Many people in Oregon say they inherited the adventurous spirit of the Lewis and Clark expedition, but third-grader Shaun Stice is a direct descendant. Shaun proudly stood in front of his class at Candalaria Elementary School and offered a framed certificate to prove it.
The Certificate says Shaun is related to Sgt. Patrick Gass, a carpenter and architect of wooden forts, and one of the 33 members of the Corps of Discovery.
Classmates were skeptical.
“They said I could buy it at any store,” Shaun said.
Not so, says Sandra Hargrove, a member of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Descendant Certificate Project.
“People can’t just call and say, ‘I’m a descendant,”’ she said.
Certificates are awarded only to families proving their lineage to one of 33 members of the expedition that traveled the full distance from what is now North Dakota to the coast and back, including the Shoshone Indian woman Sacagawea and the black slave York.
Among the families are direct descendants of William Clark and collateral descendants of Meriwether Lewis. Lewis never married — he killed himself in 1809, three years after the expedition ended — so he has no known direct descendants.
People who think the Lewis and Clark expedition was a family affair research through birth, death and marriage certificates, census, probate and Bible records, wills, deeds, diaries and old letters. More than 400 descendants have been documented so far, and about 100 have applications pending. The deadline for applications is Dec. 31.
The bicentennial celebration of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean has spurred interest in the descendant project, which was launched in 1999.
“They’ve been coming out of the woodwork,” Hargrove said.
Indeed, the 200-year commemoration has led to a broader interest in genealogy among Americans.
“It has absolutely rekindled interest in family history,” said Carol Bronson, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation in Great Falls, Mont. “People want ownership of the story, and then they feel a part of it.”