Who Do They Think We Are?

In my last review of Who Do You Think You Are, a commentator who was as troubled by the episode as I was posted on my blog that she found a glaring error in the research (thank you, Vivian, I am in your debt).

To recap:  Jason Sudeikis found that his grandfather Stanley (b. 1915) was living in Chicago with his mother Michalina “Emma” (Bielska) Sudeikis and her brother Walter in the 1920 Census.  Stanley’s father, also named Stanley, was nowhere in sight.  But in Connecticut there was a Stanley Sudeikis who lived with his wife Mill and their daughter Lillian.  The conclusion…bigamy.  In 1930, that rapscallion Stanley Sudeikis was living happily with his wife and another daughter still in Connecticut, while Stanley Jr. because of his absent father began a path toward alcoholism and early death.  Stanley Sr., now of Connecticut, was found to be the son of Joseph Sudeikis, who died in a mining accident when Stanley Sr. was but a young boy.

It’s all wrong.  The Connecticut Stanley is not Jason’s great-grandfather.  In the 1930 Census, Stanley Jr. is living with both his parents, Stanley Sr. and Emma.  In other words, the two adult Stanleys are different people.  Moreover, Stanley Sr. of Chicago was living with his family in 1920.  How do we know?  Stanley and Emma had another child in 1921, a daughter Michalina.  For reference, here is Stanley Jr.’s birth certificate.  (Note that his mother was using the name Minnie at the time).  Apparently this daughter did not survive until 1930 because she was not listed on the  1930 Census (which, as we see, doesn’t mean with certainty that she died, but it is entirely probable).

The other glaring problem is that according to the 1930 Census, Stanley Sr. was born in 1896 and immigrated in 1913.  The Joseph Sudeikis who died in the mine died in 1901 and immigrated in 1884.  There is no way that they were father and son.  Jason’s episode was full of mistakes.

So there are two ways to look at this discrepancy, the kind way and the cynical way.  In the kind way, researchers made mistakes and led Jason (and the viewers) down the wrong path.  It’s embarrassing but it happens.  Genealogy often leads us on wrong paths.  For example, people who are not experienced tend to assume that the Ancestry.com hints are gospel.  The truth though is that they are just guesses based on algorithms, and I have rejected at least as many as I have used.

The cynical view though is one that I am praying is not correct.  I said last week that it is an open secret that more celebrities are researched than aired, but I am wondering if the real secret is that the open secret is a lie.  This season in particular I thought that there was some chutzpah is calling the guests “America’s most beloved celebrities” since so many of them are unknown to the population at large.  I also noticed that this season many of the guests had connections to NBC; by my count, 7 are or had been regulars on NBC television shows.  They may be more.  If you go through other seasons you’ll see that many of the other guests also have connections to NBC, not least Executive Producer Lisa Kudrow.  In other words, while promoting Ancestry and Apple, the show is also promoting NBC.

In the cynical way of looking at this faulty research, Jason Sudeikis’s story was not interesting, but he needed to be on Who Do You Think You Are to promote NBC.  Ergo the researchers fudged the facts and fabricated a more television-friendly past.

If the kind hypothesis is correct, then the researchers owe Jason Sudeikis an apology.  If the cynical hypothesis is correct, then the researchers and Sudeikis owe that apology to the viewers.

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One response to “Who Do They Think We Are?

  1. I agree 100%. I always like to check out their research just to see what is actually available online to those of us who can’t hop on a jet and go across the country or to another country to look at a document. I was stunned by this because I know what it’s like to have a striking similarity in the real line and in one that belongs to someone else. But…I didn’t expect to see such a mistake in a televised show! I can understand why WDYTYA doesn’t have a forum (“Jason, we’re related, call me, boobie!”), but still…

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