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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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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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.

Thank you so much.

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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.

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Alfre Woodard – Who Do You Think You Are – “Born in Chains”

Alfre Woodard with Dr. Mark Schultz.

Alfre Woodard with Dr. Mark Schultz.  Courtesy of TLC.

Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard knows a lot about her mother’s family, but her father’s Woodard line is a mystery.  Her grandfather, Alex Woodard, died when her father was three, and the family history died with him. All she’s heard is that his family came to Oklahoma from Texas, but she’s curious about their earlier origins.

To start her journey, Alfre digs into census records, locating her infant grandfather with his parents (Alfre’s great-grandparents) Alex Woodard, 39, born in Georgia, and Lizzie, his wife. Alfre calculates that her great-grandfather Alex was born about 1841 in Georgia, and suspects he may have been enslaved there – and that “Woodard” was his slave name. Alfre heads off to Georgia see if she can trace her great-grandfather Alex Woodard’s trail.

In Georgia, Alfre pours over white Woodard estate records to see if she can locate her ancestor. Alfre finds her great-grandfather Alex listed as “Alec,” at about age 10, and appraised at $400.  The records reveal that Alec’s owner, John Woodard, has died and all of his property – including his eleven slaves – is being inventoried to divide among his heirs.

The information does not specify Alec’s biological family, but he’s consistently listed with several children. Enslaved people were often sold away from their biological families, so they developed strong kinship networks with slaves who worked and lived with them.

Alfre sees that Alec, also written as Elec in some records, is given to a William Woodard, but members of Alec’s kinship network are sold to different owners. The expert promises to look into what happened to Alec once William Woodard claimed him.

The next morning, Alfre drives out to the Woodard land to see where her great-grandfather lived and labored as a slave.  As she turns onto the road bordering the land, she notices the road sign: Woodard Road! Alfre pours a libation on the land her ancestor worked to pay her respects.

Alfre reconvenes with the expert, and discovers that Alec moved to Jackson Parish, Louisiana with his slave owner William Woodard by 1860.

Alfre follows her great-grandfather to Louisiana. The historian explains Alec would’ve been emancipated after the Civil War in 1865.  Alfre’s journey through her ancestor’s life as a slave is over, so now she wants to know how he established himself as a free man. The expert explains that 1867 marked the first time black men could vote, but restrictive Southern laws required they pay a “poll tax” to do so. Poll tax rolls reveal that Alec is registered to vote and over the years he ascends from having no property to owning 240 acres of land in Jackson Parish! He’s firmly part of the middle class at a time when any amount of land was significant to a former slave living in Louisiana. Owning land was the ultimate goal for every freedman, but only about 25% of them achieved it.  Alfre’s great-grandfather has accomplished an extraordinary feat.

But something is amiss; Alfre then discovers that just a year later, Alec is now paying taxes on only 80 acres, and likely lost some of his land in an economic collapse.

Next, Alfre examines an 1898 land deed from Alec Woodard and his wife Elizabeth, to Aaron Stell.  Alfre sees that after Alec purchased land in Texas, he sold his Louisiana land to this man Aaron Stell for just $35 – but why so cheap?  Alec is selling the property with his wife Elizabeth (Alfre’s great-grandmother) and in fact, Aaron Stell was Elizabeth’s brother.  Alec is doing well enough in Texas that he’s giving his brother-in-law the “family discount” on his Louisiana land.

Alfre drives out to the rural, thickly wooded plot formerly owned by her great-grandfather in Jackson Parish. Alfre walks the land and reflects on all she has learned about her impressive great-grandfather Alec Woodard and his resilience that has been passed down through generations.

On her great-grandfather’s former land, Alfre meets an 80-year-old African American woman who lives on that corner.  Roye says that Stells have lived here as far as anyone can remember, and she’s a Stell by marriage. So Alfre and Roye are kin!  Roye tells Alfre about growing up on the old farm – picking cotton in the early morning darkness, climbing the pecan trees, and playing among the cows and horses.  She says that generations of her family have been proud to own that land, and she hopes it always stays in the family.

For an interesting episode about the Civil War era in the deep south and to share Alfre’s and her ancestor’s journey, watch the episode on Sunday, August 9th on TLC.

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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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J.K. Rowling – Who Do You Think You Are – “Bravery Against All Odds”

JK Rowling

Famed Harry Potter author and philanthropist JK Rowling is eager to trace the  French roots of her maternal side, having always been very close with her mother who’s passed away. She knows that her great-grandfather, Louis Volant, received the Legion d’honneur for his WWI efforts, and she has the medal, but she doesn’t know why.

At the National Archives of Paris, Jo pours over Louis Volant’s Legion d’honneur records. She finds a fascinating tale of bravery, but is surprised and confused to realize the man in this account is actually not her ancestor. Since there are no other “Louis Volant”s in the National Archives database, Jo travels to the Military Archives outside of Paris to see if her great-grandfather did, in fact, win a Legion d’honneur award.

At the Military Archives, Jo finds the correct war records for her Louis Volant. She learns that in WWI he found himself caught unexpectedly, and with barely any training, in a battle when Germans attacked his regiment in France. Louis Volant heroically took command of his troop and killed several German soldiers to save his regiment. Jo is overcome with tears and receives a very special gift.

Enthusiastic to continue tracing Louis’s line even farther back, Jo heads to the Paris Hospital Archives to learn about Louis’ early years and his mother, Jo’s 2x great-grandmother, Salome Schuch.

At the Paris Hospital Archives, Jo discovers that when Louis was born, Salome was an unwed servant working nearby in Paris. As an illegitimate son, Louis’ given last name was “Schuch,” making Jo wonder how he became a “Volant.” Jo sets off to meet with a historian at Salome’s former home where she worked as domestic help to see what else she can uncover about both of her ancestors.

It’s amazing to watch Jo climb all those sets of circular stairs and realize that her ancestor, Salome, did as well, as a pregnant servant, likely carrying heavy loads, and trying to hide her pregnancy.

A historian shows Salome’s workplace to Jo, and reveals that Salome would have been out of employment upon having a child. But documents reveal that some years later, Salome moved up in the world, becoming a dress maker and marrying Pierre Volant, who took on Louis as his own son.  It’s unclear whether or not Louis is his biological child.  Y DNA testing could resolve that question, if there were male Volant descendants of both Louis and one of his “brothers” available to test.

Next, Jo travels from Paris to the village of Brumath by the German border in France, to learn more about Salome and where she grew up.

At the Brumath Town Hall, a census reveals that Salome had five other siblings and that the family was rather poor.

Salome’s mother’s death certificate creates new questions for Jo as she sees it is written in German and not French; a result of the area changing hands from France to Germany during wartime. To learn more about the German occupation of Brumath, Jo meets with a historian to uncover new information.

Jo visits the house where Salome grew up in the small village of Brumath, and learns that during the Franco-Prussian war, Salome and her family endured an invasion of thousands of German soldiers, and found their lives in upheaval as the land, once French territory, became German. Jo learns that townsfolk were given the choice to remain in their homes and become German citizens or move to France to retain their citizenship.

What did Jo’s family do?  You’ll have to watch to find out.  Sunday, August 2 at 9/8c on TLC, The Learning Channel.

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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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Ginnifer Goodwin – Who Do You Think You Are – “Not What I Expected”

My favorite genealogy series, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? returns this summer on Sunday, July 26th at 9/8c on TLC with a heart-wrenching episode with actress Ginnifer Goodwin who you probably know from her “Big Love” HBO series and ABCs “Once Upon A Time” where she stars opposite her husband.

Ginnifer in the archives with books behind her.

Ginnifer in the archives with books behind her.  Courtesy TLC.

Ginnifer Goodwin knows nothing about her paternal grandfather’s family because he refused to talk about his parents. She goes on a journey to uncover the truth behind her great-grandparents’ story, and is shocked at what she discovers.

I’ll just warn you now, get the Kleenex box.  You’ll need it.

Ginnifer never knew her paternal grandfather, John Barton Goodwin, who died when she was an infant. She’s been haunted by the lack of information surrounding his family line; he never talked about his parents to her father, Tim. Understanding the generations that laid the foundation for her has grown more important to her since becoming a mother herself. The birth of her son Oliver has reignited her desire to know why her grandfather never spoke of his mother and father.

Ginnifer starts her search for information with her dad, who recalls that his father John Barton Goodwin’s parents were named Nellie Barton and John “Al” Goodwin, and that for some unknown reason, John Barton Goodwin was abandoned or left home when he was just 11 years old, making his own way in life in Memphis, Tennessee.

The last time he did any research, Tim found a 1910 Census return in which Nellie, Al and John Barton are living in Batesville, Arkansas, along with John’s older sister, Pearl.  Ginnifer wonders what could have happened for Nellie to have let 11 year old John leave her home, and heads to Arkansas to see if she can find some answers.

Local records in Batesville reveal, surprisingly, that Nellie’s maiden name was Haynes, not Barton, and a search for her marriage record returns a result for Nellie and a man named J.D. Williams, not Ginnifer’s great grandfather, Al Goodwin! Can this be right?

What happened with Nellie’s first marriage that she eventually married Al Goodwin? Was Nellie a young widow?  The local genealogist explains that death records of this time are incomplete and advises that Ginnifer visit the Independence County Courthouse to search for evidence for the other alternative to the end of a marriage: divorce records.

Next, Ginnifer meets with a historian, who has found a case for Nellie suing J.D. Williams (a.k.a. “Duff”) for divorce. Ginnifer discovers that Nellie successfully sued for divorce when Duff abandoned Nellie while pregnant for their daughter Pearl just months after their marriage.

Ginnier discovers that Duff Williams sued Nellie for divorce first, and only married Nellie to avoid jail time for having sex with her outside of matrimony. But the tables were turned when he falsely accused Nellie in court of adultery, and his lies sent him to prison.  Three years later, Nellie finally files for divorce.  Shortly thereafter, Nellie marrys Al Goodwin, Ginnifer’s great-grandfather, hoping for a fresh start.

Continuing her search for Nellie and Al Goodwin, Ginnifer finds that between 1906 and 1911, Al racked up 18 indictments for bootlegging and gambling, and served two years in prison.  She has to ask herself….was Nellie involved?

It’s about this time that my heart truly goes out to Ginnifer.  She’s finding out, but as she says at one point, ‘somehow this is not what I expected.’  Ginnifer’s tears are not cried by an actress.

In Al’s own penitentiary records, Ginnifer is shocked to see her great-grandfather’s mugshot.  She can see her father’s face in Al, and I can see Al’s face in Ginnifer as well.

Then Ginnifer discovers Al had syphilis in 1906, 2 years after her grandfather was born, while married to Nellie, and was being visited by a woman other than his wife while in prison.  It comes as little surprise that Nellie filed for divorce while Al was behind bars.  Obviously Nellie’s life was challenging, at best, and possibly much, much worse.  From later records, it appears that Nellie had another son by Al Goodwin.

In 1911, it was almost impossible for a woman to support herself, let alone with 3 children, without a husband.  Ginnifer’s grandfather would have been about 6 or 7 at this time.  It would be another 5 years until he left home at age 11, choosing to fend for himself against almost astronomical odds.  Why would he do this?  What happened?

Ginnifer forges on to see what happened to Nellie after her second divorce. She finds Nellie and her daughter Pearl in a Memphis, Tennessee City Directory… but Nellie is listed as Mrs. Nellie Wyllie – next to a third husband, Hugh Wyllie! Next, Ginnifer is surprised to discover that Nellie moved again – this time, to Louisiana! Curious why she ended up there, Ginnifer follows her great-grandmother’s trail south to Shreveport.

In Louisiana, Ginnifer pulls local newspapers which reveal the 1925 headline: “12 Alleged ‘DopeLaw Violators Indicted” – and among the indicted is Hugh Wyllie.

Ginnifer is heartbroken as she realizes what this means for, and possibly about, her grandmother.

Next, Ginnifer is stunned to find an article in the newspaper about her great-grandmother Nellie, titled “Woman to be tried on Morphine charge.” In 1935, at age 54, Nellie plead guilty to purchasing and possessing morphine, and was sentenced to two years in federal prison. Saddened to learn her great-grandmother served time in prison, Ginnifer wonders why Nellie would be involved in drug dealing.

Was she an addict just supporting her own habit?  It’s hard to say based on these documents, but if Nellie and Hugh were addicts, they might have been treated at the most famous clinic of the time, which just happened to be in nearby Shreveport, and may be the reason they ended up there.

Ginnifer meets with a drug historian, who has located the extensive records from the Shreveport drug clinic. Ginnifer comes across her great-grandmother’s entry, which states that she became addicted as a result of using morphine to treat “a heart condition and syphilis.” Ginnifer recalls Al Goodwin’s prison record in which he too suffered from syphilis. Jim informs Ginnifer that Nellie was probably introduced to morphine by a doctor as it was liberally prescribed to syphilis patients for pain associated with the early stages of the disease.  That disease was not cureable until the discovery of antibiotics.

Medical addiction was, in the words of the historian, “ubiquitous among women” during that timeframe.  Doctors prescribed cocaine, heroin and morphine for a wide variety of medical conditions.  Realizing that people were becoming addicted by the hundreds of thousands, the government stepped in to regulate and then prohibit the sale of these drugs beginning in 1914 and extending through the 1920s and 1930s.  Each step which tightened the legal noose created an ever-growing underground market for thousands of already-addicted patients with no avenue for drugs or cure.  Women were disproportionately represented in the number of addicted victims, and in 1923, 75% of the women in federal prisons were there due to violations of the Harrison Act which prohibited the sale of opiates.

Ginnifer discovers that Nellie’s addiction stretched back 11 years to a time when John Barton Goodwin was just 6 years old, finally revealing the most likely reason he was eventually abandoned or left home so young. Finally, Ginnifer is dismayed to find an additional entry for Nellie’s daughter Pearl, who also suffered from morphine addiction and entered the clinic on the same day as her mother.  Nellie checked the box that indicated that she wanted to be cured, but obviously, judging from the court records another dozen years later, she wasn’t.  Sadly, the clinic closed the following year, and Nellie was once again on her own.  In another 11 years, she too would become one of those women in the federal penitentiary, serving two years.  Ironically, that’s probably when her addiction was cured.  Given her advanced age at death, I’m guessing she was also cured of syphilis when antibiotics became available after WWII.  Amazingly, Nellie lived to age 82.

Nellie’s obituary from 1963 shows that she was only survived by her two sons.  Pearl had gone before her mother.

Minden Cemetery

At the end, Ginnifer heads to Minden Cemetery outside Shreveport to pay respects to her great-grandmother who lived to be 82.  At Nellie’s gravesite, Ginnifer considers this woman she’s come to know, who suffered through a string of terrible relationships and more. Understanding that her great-grandparents weren’t necessarily model citizens, Ginnifer empathizes with Nellie and Al, who battled internal demons.  In many ways, especially for Nellie, this is a story of tragedy.

Through bittersweet tears, Ginnifer is glad to have finally learned the story of her great-grandparents and hopes it will open up her family’s hearts and let healing begin.

Come see for yourself this Sunday evening, July 26th at 9/8c on TLC – and bring Kleenex, lots of Kleenex!

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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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Melissa Etheridge – Who Do You Think You Are – Season Finale

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

Famed musician Melissa Etheridge is eager to trace the history of her paternal side, having always been very close with her father who passed away. On a family tree that her mother has started, Melissa finds that her dad’s maternal side – The Janises – have deep roots in Quebec City, Canada; so Melissa starts her journey there.

At the National Archives of Quebec, Melissa discovers that her 6x great grandfather Francois Janis was an innkeeper there in the early 1700’s. Searching for him in the archives’ database, Melissa finds a trial record indicating that Francois and his wife sued a man named Jean Dubreuil for seducing and impregnating their teenage daughter Charlotte under the pretext of marriage. The original record shows a dramatic back and forth in which Jean calls Charlotte a streetwalker in court and refuses to marry her. Finally Jean admits to having seduced Charlotte and eventually a warrant is issued for his arrest and then the case ends abruptly. Melissa finds that despite the troublesome court case, Charlotte and Jean did ultimately get married, but the child they had is not mentioned in the documents. Curious to find out what happened to her Charlotte’s child, Melissa heads to the Notre Dame Basilica in Quebec in hope of locating church records on the family.

At the Basilica in Quebec, Melissa looks through original parish records and comes across an April 1725 Baptism entry for Anne-Francoise, the child of Charlotte and Jean born just at the end of the seduction trial. But Melissa discovers that the baby died on the 6th of May, only 8 days old. Finally, Melissa locates a document that shows Charlotte died in 1733 at the young age of 26, bringing this story to a close.

Consulting her family tree, Melissa now wants to know what happened to her 5x great-grandfather Nicolas who was 13 when his sister Charlotte died. Melissa deciphers from the tree that Nicolas may have moved to Randolph County, IL – which at the time was the French cultural hub of Kaskaskia – so she heads there.

At the Randolph County Archives, Melissa discovers that in the 1740’s, Nicolas very quickly moved up in the world of the Fur Trade in the Mississippi River Valley; he was trusted to watch over a large amount of pelts and owned a boutique selling expensive goods.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

Curious about his family life, Melissa discovers Nicolas’ 1751 marriage record, as well as a census that reveals Nicolas owned slaves. She further learns that Nicolas navigated the evolving boundary lines of the time, changing from French subject to British subject to American citizen and finally to Spanish subject with his move across the river to Ste. Genevieve. Melissa heads to Ste. Genevieve to learn how Nicolas spent his final days.

Etheridge 3

Compliments of TLC

At the Ste. Genevieve County Courthouse, Melissa gets to read Nicolas’ original will, which deeded his goods and home to his son. Delighted to find that her 5x great-grandfather’s home still stands, thought to be the oldest house in Missouri.  Melissa visits the house of her ancestor and explores it, and reflects on the legacy of her pioneering family and the effect their story will have on the rest of her life.

You’ll enjoy this episode if you have ancestry in Quebec or early French voyageurs that settled the Mississippi corridor.

Want a peek?

Melissa’s episode airs this Sunday, April 26 at 10/9c on TLC.

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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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Bill Paxton – Who Do You Think You Are – The Three Stones

This weeks’ episode with Bill Paxton is really outstanding.  Now, I might be biased, because as it turns out, Bill’s ancestor, Benjamin Sharp shares some historic events and locations with some of my ancestors too.

Bill started his journey in the library in Los Angeles, California, where their genealogist unrolls Bill’s pedigree chart.  I sure wish someone would give me one of those with a bow and a few new ancestors to boot!

Paxton

Compliments of TLC

These pedigree giftings really make me smile.  The recipients are always so excited to see their heritage literally open up before them.

Bill already knew quite a bit about his closest few Paxton ancestors, including that one of his ancestors was an officer in the Civil War, so Bill was looking back up the tree to the Revolutionary War era where he found 3 different men, all 4 times great grandfathers, who could well have served.  Checking the DAR data base, only the last one, Benjamin Sharp, hit pay dirt.

Bill is off to the DAR headquarters in Washington DC.  At the DAR, they produced the 1833 pension application for Benjamin Sharp, written in Warren Co., MO, documenting his Revolutionary War military service beginning in 1775.  That’s when my ears perked right up, because the application, in Benjamin’s own handwriting said that he was at Black’s Fort, and at Glade Hollow, and that he was a spy.

For anyone with Appalachian, Western VA or Eastern TN history, both of these locations grab your attention, because these lands were truly forts, on the true edge of the frontier.  Very few people were there, and the militia protected them, not from the British so much, but from Indians, most of whom were aligned with the Tories because the English promised the Indians that if they won, the pioneer encroachment on their lands would stop.  These fort locations are found today in Russell County, VA.

From there, Benjamin Sharp served in the local militia unit, probably out of Washington County, VA, that rallied to fight in the fall of 1781 at King’s Mountain, a turning point in the Revolutionary War.  At least two of my ancestors fought at King’s Mountain as well.  Today, on the top of the hill, a monument to the men who fought and gave their lives has been erected.  This battle, won by mountaineers known as the Overmountain Men and not professional soldiers has been termed the turning point of the Revolutionary War.

The British commander, Patrick Ferguson, made a grave error in issuing this challenge to the Overmountain men who he held in the greatest contempt.

“If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”

Them’s fightin’ words.

Let’s just say that’s not exactly what happened.  Ferguson was among the men buried at King’s Mountain, and the British Army lost.  Talk about both underestimating and inflaming your opponent.

King's Mountain

Photograph by Roberta Estes

You can guess where Benjamin is off to next.  Yes, King’s Mountain is a historic park today and well worth the visit.  A couple of years ago, I walked this trail myself and I can’t even begin to tell you the raw emotions I felt during that journey.  I was fortunate to be alone on the walking path – of course that might had something to do with the fact that it was over 100 degrees.  The men who fought at King’s Mountain did so in the cold rain – in fact – it was probably the rain that saved them – because rain softens leaves and underbrush and the Ferguson, stationed on top of the hill with the Tories, didn’t realize they were surrounded until it was too late.

At King’s Mountain, Bill discovers a letter from Benjamin Sharp in the book “American Pioneer” detailing the actual battle.  Watching Bill read this letter standing on the actual battleground was quite gripping, especially knowing that Benjamin was describing, first hand, something my ancestors experienced too.

Bill wanted to know what happened to Benjamin after the Revolutionary War.  Benjamin was only 18 at that time and he had his whole life in front of him.  Bill’s next stop is the Library of Virginia in Richmond.

Bill discovers that Benjamin became a surveyor in Lee County, Virginia’s westernmost county which borders on the Cumberland Gap.  Many of the men who served in the Revolution on the frontier did settle in this area.  On the Lee County tax list of 1804, shown in the episode, I saw two names I recognized.

Benjamin Sharp moved on though, with the movement westward to Missouri.  They didn’t say how or why Benjamin moved, but I’m betting it might have been where Revolutionary War bounty land was granted.  Many families found themselves pushing the westward frontier due to these grants given as payment for military service.

Bill’s next and last stop is in Warren County where he finds and holds the original will of Benjamin Sharp in his hands.  Benjamin lived a very long life and his will holds, well, let’s just say some surprises.

In fact, Bill has been surprised, or maybe shocked is a better word, several times along the way…and not always in a positive light.

This episode closes with Bill visiting his ancestor’s grave, deep in the brambles in the forest on private property that used to be owned by Benjamin Sharp.  Bill leaves three small stones….but you’ll have to watch Sunday night to discover why.

This was a truly moving, heartwarming and sometimes gut-wrenching episode.

Here’s your sneak peek.

Bill Paxton’s episode airs this Sunday, April 19 at 10/9c on TLC.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

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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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Genealogy Research

America Ferrera Heads to Honduras on Who Do You Think You Are

Unfortunately, TLC didn’t send the pre-screening link this week, so you don’t get my writeup.  Instead, you get theirs, and I’ll be watching right along with you.

America Ferrera TLC

Courtesy TLC

For the first time ever, Who Do You Think You Are? heads to Honduras as actress America Ferrera sets out to search for a connection to her father, whom she barely knew.

Throughout her journey, America uncovers the fascinating details of her paternal great grandfather, who was a General in the army and led numerous revolts against Honduran leaders to fight for the people’s rights.

Key details from America’s episode include:

  • With the help of historians and documentation, America discovers that her great grandfather, at the young age of 27, left a job as a tax collector to join a military campaign to help the liberal president’s party fend off a plot to overthrow them.
  • America finds that her great grandfather then led numerous successful revolts against corrupt Honduran presidents apparently in order to ensure the rights of the people. General Ferrera and his actions made such a mark that he was written about by the United States government and considered a troublemaker, eventually being exiled from Honduras.
  • Upon his return to his homeland some years later, General Ferrera declared that he wished to keep the peace – and then broke his promise as he stockpiled ammunition and prepared once again to take on the latest president and his political party.
  • Finally, America learns from an article which referred to General Ferrera as “the principal enemy of Honduran peace” that he was killed in action.
  • America finds that regardless of her ancestor’s motivations, her great grandfather was loved and considered an icon by the common people of his homeland.

Here’s a sneak peek:

http://www.tlc.com/tv-shows/who-do-you-think-you-are/videos/america-ferrera/

The episode airs this Sunday, April 12 at 10/9c on TLC.

______________________________________________________________

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

Tony Goldwyn – Who Do You Think You Are – “She Was A Radical, The Fire Flew”

Actor, director and producer Tony Goldwyn, probably best known for his drama, Scandal, has a remarkable Hollywood pedigree. What few people may know is that on his mother’s side, he hails from a celebrated stage and screen family – his grandfather was Sidney Howard, best known for writing the screenplay for Gone With the Wind. Tony acknowledges that he knows nothing about the Howard side and anything he can learn about Howard’s ancestry would be a boon.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

With the help of a genealogist, and an instantly appearing pedigree chart, Tony pushes past his two times great grandfather Lawrence Coe and finds his three times great grandparents Nathaniel and Mary Coe living in Albany, New York in the mid 1800’s, where Nathaniel was a politician in the state assembly.

One tool Tony made a lot of use of, that I don’t and perhaps should think of more often, is www.newspapers.com.

At the NY State Library in Albany, Tony learns that his 3 times great grandfather Nathaniel Coe proposed ‘anti-Seduction’ legislation which concerned issues surrounding pre-or extra-marital sex and prostitution.

I found this to be very interesting if initially a bit confusing.  As the historian explained, typically, when a female was “seduced,” willingly or unwillingly, she was marked as “damaged goods” and especially if she bore a child out of wedlock, not marriageable material.  In essence, the woman bore the brunt of the scandal and the male skipped off scot free.  The inferred link to prostitution was that there were few professions where a woman could support herself and a child, and by then, probably children as in plural – so the woman had few options.  So while this legislation initially sounded like it was penalizing women, it wasn’t, it was actually holding the males involved responsible for at least their part of the “immoral” behavior.  In fact, there was an entire “anti-sedition” crusade.  Who knew?

Curious about why his ancestor focused on this social issue specifically, Tony decides to head to Nathaniel’s hometown of Nunda, NY to see if the explanation for his 3x GGF’s concerns about “seduction” lie there.

In Nunda, Tony finds out that Nathaniel hosted a meeting of the Female Moral Reform Society at his home in 1837. A social historian explains that this undoubtedly indicates Nathaniel’s wife Mary’s membership in the organization. A newspaper article reveals that Mary was “a radical” activist in her community, suggesting that the two shared a passion for this cause and formed a productive, well-suited partnership.

Tony also learns that Mary and Nathaniel were revivalist Baptists, joining much of the country at that time in an Evangelical resurgence.  Baptists in particular were concerned with moral reform and the purification of society.

Wondering why a late-middle aged couple would leave New York for the frontier, Tony is surprised to learn that in 1852, Nathaniel became a U.S. Postal Agent across the country in Oregon via Presidential appointment.

Tony heads to Oregon, where he finds that as a U.S. Postal Agent, Nathaniel was responsible for laying out the infrastructure of the developing Postal Service as the U.S. expanded westward. Nathaniel, Tony learns, was on the cutting edge of modernization as a frontier agent – with all the prestige that implies.

Compliments of TLC

Compliments of TLC

You know when the archivist comes out with your boxes on a cart, that you’ve made a haul.  Sure enough, the Nathaniel Coe Collection holds original letters and documents, including a scrapbook from the Coe estate.  I am SOOO envious.

Through original letters written by Mary Coe, Tony discovers that not only did Mary make an arduous journey around the nation via ship, crossing as the Isthmus of Panama, to join her husband in Oregon, but that after arriving, his three times great grandparents had to flee their home as the Indian Wars broke out around them.

Tony is startled to learn that his ancestor may not have been as progressive as he thought. Reading a letter written by Nathaniel, Tony sees that Nathaniel believed the Indians were hell-bent on exterminating all white settlers, and that any resistance by the Indians to American “progress” and expansion westward justified removing them or exterminating them.  This unfortunate European attitude and policy was referred to as Manifest Destiny and was thinly disguised as a religious belief that God had ordained the Europeans to possess the Native lands.  Fortunately, Tony visits with a historian that presents both sides of the picture in a chapter of expansion that is none too pretty.

Finally, Tony finds an article detailing Mary & Nathaniel Coe’s importance in the region – they helped establish the still thriving city of Hood River in Oregon, after Mary had the name changed from Dog River.

At the Oregon State Archives, Tony discovers that Nathaniel left all of his property to his wife. He learns just how rare that would have been, legally, for a man with grown male heirs, and Tony considers the unique relationship that his three times great grandparents must have enjoyed.

Tony discovers that the graves of Nathaniel and Mary still exist at the aptly named Mountain View Cemetery in Hood River, and makes the pilgrimage to pay his respects to Hood River’s founding couple at their gravesite.

Compliments TLC

Compliments of TLC

Nathaniel and Mary Coe lived an impressive and very long life.  Mary, the radical, didn’t die until she was in her 90s after having crossed the country, the long way, and establishing homes in two different locations, one being an unsettled frontier.

Reflecting upon his experience Tony says that as he looks back over the landscape of his ancestors, he “can begin to see it in the genes,” meaning their strength, determination and character.  He can also see their descendants, his closer ancestors, following the same pattern of husbands and wives as equal and indispensable partners.

Who will like this episode?  Anyone with a New York background or an interest in Democrat vs Whig politics – the westward movement or the social history of that timeframe.  After the move west, the Yakima war and Native people.  Anyone with any history in the Cascade Valley, the Dalles or Hood River, Oregon or with an interest in the Westward expansion.

My ancestors never ventured that far west, so I found the information about the settlement of the west in the 1850s extremely interesting.

Here’s a sneak peek.

Tony’s segment airs Sunday, April 5 at 10/9c on TLC.

______________________________________________________________

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