I just love the Who Do You Think You Are? series. Each episode is like a genealogy “who done it,” chocked full of history and sleuthing, travel and of course, good guys and bad guys. Try to ignore the unfortunately huge commercial load. The mute button works miracles and you’ll have plenty of time for a BR break or to pop some popcorn or even to go online and check your DNA results if you haven’t done that yet for the day.
On this upcoming Sunday, March 12th, the new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? airs at 10/9c on TLC. Actress Julie Bowen uncovers fascinating stories of her ancestors on both sides of her family.
First, Julie travels to Chicago to learn about her mother’s side of the family. She knew that her ancestor, “Big Charlie” was the artist in the family. Born the son of a plumber in Denver, Big Charlie headed east, instead of west, to Chicago, the land of opportunity for an up and coming artist.
Big Charlie’s art was fresh and new and even by today’s standards, looks quite contemporary. Still in his early 20s, he founded his own company and was the “big bright light of advertising illustration.”
Charlie was the poster boy for the American dream, ambitious and talented, but then…the rest of the story. You knew there had to be a “rest of the story,” right?
The next revelation pulls Julie down a dark hole…one that affected my ancestors too, but that I had never heard of before this episode. A dark chapter in American history that is oh so relevant once again today and is guaranteed to make you think.
You’ll have to watch this one for yourself. All I can say is that you’ll never, ever guess this plot twist…and I don’t want to spoil it for you. Big Charlie wasn’t exactly what he seemed, nor quite how he was remembered by the family.
Next, Julie looks to discover more about her father’s ancestor, a man rumored to have been a doctor associated with the underground railroad. Is this story too good to be true? Julie said she had never looked into this family lore because she loved the legend so much just the way it was. She didn’t want to risk finding out that maybe it wasn’t accurate, that maybe her ancestor had been a slave-owner instead. I think, in one way or another, we can all identify with that sentiment.
Julie travels to Washington County, Pennsylvania, and you know it’s going to be a good story when your ancestor’s home is now the local historical society. How often has that ever happened to me? Exactly none!
Julie learns that her 3 times great-grandfather, Francis Julius LeMoyne, was a highly sought after speaker and a radical abolitionist who risked his life and the lives of his family repeatedly, for years, decades actually, to help free fugitive slaves. Francis’s activism began long before the movement to free the slaves became a reality. Francis signed on early, before 1837, as a founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. All of this was at incredible personal risk to Francis and his family who clearly supported his efforts.
Francis’s lectures and meetings didn’t always go well, even in the North where he lived. At one event, when a group was meeting at his house in the garden, an unhappy crowd gathered outside. Standing on the balcony, surveying the unruly crowd, Francis’s father, also a physician, suggested that if the crowd became threatening, that he kept bee hives underneath the porch roof. I’ll let you guess what happened next!
The revelations that Julie experienced in Washington County are as heart-warming as the ones in Chicago were bone-chilling.
Julie, in the end, can’t help but notice the parallels between the acts of her ancestors with what’s going on in today’s world. She reflects that it’s nice to have heroes and that your ancestors, for bad or good, make you ask yourself “who you want to stand up for.” It’s certainly “not the easy choice to fight for people who had no choice.”
It’s difficult to discover ancestors whose actions and sentiments chafe at everything we believe. It’s emotionally unsettling, and for Julie to find both a hero and a villain in such a short time must have been akin to an ancestral emotional roller-coaster ride. Her perspective is both encouraging and enlightening. She closes by saying that we must “love them, hear their story, and find a better way.”
A great episode that will keep you on your toes all the way to the end.