Rockstar Genealogist Voting Now Open

Keep Calm and Vote Now

I’m pretty sure that John D. Reed who writes at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections didn’t mean for the Rockstar Genealogist voting to become a Labor Day tradition – but it has become just that.

Once again, John is sponsoring the Rockstar genealogist voting. The contest is a very beneficent contribution on John’s part, because it’s an easy way for all of us to say thank you to a genealogist in the public space who has contributed to our own lives and enriched our experience as genealogists. As we all know, genealogy is a collaborate sport and we depend on the research and expertise of others, regularly. No one can know it all.

The great news is that you can vote for as many people as you would like. I counted 159 people who were nominated (if I counted correctly) from the English-speaking world and there are amazing people in this gathering of eagles.

So, please, take a minute to say thank you to those who are deserving.  John doesn’t say when the voting closes, but it usually only lasts for a couple days, so don’t wait, vote now before you forget and miss out on the opportunity.

Here’s the link to John’s blog and the link to vote is at the bottom where it says “Vote Here.”

I voted

I voted! It was quick and very easy. Thank you John, from the entire community, for doing this once again.  You, indeed, are a Rockstar!

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I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Molly Ringwald – Who Do You Think You Are – “The Swede”

Molly Ringwald wearing a white sweater while sitting in her dad's house.

If you have Swedish ancestors, you’ll enjoy this episode immensely. There is a great deal of historical content in addition to lots of records available in Sweden.

Additionally, I learned something about the Homestead Act of 1862 here in the US I didn’t know before as well, so this episode might be helpful if you’ve ever wondered how the heck your ancestors picked some location west of the Mississippi to settle.

Film star Molly Ringwald was born in Roseville, California to Robert “Bob” Ringwald and Adele Fremd. She knows a considerable amount about her Ringwald line, but knows next to nothing about her father’s maternal family. Molly thinks she has Swedish origins because of rumors her father’s grandfather was called “The Swede.”

Extremely close to her family, Molly is interested in learning about her paternal grandparents’ ancestors and sharing the information with her parents and children. Molly thinks her dad, Bob, might have additional information about The Swede, so she meets with him in Brooklyn. Bob recalls that “The Swede’s” real name was Edwin Jenson and believes he came to the US when he was about three years old, but that’s about all knows.

Molly heads to a local library to meet with genealogist Brian Schellenberg to learn more about her great-grandfather Edwin Jenson. Molly reviews Edwin’s death record which shows that he was indeed born in Sweden – in 1885. Molly continues to scan the record and sees that Edwin’s parents, Gustaf Jenson and Carolina Grip, were also born in Sweden.

This is the first time Molly hears the names of her two-times great-grandparents and wants to know more about them. She searches for clues on a 1900 US census and finds an entry showing Gustaf and Carolina Jenson living in Nebraska with their six children, including their son Edwin. She wonders where the family came from in Sweden and why they would have left for America. Brian suggests Molly visit an archive in Sweden to dig deeper into her family.

Molly travels to the regional archive in Lund, southern Sweden, where she meets with archivist Petra Nyberg. There, Molly discovers that her two-times great-grandparents Carolina and Gustaf were from a nearby coal-mining town called Höganäs, and that Gustaf was a laborer in the mines.

Reaching farther back, she uncovers the names of Carolina’s parents and Molly’s three-times great grandparents: Carl and Kjersti. Molly heads to Höganäs to visit with a historian well versed in mining communities.

Together with historian Erik Thomson, Molly experiences a coal mine first hand, encountering the narrow, dark, and dangerous conditions both her ancestors endured. I have to tell you, it was all I could do to watch this – even though my own family worked the mines – just not in Sweden.  (Yes, I’m a bit claustrophobic.  So it Molly, but she perseveres anyway.)

But that’s not all, there is more to this story. But I can’t tell you without ruining the story line.  I have to say, I don’t know how this woman endured…but she did…and her daughter Caroline succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Molly marvels at how Kjersti’s daughter Carolina – Molly’s great-great-grandmother – escaped with her miner husband Gustaf and wonders what life was like for them in Nebraska.

Molly heads back to America and meets with historian Tonia Compton in Nebraska. Molly reads a warranty deed and discovers that Carolina personally purchased land for her family in 1905, an incredible feat for a married, immigrant woman! Molly locates the land on a 1908 Plat Map, which shows that the acreage is only about 15 miles from where she stands. Before Molly leaves to visit the land, Tonia hands her an obituary notice, which highlights Carolina’s incredible reputation in the community and the love felt for her by her family.

Molly arrives at the property and takes in the landscape as she walks in her ancestors’ footsteps. She regards with deference the life that Carolina made for herself and marvels that her 2x great-grandmother changed the narrative of her family.

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I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Katey Sagal – Who Do You Think You Are – “A PeaceMonger”

Katey Sagal joins TLC this Sunday evening, April 17, at 9/8c for an extremely interesting episode featuring the unique history of the pietist religions on the colonial frontier in Pennsylvania – in this case, the Amish.

You’ve probably figure out by now that I have a media relationship with TLC for these episodes, which means that I get to preview them in advance so that I have the opportunity to write about them, if I choose to do so.

I watched this episode twice. It’s the only episode I’ve ever watched more than once, but then again, it turns out there is a personal reason.  I’m not going to share that with you just yet, but I will be writing about it and utilizing DNA results to prove or disprove….no…..I can’t say more. You’ll have to watch the episode and then read my follow-up article in a few days!

Katey Sagal was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of show business veterans: director Boris Sagal and child radio star, Sara Zwilling.

Losing both of her parents in her mid-twenties, Katey feels that she has no family to ask questions of. She would like to know about her mom’s time performing with the USO, and fill in the blanks on her mother’s paternal line, since she knows nothing beyond her grandfather, Daniel Zwilling.

Katey starts her journey in New York City, where her mom lived when she joined the USO. Katey meets with a military historian, who she hopes can shed some light on her mother’s experience with the USO during WWII. A 1944 newspaper article shows Katey’s mom, under the stage name Sara Macon, as a singer for a USO camp show called “Smooth Sailing,” which performed for wounded soldiers as part of the hospital circuit.

Katey Sagal Mom article

She discovers guidelines her mother had to follow at the hospitals, including:

“Do not mention anything about their wounds, sickness or condition, nor notice that they have lost a limb.”

Katey reacts to what her mom was exposed to at the young age of 18 and wonders more about her experience with the USO. She heads off to meet an actual member of the USO who was performing at the same time as Katey’s mother.

Katey Sagal Mom group

Katey sits down with Hilda “Tinker” Rautenberg, an absolutely lovely lady, and discovers that Tinker actually performed with her mother. Katey is overcome with emotion as she looks at old photos of her mom that she’s never seen before, and is touched to hear personal stories and meet someone who actually knew her.

I cannot tell you how profoundly I related to this. My mother was also a performer during this same timeframe, and several years ago when I was speaking (yes, about DNA) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a lady approached me afterwards and told me that my mother was her dance instructor.  She had recognized my mother’s pictures from the mitochondrial portion of the presentation.  We had a lovely, albeit very emotional visit.  At least, it was emotional for me.  She shared heart-warming stories with me about my mother as a young woman and professional dancer that I had never heard before.

Armed with a sense of her mom’s early life touring and with a better understanding of the source of her mother’s life-long anti-war sentiments, Katey hopes to push further back on her line genealogically, starting with her mother’s father, Daniel Zwilling.

Katey asks a genealogist for help in researching her family and discovers that her 2 times great-grandfather Abraham Miller paid $300 to have someone else fight in the Civil War in his place. She finds he was buried in a cemetery in Iowa for Dunkards (Brethren), which is a pacifist religion similar to the Amish, and heads to Pennsylvania to investigate her ancestor’s family and faith.

In Pennsylvania, Katey finds that, in fact, generations of her family were peacemongers, and that she is connected to two well-known Amish families stretching back to early America.

She uncovers the harrowing story of her Amish 7 times great-grandfather Jacob Hochstetler, whose family was caught up in the tensions between Native Americans and the colony’s settlers. Katey learns that while under attack by the Native Americans, Jacob held true to his religious beliefs and refused to bear arms against his assailants; but his wife and two children were killed, and he and two other children were taken captive. This event became known as the Hochstetler Massacre.

Personal accounts reveal Jacob’s daring escape, and Katey discovers that both sons were adopted into Indian tribes and treated like family. Years later, the sons struggled to return to their old family and way of life. Katey finds that her ancestor’s brave and moving story has left such a mark on Amish history that it is written about in Amish schoolbooks.

Katey heads to her ancestors’ former homestead for a moment to reflect on Jacob and her family’s inspiring story.

When you watch Katey’s episode, make note of the Miller-Stutzman marriage and join me in a few days for “the rest of the story” and what DNA can do for you!

What?

You want a hint?

Hmmm…if you read this article in my 52 Ancestors series, you’ll find both surnames…but that’s all I’m divulging for now.  Stay tuned!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Scott Foley – Who Do You Think You Are – “God Knows I Am Innocent”

Scott Foley is featured on Who Do You Think You Are this Sunday, April 10 on TLC at 9/8c.

This episode is truly interesting, focusing on two defining periods in American history – and little known aspects of both – The Salem Witch Trials and the American Revolution.  If you’re a history junkie you won’t want to miss this episode.

I am innocent

Actor Scott Foley has been married to his wife, Marika, since 2007. They have three young children and he credits them as being a huge reason why he wants to learn about his own heritage. Marika is Polish-American, and her family has a rich history in Poland. As a patriotic American, Scott would like his children to understand their American ancestry too.

Since Scott’s tree is virtually a blank page, he’d like to investigate the only family lore he’s heard. There’s always been a rumor that his paternal grandparents’ side has ties to the Revolutionary War, but Scott isn’t sure how or why. Scott decides to sit down with his father to see if there’s any other clues he can glean to start his search.

Scott’s father Hugh has a few vague leads for his son; he believes the Revolutionary War story is connected to his mother Evelyn Fogg’s line, who died before Scott could meet her. From what he can remember, her mother’s maiden name was something like Wadworth. Curious about the Revolutionary War story, Scott and Hugh go online to the DAR website and search for anyone named Wadworth – which returns zero results. Scott tries “Wadsworth” instead and hits 50 listings. Scott figures he should head to the DAR itself for more answers – and it’s a good thing he did, because Wadworth isn’t the right name at all.  Thankfully, Scott teams with a professional genealogist.

Scott meets with genealogist Kyle Betit at the DAR in Washington, D.C. Kyle has dug into records and compiled a family tree for Scott on ancestry.com to see if he could get back to an ancestor who was alive during the Revolutionary War.

Pouring over the tree, Scott discovers that the family name was actually “Wardwell,” and confirms through the tree and DAR website that his 5x great-grandfather Simon Wardwell is in fact recognized as a Patriot. But who was this ancestor, and how was he associated with the War? Simon Wardwell’s pension file reveals that he enlisted around the start of the Revolutionary War in 1776 and revealed something truly amazing about his service. Scott heads off to Washington’s former headquarters in Cambridge, MA to find out more.

At Washington’s Headquarters, Scott meets with historian Scott Stephenson. And learns that his ancestor, Simon would’ve witnessed incredibly significant events in American history, including an attempt on Washington’s life, and the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Having finally discovered the truth behind his family’s Revolutionary War story, Scott is still curious if he can trace his ancestors back to colonial times in America. He travels to the New England Historic Genealogical Society to do some more digging.

At the NEHGS in Boston, Scott meets with historian Mary Beth Norton, who presents him with a large family tree. Scott confirms that the Wardwells stretch back generations in Massachusetts, all the way to his 9x great-grandfather, the immigrant. But Mary Beth reveals that Scott’s 8x great-grandfather Samuel Wardwell is well known to certain colonial historians. Scott discovers that in 1692, Samuel was caught up in the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

Scott learns the Salem Witch crisis started when two young girls from Salem began suffering from bizarre fits. Soon a local doctor declared they were under the influence of evil. This sparked great fear and hysteria; accusations of witchcraft exploded. The mainly Puritan community felt God was punishing them, and sought to reaffirm their religious beliefs by going after those they believed in league with the devil. They aggressively pursued anyone accused, including Samuel Wardwell. Mary Beth suggests that to find out what happened to Samuel, Scott head to Salem.

At “The Witch House” in Salem, MA, Scott talks with Salem Witch Trials historian Margo Burns. Curious about his ancestor’s trial, Scott uncovers testimony from a teenage girl who accused Samuel of “afflicting” her, and a man who claimed Samuel could predict the future and witnessed him reading palms.

Scott discovers the date of his ancestor’s death, September 22, 1692 – and the details. Wanting to pay his respects, Scott heads off to the Salem Witch Trial Memorial.

Scott takes a moment to reflect on the incredible lives of the men he’s discovered. Scott is pleased to know his family has deep roots in some of the most iconic events in American history; true stories for his children.

Aisha Tyler – Who Do You Think You Are – Which John Hancock???

The TLC series, “ Who Do You Think You Are?” returns for a new season this Sunday, April 3 at 9/8c on TLC, premiering with Aisha Tyler.

Aisha 1

Aisha Tyler uncovers the astonishing tale of a prominent ancestor whose struggle to keep his illegitimate son a secret made the papers.

Aisha 2

Aisha discovers the impressive tale of her two times great-grandfather, who dove headlong into controversy, took a stand for his people, and left a mark so great that he is commemorated today by one of America’s capital cities.

Actress and producer Aisha Tyler knows very little about her mother’s side of the family, and wants to know if it has any connection to her unstoppable drive and ambition. She’s reached out to her great aunt and family historian, Sheila Gregory Thomas, who Aisha hopes can provide some clues about her maternal side. Sheila is the sister of Aisha’s grandfather, Eugene Gregory, who died when Aisha was in her 20s.

Aisha receives a letter from Aunt Sheila and learns the name of her 2 x great-grandfather, Hugh Hancock; and that he attended school in Oberlin, Ohio, and died when Sheila’s mom, Hugh Ella, was just a teenager. Sheila writes that although she has done a lot of research into their family history, that is as far as she got. Armed with this information, Aisha heads to Oberlin, Ohio to see what she can find out about her 2x great-grandfather Hugh Hancock.

Aisha arrives at Oberlin College to meet with a sociologist. Aisha learns that her 2x great-grandfather attended Oberlin’s college preparatory school between 1872 & ’73, and to her surprise, hailed from Austin, Texas. In 1835, Oberlin began accepting Black students on an equal basis, one of the few contemporary institutions to do so. This move made Oberlin a hub for racial equality at a time when slavery still reigned in half of the United States and very few African Americans had access to education.

To learn more about Hugh in Oberlin, Aisha tracks him down on an 1860 census, which shows he is 5 years old, attending school, and listed as “mulatto,” and living with no family members. Christi explains that “mulatto” was essentially a designation based on how white an African American person looked. This means that Hugh was born Black in Texas in 1855 – because of Texas law, he almost certainly would have born a slave.

Wondering how a 5 year old from Texas made it to Oberlin and who his parents were, Aisha finds a newspaper clip from 1880, which reveals that a reporter from Cleveland had investigated Hugh Hancock’s paternity, and narrowed it down to two people; a politician from Texas or a another politician who was a candidate for president, both with the same name – John Hancock! Aisha is shocked to see an article centering on her 2x great-grandfather’s paternity and heads off to another archive in Ohio to see if she can determine who her 3x great-grandfather was.

At the archive, Aisha finds the entire article about her 2x great-grandfather’s paternity, and discovers that her 3x great-grandfather was a white Southern politician from Texas named John Hancock, who gave his son money – but would not allow him to acknowledge him in public. Both John Hancock’s were famous, or infamous men, one known as General John Hancock and the other as Old John Hancock. But which one was Hugh Hancock’s father?  Where is Y DNA testing when we need it!!!

Unfortunately, a 1900 census reveals that Hugh is living in Evanston outside of Chicago with his wife Susie and four daughters. Among them is Aisha’s great-grandmother Hugh Ella.  Without a male to test, Y DNA would not be helpful, so that tool is not available.  Additionally, we don’t know if General John Hancock and Old John Hancock shared a common ancestor, but without a male from Hugh’s line, it’s a moot point.

In order to find out more about John Hancock’s politics and the relationship with his son Hugh, Aisha heads to Austin, Texas.

At the Texas State Archives, Aisha discovers that her 3 x great-grandfather was a prominent southern unionist who opposed rights for black people. Aisha is disturbed to uncover the great hypocrisy of her ancestor who fathered and financially supported a black child, but actively worked against his kin’s rights.

Digging back into her 2x great-grandfather’s story, Aisha comes across an article that reveals Hugh Hancock moved back to Texas as an adult and was charged for assault!

In order to find out more, Aisha heads to the Travis County Archives.  At the archives, Aisha is unable to uncover more details about the assault charge, but is able to review an 1890 court case file for Hugh Hancock. Aisha discovers that Hugh was indicted for running an entire gambling set-up, and was the owner of a bar in Austin called “The Black Elephant.”

The elephant had become the symbol of the Republican Party by the 1870s, so the saloon’s name could indicate it was a gathering place for Republicans of color. While saloons were a place for gambling, drinking, and relaxing, they were also crucial centers for community organization and political participation – saloons in the 19th century were the places where voting, campaigning, and other political activities took place. For the Black community in particular, saloons and churches were places to organize against racial injustice..

Curious about her 2x great-grandfather’s involvement in politics, Aisha uncovers an 1896 article which reveals something very unexpected about Hugh – but you’ll have to watch the episode to discover that detail.  No spoiler here!  In a very real way, Hugh Hancock was one of the last men standing.

Finally, Aisha reads a 1910 Obituary for Hugh which proclaims that he was a well-regarded man held in high esteem by his community in Austin. As a final part of her journey, Aisha heads to a local address the historian has recommended she visit.

Aisha approaches a home in Austin and reads a Texas historical marker commemorating this former home of her 2x great-grandfather Hugh Hancock, a successful black businessman of the city. Aisha contemplates Hugh’s accomplishments in Austin, despite the challenges he faced to get there. She’s proud to have found the origins of her drive and passion in her blood.

Aisha’s ancestor’s story is both fun and educational with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Tune into TLC Sunday evening at 9/8 central.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

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RockStars Shine at Midnight

Open till midnight

When John Reid, of Anglo-Celtic Connections sent me an e-mail telling me he was posting the results of the Rockstar Genealogist voting at midnight, you know I had to stay up waiting.

Yes, he did give me a bit of a hint…but not a big hint…and I was dying to see.

Drum roll please….

My friend Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, is so far scooping the voting.  And if anyone deserves to do so, she does.  Not only is she a personal friend, I would take advantage of any opportunity to hear her speak, on literally any topic.  She could make growing mushrooms in the outback interesting.  By the time she was done with the topic, you’d know all about the history and legalities of growing and selling mushrooms, find them utterly fascinating, and you would want to start growing mushrooms too.

We really are extremely fortunate to have Judy, and her wonderful blog in our community.  I still have no idea how she manages to travel, speak and post daily articles.  The woman is super-human.  Truly.  I think Judy has the EveryReady Bunny genetic mutation which might explain her signature pink jacket.

Judy received the silver medal in International, silver in the USA and bronze in the Genetic Genealogy category.  A three category winner!  Triple crown!

There are lots of other noteworthy people as well.  Everyone knows Dick Eastman who I think has the longest running online newsletter in genealogy.  He’s the CNN of genealogy – if you want to know what’s going on, visit Dick’s website or better yet, sign up for his free newsletter.

And Thomas MacEntee – who doesn’t know and love his blogs, although he’s on sabbatical right now and making some major life changes.  I take this win for Thomas as a vote of confidence for him as well – and I’m sure he will too.

I love these categories, because now when I need someone in say, Ireland, or England, I’ll have a handy-dandy list of who to turn to.  And I have a few new sites to check out too.  What fun.  And I already know they are great – because you’ve all told me so by voting for them.

Congratulations to all of the candidates and the winners!

What about me you ask?  Well, ahem, yes, I’m on the list too – in the best of company – right with Judy Russell in two categories.  Judy and I are doing a dance of sorts.  I received silver in Genetic Genealogy, and shocker of all, bronze in the US.  I can’t tell you how pleased I am to see Genetic Genealogy be recognized as a full-fledged citizen along with the more traditional genealogy methodologies.

I started this blog in 2012 in an effort to help people learn, and to reduce the number of questions that arrive daily.  Well, I know, based on your votes that I’ve accomplished at least the first item.  I’m very humbled and a little embarrassed.  Thank you so very much.  It’s really very nice to know you’re making a difference.

Wait…you want to know who came in first?  Well, me too….but we’re all going to have to wait until midnight Monday when John publishes that list!!!  Beats the heck out of turning into a pumpkin.  Meet you tomorrow at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connection at the witching hour!

pumpkin

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

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2015 Voting for Rock Star Genealogist(s) Now Open

Rock star

Voting is open for your favorite genealogists and closes this Sunday, September 12th, so vote early and often.  No, no, you can only vote once – this isn’t Chicago.  But please, do vote.  It’s a lovely way to say thank you to those who give above and beyond in our community.

Last year, in 2014, I was thrilled to see genetic genealogists among the winners.

Genetic genealogy went from a topic you had to beg to get on the agenda at any conference a decade ago to a high interest topic today with many available speakers.  That’s great because genetic genealogy more than any other genealogy activity must be collaborate.  I mean, DNA testing with no one to compare to would be, for the most part, fruitless.

So take a look at the candidates and vote for someone.  I guarantee – you’ll know some of them.

The great thing about this kind of voting is that no one is campaigning, there is no mud- slinging and no negative ads.  There are only winners because we are very fortunate to have all of the candidates in our community!

Click here to vote.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Tom Bergeron, Who Do You Think You Are, “A Killing Field”

Tom Bergeron courtesy TLC.

Tom Bergeron courtesy TLC.

This Sunday, August 30 at 9/8c TLC will air TV host’s Tom Bergeron’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?  However, TLC was very late getting their episode info out, so I haven’t had the opportunity to preview.  I’ll be enjoying the episode right along with you.

In the episode, Tom Bergeron sets out to unravel the murky history of his paternal roots. Tracing back over 400 years, he uncovers the dramatic story of his 10x great-grandparents, who endured brutal warfare and starvation in France. Then Tom follows their daughter, who was orphaned as a teenager and bravely set off across the Atlantic, playing a significant role in establishing the New World.

“Someone dead for over 300 years, if you’re willing to listen, can teach you things about what you are doing now.”

I have French ancestors too, and I can’t wait to find out what Tom is talking about….

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

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Bryan Cranston – Who Do You Think You Are – “A Dissipated Man”

You may know actor Bryan Cranston from his roles in “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Breaking Bad.”  The Bryan you’ll see on Who Do You Think You are on Sunday, August 23rd, on TLC is completely different.

Bryan Cranston and Christopher look over a document.

Bryan Cranston and Christopher look over a document – courtesy TLC.

Bryan Cranston describes his childhood growing up in Los Angeles as a happy one… until the day his father, an unsuccessful actor, left the family when Bryan was 11. Even though he eventually reconnected with his dad, Bryan has always been curious whether there are trace elements of men who don’t meet their familial responsibilities that have filtered down from generations.

Bryan travels to his father’s hometown, Chicago, and meets with a local genealogist to help him jump-start his search. A 1930 census reveals two things that Bryan did not know: his grandfather Edward was a World War I veteran – and his grandmother Alice was NOT his grandfather’s first wife!

Digging deeper, Bryan sees that on Edward Cranston’s WWI draft card, he indicated he had a wife and child – confirming he was not only married once before, but he had a daughter – an aunt Bryan never knew existed. To find more information on the wife and child, Bryan looks through divorce records, and discovers a filing for an Irene Cranston vs. Edward Cranston. Through this document, Bryan learns the name of his aunt: Kathleen. He’s saddened to see that Irene accused Edward of abandoning her and their 8 year old daughter – the first sign that this is indeed a pattern in the Cranston line. Curious about the fate of his aunt, Bryan discovers that Kathleen died of tuberculosis at just 16.

Knowing that Edward fought in WWI, Bryan heads to the Illinois State Archives in hopes he will find some more WWI documents pertaining to his grandfather. There, he pores over a copy of Edward’s Honorable Discharge Record from WWI. Bryan learns that Edward was not drafted, but enlisted; choosing to leave his family and go to war.

Edward served as an engineer and endured intense conditions as he constructed bridges while under heavy shelling and gunfire from the Germans. As Bryan peruses his grandfather’s record, a couple entries catch his eye. First, Bryan is surprised to see that under “vocation,” Edward’s profession states “actor”! Second, Bryan is taken aback to see his grandfather has listed himself as “single,” which he knows is not true. Bryan is disappointed to learn that Edward may have done this to prevent the government from automatically taking money out of his paycheck and sending it to his wife and daughter, which was standard at the time to provide for the families back home.

Wanting to know about Edward’s own roots, Bryan finds a 1910 census which shows his grandfather Edward at 5 years old living with Bryan’s great-grandparents, Daniel and Margaret Cranston. Bryan is relieved to see they were married for 41 years – a break in the cycle of desertion! Daniel was born in Canada and Margaret in Ireland. This confirms the rumor Bryan has heard that the Cranston clan came through Canada. But where in Canada did he come from? For more information about his great-grandfather, Bryan consults a 1937 Death Certificate for Daniel Cranston. Not only does Bryan see that Daniel was born in Montreal, but he also learns the names of he 2x great-grandparents, Henry Cranston and Sarah McLeod. The Irish in Montreal were largely Catholic, meaning it is very likely that baptismal records exist there for Daniel. Bryan heads to Montreal to find out more about the Cranston clan.

At the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, Bryan discovers the baptismal record for his great-grandfather, Daniel James Cranston, from 1849. The record is brief, but does tell Bryan that Daniel was baptized “of the legitimate marriage of Joseph Cranston, carpenter, absent, and Sarah McLeod of this parish…” Absent! Is this the right Cranston? It’s puzzling that Daniel’s father is listed as Joseph, but the historian points out that this is the only Cranston/McLeod family at the time with children, so it is likely this is the correct family.

Investigating further, Bryan looks at a 1861 Canadian Census and sees an entry for “D. Cranston” living in the “Ladies Benevolent Institution,” an orphanage. Orphanage records indicate Daniel was given to the orphanage because his mother had to go to work as a servant because his father was a “dissipated man.” Joseph had indeed abandoned his family, and was the 3rd generation of Cranston men to do so.

Next, Bryan finds a record for “1882 US National Home for Disabled Veterans Register for Joseph H. Cranston.” This lists Joseph, Bryan’s 2x great-grandfather, as having served in the Civil War, and then being admitted into the Veterans home in 1883 and passing away there in 1889. The military home in Dayton, Ohio still exists today, and Bryan heads there to see what Joseph’s life, and death, there may have been like.

At the Veteran’s Soldier home in Dayton, Bryan finds a newspaper article about his great-grandfather’s death. The article outlines Joseph’s final evening and reveals that Joseph and a pal from the Veteran’s home were on a night out, “becoming more or less intoxicated,” and paid for a hotel room. When they didn’t wake in the morning, the landlord went to the room and “found the room full of gas and the two men lying on the bed in a lifeless condition.” Bryan discovers that his 2x great-grandfather is buried opposite the soldier’s home and visits his ancestor’s grave.

Bryan Cranston in the cemetery.

Bryan Cranston in the cemetery – courtesy TLC.

In the cemetery, Bryan reflects on the Cranston men. Of the 3 relatives he’s found, only one seems to have stayed with his family, including his father. The others seemed to shirk all family responsibilities, and dedicated themselves to being a soldier instead.

However, Bryan can take comfort in knowing he was able to reconnect with his father, and in being committed to his own wife and children – something other Cranston’s weren’t able to do.

I really felt for Bryan in this episode.  It’s difficult to find ancestors and find their behavior and choices so personally disappointing.  Thankfully, Bryan broke that cycle.  I do find it interesting that at one point, Bryan asked, “is there something in the DNA.?”  I’ve wondered that myself on more than one occasion.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

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The Archives of Who Do You Think You Are

This Sunday Evening on TLC, “Who Do You Think You Are?” digs into its archives and features highlights throughout the seasons including triumphs and tragedies, delightful discoveries and sobering moments. This special episode also unveils outtakes and never-before-seen footage from the vault.

In some cases, this is footage we see in the screeners, but never makes it to the final version.  I personally think some of this is more interesting than what does sometimes make it to the production version…but you didn’t hear that from me…didn’t come out of my mouth:)

They explore what motivates celebrities to delve into their roots, including those who want to investigate why they never knew certain family members and uncover the origins of rifts that have torn families apart.  Here’s what WDYTYA has to say about Sunday’s archives special edition.

Walking in your ancestors’ footsteps can make a journey especially powerful. We revisit moments with Jason Sudeikis, as he goes deep underground in a coal mine and learns how his great-grandfather died in an explosion; Cynthia Nixon, who stands in the same prison in which her 3X great-grandmother was incarcerated and learns her ancestor became pregnant while serving time; and Rosie O’Donnell, who experiences the horrible living conditions her destitute great-great-grandparents and their children endured in 1850’s Ireland.

Next, we highlight one of the most powerful tools available in ancestry research: the census.

One of the biggest rewards in researching your roots can be finding heroes. Some of our stars have been lucky enough to find great men and women in the family who did the right thing, no matter the consequences. In this section, we review Zooey Deschanel reading a first hand account of how her 4X great-grandmother helped fugitive slaves escape via the underground railroad; and in never-before-seen footage, we watch Julie Chen learn that her great-grandmother was kidnapped and killed by bandits, which motivated her grandfather to establish a school to educate citizens in order to reduce crime.

The only thing more interesting than finding a hero in your past is finding a villain. Our celebrities have come across all manner of scoundrels, scamps, and lowlifes. Here, we see Sean Hayes discovering that his great-great grandfather sued his children in court for assaulting him in a variety of ways, and we follow Sarah Jessica Parker as she investigates whether her 10X great-grandmother was a witch-hunter – or one of the innocents accused – during the Salem Witch Trials.

Next, we put the spotlight on online newspaper databases and microfilm collections at the library, which can be a treasure trove of salacious details.

As we go deeper into the best of “Who Do,” we turn our attention to one of the most painful things anyone can face in a family’s past: slavery. Our celebrities have confronted this horrifying part of American history from both sides of the issue. In this section, Blair Underwood finds that his 4x great-grandfather, a freed slave, owned slaves himself; but Blair discovers that he had to buy his own family members to keep them together. Emmitt Smith is disturbed to hear that his 4x great-grandmother Mariah was possibly a child of rape whose father was the family’s white slave owner, making him Emmitt’s own 5x great-grandfather. Finally, Reba McEntire finds that her slave-trading ancestor bought a fourteen-month-old baby.

War has ravaged family histories since the beginning of time, and our celebrities’ ancestors have been affected by battle in way they could never have imagined. Here, we revisit Rob Lowe searching for proof that his 5x great-grandfather fought as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War – but instead finds he served as a Hessian, fighting against George Washington; Spike Lee discovering that in an ironic twist, his 3x great-grandfather, a slave, was forced make guns for the Confederates during the Civil War; and Lisa Kudrow learning of the horrifying atrocities of which her Jewish great-grandmother was a victim during World War II.

Making a connection to history’s big names is the brass ring of genealogy. Some of our stars have been lucky enough to have ancestors who crossed paths with greatness: Josh Groban finds that his 8x great-grandfather was recognized by Sir Isaac Newton, and Jim Parsons uncovers his 6x great-grandfather’s profession: architect to King Louis XV. And in rare cases, some of our celebrities discover direct royal lineage. Brooke Shields touches her ancestor Henry IV’s heart in a jar, and marvels at her connection to him. And in never-before-seen footage, Valerie Bertinelli is astonished to see an elaborate family tree which illustrates her lineage reaches back through Edward I, William the Conqueror, and theoretically on up through Jesus and God.

Next, we highlight remarkable moments throughout the years of our celebrities discovering information on their journeys that is so surprising, it reduces these great speakers to a single word: “Wow.”

Call it coincidence or fate, we’ve witnessed incredible moments of synchronicity. In this section, we revisit Emmitt Smith realizing that an important piece of information about his ancestor lies within deed book number #22, which was Emmitt’s number throughout his football career; Gwyneth Paltrow finding a parallel with her great-great-grandfather, who was a master in Kaballah, which Gwyneth studies; Josh Groban uncovering information that his ancestor taught music and sang; and Spike Lee discovering that his great-great-grandfather’s name was Mars, which was the name his grandmother suggested when he told her he was stumped on what to call his iconic character from “She’s Gotta Have It.”

Some of the most entertaining moments on “Who Do” happen behind the scenes. Here, we feature our favorite outtakes.

The journey through a family’s past is a treasure hunt, and no find is more exciting than something your ancestor held in his or her own hands. Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate reveal how old photos in particular bring you face to face with your past; Bill Paxton is awestruck seeing a personal account written by his relative; and America Ferrera breaks down in tears as she sees pictures of her long lost father as a young man for the first time.

Anyone who goes on a quest to know their ancestors emerges a little bit changed. Here, some of our stars express how going on their journeys – and what they’ve learned – has changed their perspectives and lives. Some of them even reunite with long-lost relatives, finding roots in places far from home. We watch as Lisa Kudrow and Blair Underwood come face to face with newly discovered family, and Rita Wilson has an emotional first-time introduction to her 96-year-old uncle.

Throughout the years, this series has helped celebrities solve mysteries and uncover truths they never dreamed possible – in some cases changing everything about who they think they are.

In my own case, after watching the Valerie Bertinelli episode, I whined that I was envious that Valerie had found what is known as a gateway ancestor, one who connects solidly to a royal line.  Once connected, you can tie into already completed genealogy – so finding that gateway ancestor is the clue.  Just a few days later, I realized that I too had a gateway ancestor, I had just never recognized them as such.  Plus, I discovered that Valerie and I are distant cousins – not that Valerie knows or cares.  But how inspiring and what fun for me.  That discovery launched me on a brand new journey!  It always pays to pay attention and keep digging.  You just never know who you’re going to dig up.

king edward i

King Edward I of England

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research