Jennifer Grey – Who Do You Think You Are – “Her Name Was Shendyl”

I have such fond memories of Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in their Academy Award Winning timeless love story, Dirty Dancing.

My friend and I used to have Dirty Dancing stitch-a-thons, watching and stitching, both of us being cross-stitchers at the time. It’s hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago now. That friend moved away long ago, Patrick, sadly, passed away, but Jennifer is the same lovely lady – matured a bit.

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, Jennifer is the star once again, uncovering the truth about the emigrant grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community. Jennifer also uncovers the devastating tragedy that stopped her great-grandmother from ever making it to America.

Jennifer says that “beyond my parents’ story, I knew so little.” I think that’s true for many, especially today with the hustle and bustle of our hectic lifestyles. By the time we realize we want to know, it’s too late.

Jennifer knew her grandparents, but didn’t know the name of her grandfather’s mother. That struck her as very odd, that her mother, still living, didn’t know her own grandmother’s name. How could they not know her name?

As a child, Jennifer’s grandfather, Izzy, below, struck her as beaten down and sad.

Photo courtesy TLC

Izzy’s real name was Israel Brower. He was a Jewish immigrant at the age of 16, in 1907, from Russia. He and his siblings traveled alone to American onboard a ship to join their father, already here. The family story was that Izzy had immigrated with the family silver sewn into the lining of his coat.

If that’s true, that’s probably all they had.

It’s worth noting that even in the 1900s, surname spellings can differ dramatically. Brower here, Braver on the ship’s manifest and Browerman in Russia.

Izzy, even as a young person, exhibited a great deal of drive and ambition. Many job postings of that time included phrases such as “Jews need not apply,” which motivated many Jewish people to enter the professional world, where they were not beholden to anyone for a job. Izzy went from being a printer, his occupation upon arrival, looking for work, to a pharmacist, owning his own drugstore by 1910. For some people, including Izzy, deprivation, anti-Semitism and challenges translate into the development of tenacity.

Jennifer visited the pharmacy school that Izzy attended and was able to view original documents. No white gloves needed this time!

Photo courtesy TLC

It’s interesting to see how different the pharmacy profession was then and now. Drug stores were an integral part of every community and neighborhood, with the druggist dispensing medical information as well. The line between practicing medicine and filling prescriptions was much greyer then.

Jennifer goes on to discover more about Izzy, bringing the story of his life to light in ways she certainly didn’t expect.

Still, pieces were missing. She had found Izzy’s siblings and father, but what about his mother? Where was she? What was her name?

Jennifer wondered why she didn’t know. Why her mother didn’t know. Why no one spoke of life before America in her Jewish family. Why?

As the Jewish historian told Jennifer, “Immigration is a rupture.” The stories get left behind. As someone else said, which is so true, “What the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember.” What we view today as interesting heritage, they viewed as bad memories that needed to by confined to the past.

Many immigrants didn’t immigrate because they simply wanted to. In the case of Jewish families, they immigrated for survival. Their memories of the homeland weren’t good ones, and they wished to put the bad, whatever it was and however awful it had been, behind them forever. They only looked to the future. Sometimes that future didn’t hold everyone from the past…

Her name was Shendyl. Shendyl. And as for what happened to Shendyl, you’ll need to tune in or watch online after the episode airs.

Julie Bowen – Who Do You Think You Are – “Pride and Forgiveness”

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.

Seventh Season “Who Do You Think You Are?” Airing March 5th

I received a very welcome e-mail this week about the 7th season of my favorite genealogy program, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? (WDYTYA). I can hardly wait!

These programs are inspiring to everyone, novices to experienced genealogists. They embody the search and the discoveries we all seek. Not only are the shows just plain fun and interesting, we can pick up valuable research tips and historical information relevant to our own family.  We all seek those AHA moments that the featured celebrities often find – and you just never know where your AHA-producing tidbit will be found.

I mean, let’s face it (pardon the pun), who among us DOESN’T want this expression on our face relative to a genealogy discovery?

wdytya-season-7

From the press release:

TLC’s Emmy Award-winning series, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? returns this spring with a new group of celebrities ready to delve into their lineage and get answers to the questions they’ve wondered about their entire lives. Eight new one-hour episodes bring more unexpected turns and surprising discoveries of great historical significance. Executive Produced by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky, the new season premieres on Sunday, March 5th at 10/9c.

This season’s celebrity contributors include:

  • Jessica Biel makes surprising discoveries that change what she thought knew about her heritage.
  • Julie Bowen uncovers the story of two relatives whose moral codes are from opposite ends of the spectrum.
  • Courteney Cox traces her maternal line back seven centuries to the Medieval times to discover royalty in her lineage and an unbelievable tale of family drama.
  • Jennifer Grey uncovers new information about the grandfather she thought she knew, learning how he survived adversity to become a beacon of his community.
  • Smokey Robinson searches for answers behind the mystery of why his grandfather disappeared from his children’s lives and finds a man tangled in a swirl of controversy.
  • John Stamos digs into the mystery of how his grandfather became an orphan, and learns of tensions between families that led to a horrible crime.
  • Liv Tyler learns that her family is tied into the complicated racial narrative of America.
  • Noah Wyle unravels the mystery of his maternal line, uncovering an ancestor who survived one of America’s bloodiest battles.

For a sneak peek, take a look at this link.

I’ll be writing about each episode and I hope many will include DNA. If not, we’ll discuss how DNA might aid and abet the search!

Conferences, Reunions and Flavors of Family

riddell

Jim Brewster (FTDNA), Gail Riddell (New Zealand), me with Linda Magellan peeking over Jim’s shoulder at the ISOGG reception at the 2016 FTDNA conference. Photo courtesy Gail Riddell.

What do you call an event where you’ve seen the same folks for a dozen years? An event that brings people from the far corners of the earth, literally? A conference that feels far more like a family reunion.

What do you call those people?

Family.

New family.  Old family.  Family of heart.  Sisters or brothers by another mother maybe.  Friends you just haven’t met yet.  And sometimes…real, honest to blood cousins.

The 12th annual international family reunion, er, I mean International Genetic Genealogy Conference sponsored by Family Tree DNA occurred this past weekend in Houston.  I’m still on the road, typing on a tiny keyboard, and I really can’t do it justice just yet but I want to take this opportunity to send you a couple teasers and just to say how wonderful it was to see everyone again.

Sadly, some were missing.  Hopefully we’ll see them next year.  Unfortunately, a few have passed over to where genealogists get to meet all of their ancestors, so we have to cherish their memories and hope they will help out by sending us answers from their current location.

It’s hard to believe it has been a dozen years now.  The first conference was in 2004 – a one day event in Houston.  Little could we know or dream what the next decade+ would bring.

Another thing I find amazing is just how many people in this group of 230 or so people I am related to in one way or another.  All of these, bar none, were discovered via DNA testing.  Whoever would guess that in a room of 230 random people you would find several cousins? Certainly makes you wonder looking around the bus, at the people at work or in a restaurant.  How many share your ancestors?

I’m still on the road and will be for a few days, so you’ll get an article to do the conference justice when I get home.  In the mean time, I encourage you to read Jennifer Zinck’s wonderful summary articles on her blog, Ancestor Central.  Jen can type much faster than I ever could and she is able to listen at the same time too. The bad news is that there were several breakout sessions that ran concurrently and Jen can only be in one place at a time.  We have not yet defied the laws of physics.

Jen and I discovered that we have Mayflower ancestors in common, in addition to being friends – having met at this same conference years ago.  There just might be another ancestor trip in the planning stages….just saying.

Speaking of Jen, she contributed the photo below.  Many thanks, Jen.

We had a once-in-a-lifetime special event at the conference this year. Max Blankfeld and Bennett Greenspan were presented with rather unique Lifetime Achievement Awards by the genetic genealogy community.  Max and Bennett were both very grateful, not to mention….nearly speechless, a second once-in-a-lifetime event!

img_7231

Left to right: Linda Magellan, Roberta Estes (talking), Max Blankfeld, Bennett Greenspan, Nora Probasco and Katherine Borges. Photo courtesy Jennifer Zinck.

As many of you may know, I’m a quilter and yes, I made the double helix quilts.  I asked Katherine Borges, Linda Magellan and Nora Probasco to help me with the presentation process since I could not hold up 4 corners of two quilts by myself….and these ladies have attended all 12 conferences as well.  Not to mention, they are quilters – so they were glad to be co-conspirators.

We were all very honored to present these awards and want to thank Janine Cloud at FTDNA for clandestinely working us into the schedule without raising suspicion!  While that sounds easy, believe me, it wasn’t.

I will be writing an article about Max, Bennett and the awards shortly, and a separate article about the quilts themselves.

Until then, I’m still basking in the glow of two days of hugs, meals with friends, collaboration, and newly discovered information and opportunities. I encourage each of you to find a reunion or conference to attend so you can have the same wonderful experience.  There is just nothing better than family, regardless of which kind of family you have – of blood or of heart – or maybe yet-to-be-met!

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.

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.

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….