Jessica Biel – Who Do You Think You Are – “Lore, Legend or Lies”

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, actress Jessica Biel makes surprising discoveries that change what she thought she knew about her heritage. She sets out to debunk, or confirm, three tales of family lore.

Jessica starts with her father’s side where she had always heard that her Biel side was German, and that there was a small village in Germany by that name.

The episode begins with a genealogist in Los Angeles who helps Jessica find her Biel family in Chicago in the census records. Jessica and the genealogist locate the census records for her ancestors from 1910, finding the immigrant ancestors. Instead of Germany, Jessica’s ancestors were from the Austro-Hungarian empire, the part that is now Hungary. The political configuration of countries has changed and borders between then and now have moved several times.

However, the contents of the census revealed information lost in the past 100 years to Jessica’s family. Morris Biel, shown below, is Jessica’s great-great-grandfather, and Edward, age 15, is her great-grandfather.

Can you spot the clue?  You can click to enlarge.

And the clue is….Yiddish.

Morris’s daughter-in-law speaks Yiddish, and Yiddish equates to Jewish heritage. Jewish people marry Jewish people.

Sometimes all you need is one clue – and as Jessica said, “This changes everything.”


Jessica’s first trip takes her to Chicago, Illinois where she meets with a specialist in Jewish history. He explains about Jewish migration to the US, and translates what this means to Jessica’s family.

The immigration dates from the census are utilized to continue to find additional information for Jessica, but I wanted to use this example to do something else – that the program doesn’t include.

Where Did They Live?

In the census records, you can often find actual street addresses. That was the case in this episode. In the census, the street is written to the left side, and it’s the same street for all of the residents on that page. The house number on the street is 3318.

Jessica’s ancestors lived at 3318 Lexington Street.

You can also find addresses in newspapers. I use extensively. In Jessica’s case, an article in 1926 tells about her ancestor’s 50th wedding anniversary and includes their pictures in addition to giving their address in Chicago.

Courtesy TLC

Morris and Ottilia had moved sometime between 1910 and 1926. Can we find those properties today, and do the original homes still exist? Maybe we’ll be lucky.

Using Google Maps, enter the address, in this case, 1315 Granville Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. You may want to follow along using Google Maps, step by step, if you’ve never done this before.

The pin locates the property on the map.

Click on the Earth view, in the bottom left corner of the map, shown above. The property will still be highlighted with a red pin and look much more real.

Before going to the next step, orient yourself. In this case, Granville is heavily treed. There are two buildings that on the map are located side by side to the right of the red balloon and labeled as the church. 1315 is right next door. Now, click on the street directly in front of 1315 Granville.

A small grey pin will appear.

Click in the middle of the small picture in the center bottom of photo, shown above, beside the words “1310-1314 Granville.”

The map will then orient itself towards that location from the street at the grey pin location, although Google Maps doesn’t always drop you directly in front of the house you expect.  That’s why it’s important to orient yourself as to how many houses from the corner, etc.

In this case, I can see the church building and both houses, but I need to move slightly left.

By navigating with arrows up and down the street, and clicking on the street itself in the direction you want to move, you can put yourself in front of the house directly.

By moving up and down the street and scrolling in and out, you can get a better view yet.

So, Jessica could have seen where her ancestors lived in 1926 when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Depending on the location, sometimes you can obtain views from sidestreets and even paved alleys.

Here’s the back from the alley.

You can look around at the neighborhood and get an idea of how they lived. It’s a beautiful little neighborhood, with gardens in the front between the street and the sidewalks.

In the 1910 census, the family lived at 3318 Lexington Street, which is the white house with the green steps, in the picture below. It’s easy to see those green steps from the satellite view, so this home is unmistakable.

This neighborhood looks less prosperous than the homes on Granville, so Jessica’s great-great-grandparents truly were “moving on up,” as George Jefferson used to say.

You can also enter both locations into Google Maps to give some idea of proximity. In their case, they moved quite a distance.

I hope the genealogists in the episode helped Jessica find her ancestral homes. Her family lived in Chicago for more than 3 decades, so these locations are quite relevant to their story. This was “home” to them.

The wonderful thing about Google maps is that you can find your ancestor’s locations too, without going to Chicago! Have fun looking for all the places your ancestors lived!

I also Google the address and look for real estate sites.  Even if the property isn’t for sale today, it may have been and there may be an inside tour and more information available.  You never know if you don’t look.

More Surprises

Jessica continues her search for her Native American ancestor and a third ancestor, whose name is unknown, but who is rumored to have been killed somehow crossing a river. Tune in for a history lesson on the Civil War in Missouri and to see just what Jessica discovers on the banks of the Mississippi.



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17 thoughts on “Jessica Biel – Who Do You Think You Are – “Lore, Legend or Lies”

  1. From the Biel entry just above Morris, the 23 year old male is likely another son of Morris, so there is another sibling of Jessica’s ancestor… I would track down when all those people came over as passengers & which port they sailed from… it might have more detailed info of their residence in Hungary than Budapest…

  2. One of the problems in Chicago research is the street renumbering of 1909. Just a thought to include that sort of caution in any discussion of census and address. My Chicago ancestors’ addresses were changed and were a challenge to figure out pre-1910.

    • it is always a good idea to look at maps in the city directory for the year in question. Every city has shifting addresses and renumbering over the years. You can use this knowledge in conjunction with Google Maps and Google Earth

  3. I’m always a bit disappointed when this television series focusses on someone seeking ancestors who lived in the early 20th century or late 19th century. I spend all my time working out the details of American ancestors who lived here in the 17th century. But, I’m not a famous celebrity.

    • Me, too, Pete.

      I am also frustrated when they don’t go into more detail. I realize there is a time constraint, but I find myself yelling at the screen, “what about _______?” I think this could influence new reasearchers viewing the program into not doing a more thorough search, or ignoring important clues. I always tell peope there is no clue too small. Retain everything, because that one little factoid you didn’t keep is the one you’ll make yourself crazy to find years later.

        • Absolutely. It happens to me all the time. One bit of evidence that I’ve seen a hundred times over the past 40 years, one day, becomes the missing piece to a puzzle. The stone that was rejected becomes the capstone of the building.

  4. The 1910 Census is also good for showing the immigration year; in this case it shows 1889 on the far right of the Census page, and that they were naturalized. However, the newspaper article mentions 1888, but at least it’s close.

  5. The ancestry dna test for native American heritage needs to be explained. Just because she came back with 0% does NOT mean that she has no native American ancestry. It is supposedly on her mothers side. As a female she gets her xx from her mother and her fathers mother. So if the native American is in her mothers paternal line she would not show. I personally have native American ancestry documented on my fathers side. I tested 0% and my brother tested 2%.

    • But there is a lot more than just the X, the signal would likely still be carried on one or more of the other chromosomes, ones that come from both sides every generation. Of course it’s also true that the ancestor they thought was 100% Native American might have been say 20% and then by the time it got to her generation, by random chance it could be washed away or the test failed to pick up a tiny bit (poor Native America sampling). That said, probably the tale is not true, but yeah it’s still not impossible that it could be true in just slightly modified form.

  6. She claimed to be Choctaw ? Was that proven or a myth and does DNA verify native American? Whatever she is talented and good looking

  7. I use Google Maps all the time to try to find the homes of my ancestors. Unfortunately for me the too lived in a big city (Newark, NJ) and it went through terrible riots in the 1960s and whole neighborhools were destroyed and then redevolped into non-residential . I have found so many empty lots and parking lots and office buildings. Very frustrating, but I keep trying.

    • Even without riots neighborhoods change and become empty/parking lots- I have found the same thing with some of my family. And sometimes a very nice neighborhood becomes dilapidated, so trying to find images from the actual time can help tell if a neighborhood was well-to-do or not. (I have seen beautiful mansions become low-income, multi-family apartments once swallowed up by the inner city.) Looking at income and professions on censuses when available can help one gauge the affluence of an area too.

  8. I felt very fortunate to be chosen to do some of the research on this episode. I didn’t find what they hoped existed but it was still interesting to be a part of it. I enjoyed it.

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