lot of nice people during the project and had a great time chasing down details of her family’s history. She hopes a younger member of the Buffett family will pick up the torch and continue the project.
“It’s hugely fun if you have a curious mind,” she said. “It was a wonderful adventure.”
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405