Sean Hayes, probably best known for his role in the sitcom, Will and Grace, finds more than he bargained for when he set out to search for his roots. Growing up without his father, Sean searches for the cause of his estranged father’s troubled past and uncovers a shocking trail of tragedy with tendrils that reach back generations.
I had to laugh, because in the realm of “famous last words,” Sean introduces himself as “Sean Hayes and I’m not named for anyone I know of.”
Well Sean, you should have included your middle name, Patrick, because it’s going to become important! And by the way, um….yes you are named for someone.
No one really writes letters anymore, but Sean’s brother does, and in the letter is a photo of Sean’s grandparents. Sean didn’t even know their names, and now he has their picture.
What Sean does know, is that for some reason his father and his father’s 3 siblings wound up in an orphanage after their mother broke her hips. He had also heard that his grandfather, literally, “died in the gutter.” Was that true?
To find out more, Sean heads to Chicago to begin his journey, where his father and grandparents were from and where he was born.
Unfortunately, alcohol and alcoholism play a huge part in many family histories. It did in mine and it does in Sean’s as well. And unfortunately, all too often alcohol abuse and self-medication is generational until someone steps up to break the cycle of abuse.
Sean discovers that his grandfather, William, was once successful, but met an early demise on skid row – a death that was most likely the result of alcoholism. Sean finds that at the time of his grandfather’s death, his grandmother was an invalid, which Sean concludes led to his father and his siblings being placed in the orphanage.
Inside of a ten year span, Sean’s grandfather, William, had gone from being the wealthiest man in his neighborhood to destitute, without food, anorexic and living in a flop house. This pains Sean, visibly, but while making this discovery, Sean also discovers the name of his great-grandfather, Patrick.
Digging past his grandparents, Sean discovers that his great grandfather Patrick Hayes immigrated to Chicago from Ireland in 1901. Patrick appears to have been a responsible, ambitious man – someone who’s broken the chaotic family pattern.
Sean is really very visibly excited and moved to find Patrick, his namesake’s naturalization records, along with his signature. I just love it when people get this excited about their ancestors. It bring them to life again.
So, it’s off to Dublin for Sean where an unwelcome surprise is waiting. Sean finds his great grandfather, Patrick, actually had lengthy court records for various crimes and did hard labor in jail.
I hope Sean didn’t think too badly of Patrick, because the charges were for assault which certainly could have resulted from a variety of circumstances. In fact, Patrick was with his brother, and sister, when the assault occurred. And are you ready for this – they assaulted their father.
Surely, there is far more to this story.
Both Patrick and William were sentenced to hard labor, which was literally just that, and Patrick immigrated immediately upon release. He did, indeed, set forth to find a better life. A very brave man. Sadly, it appears that he had been raised with alcohol playing a large role in the life of his father, although things aren’t always as they seem.
Further research reveals that much of the Hayes clan – including Sean’s great, great grandfather, Patrick Hayes Senior – constantly ran afoul of the law, and even faced each other in court over family brawls. These assaults fell more into the realm of family spats – throwing stones at each other. Seriously….hard labor for that. That seems a little harsh.
But what’s priceless is Sean’s face when he sees these records. And I’m sure that “Holy Moley” was not what he said on the first take:) I must admit, this part of the segment just kept on getting better and better.
Next we discover that Patrick’s father, Patrick Sr., who prosecuted his own children, spent much of his life in trouble as well. It seems that before he married, he was a bit of a wild child, had 10 years of good behavior and after his wife’s death, when his children were still quite young, was constantly in trouble in the village where he lived for drunk and disorderly conduct, along with other offenses as well.
While this isn’t a legacy that Sean wants to pass on, and he’s glad he has broken the cycle personally, it certainly helps to understand why this may have happened – that Patrick Sr. was probably medicating his grief – albeit in a very unhealthy way. Patrick Jr. saw it and lived with the results, and his son William, continued the unhealthy behavior as did Sean’s own father.
Sean comes away with a sense of forgiveness for the circumstances beyond the control of his ancestors as well as a sense of gratitude for what they contributed to him – traits that he has used in a positive way. Sean is able to find their commonality in spite of their differences.
My husband said he felt badly that this episode didn’t have a happy ending, but I think it does have a happy ending. Watch on Sunday and let me know what you think.
Want a sneak peek? Click here.
Sunday, March 29, 2015 at 10/9c on TLC
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Kudos to Sean for having the courage to face this and have it aired. Everyone has a branch of the family like this, and we all hope and pray for the courage to break the cycle as best we can and move forward to leave a better legacy.
I wonder which orphanage his father and siblings went to? I grew up in an orphanage, a Catholic one – the church keeps all these old records – I believe they are housed today in a convent.
I agree with Tamara. This had to have been hard for him to learn, yet also explained some things to him.
The assaults against the fathers could have been to protect themselves against the drunken father. I recall a similar situation in my teens when a neighbor’s 18 yr. old son assaulted his drunken father to protect his mother and he also landed in jail although it was only for a few days. The mother would never press charges against her husband and let her son go to jail for defending her.
How did Sean’s grandmother Barbara break her hips, and did she rescue children from orphanage when she recovered? What became of her?
I wondered the same things.
When I mentioned that I grew up in an orphanage, I meant in the Chicagoland area. Back in those days, there were 3 prominent ones – two, of which I know for a fact they took in older children.
I also learned that I could use the Soundex immigration index cards that I already have, which have the certificate numbers on them, and use that to hopefully facilitate requesting the immigration applications of my “people” in Chicago.
And I, too, wondered which of the three orphanages was referred to.
I just watched the Sean Hayes episode last night. It was an amazing story.
I wondered about his grandfather’s seeming downfall in the 1940s. Many men of that age went to War between 1942 and 1945 – many came back for the worse physically and/or mentally – I’d be interested if they looked for military records. Alcoholism or tuberculosis – both could have led him to abandon his family and land on skid row after 1945.
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We may be related. I couldn’t read all the info bc it was too much. However, I will further my curiosities. The name Patrick means noble, FYI. Maintain.
All the names are the same in our family history– like it or not.