The final week of Genealogy Roadshow comes from Austin, Texas, that little pocket of blue in America’s largest red state. Specifically, the program was recorded at the Driskill Hotel, about which we were told much, but which I missed because life is short and duty called.
I have not counted, but this week’s Genealogy Roadshow probably had the fewest televised guests. There were no bite-sized appearances that lasted all of two minutes. There were only six participants in total, which meant a lot of history, a lot of filler, and a lot of fluff. This week also had some odd editing, which sometimes made it seem like the powers-that-be sacrificed part of the actual story for time constraints.
The problem I have with Genealogy Roadshow is that may be too small in is scope. Perhaps this is a byproduct of a limited budget and time constraints in the research. But I think the show has rather myopically chosen to just show what makes people American, which makes it more like Who Do You Think You Are than I feel comfortable with. It also excludes so many people whose ancestors were not a part of the major events of American history or have recent immigrant ancestors. It’s why I think going on the show would be a waste of time for me, which is a very sad thing to admit.
A caveat: Names and family trees flashed by very quickly, and while I tried to get them correct, it is possible that I wrote down something wrong. Please forgive me if I made a mistake.
Denise Garza Steusloff loves Texas. I mean, she loves Texas. Almost to the point of tears. (Loving one’s state that much is a phenomenon I just don’t understand. There is something unsettlingly antebellum about it.) Denise has two big stories in her family. (1) There is a family legend that her father’s family was descended from Sephardic Jews who fled the Canary Islands to escape the Inquisition. This is especially relevant to her family as her sister is raising her children Jewish. (2) Being Tejano is very important to Denise, and she feels (justifiably) that the contribution of Tejanos to Texas’s War of Independence against Mexico has been overlooked because Tejanos “don’t look American.” (It’s a heartbreaking statement.) Denise wanted to know if any of her Tejano ancestors fought in the war, which would allow her to join the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT), which I guess is an honor, but as with the DAR, it just seems like there is so much baggage attached to membership.
The first question that (D.) Joshua Taylor dealt with was the Jewish heritage question. Is Denise the descendant of Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition? (Or were they crypto-Jews, which she used interchangeably, but which are actually different? Crypto-Jews were public Catholics but secretly maintained their Judaism. Jews who fled the Inquisition may have done so to stay Jewish publicly and privately.) As you can imagine, when you are trying to hide something to avoid torture, exile, imprisonment, or death, you don’t leave much in the way of records. Alas, there was no paper trail for Denise. But… there is the DNA test, and that, according to Taylor, proved that Denise is a descendant of Sephardic Jews because her DNA matches that of people who are known to be the descendants of Sephardic Jews. I am an avowed DNA skeptic, which I have said many times, and I just think it is somewhat irresponsible to say that a DNA test (probably Y-Chromosome, but never explicitly stated) is definite and dispositive evidence of descent. Nevertheless, I welcome Denise to the tribe and say, “Mishpucha!”
As to her second question, there were a lot of names that were thrown around, so bear with me. There was a Simon Casillas who had a brother Ambrosio Casillas who was Denise’s 3rd great-grandfather who had an ancestor named Juan Casillas who was in the Mexican Army before the Revolution. Fortunately, there was a pension record filed by Juan’s children (with testimonial evidence) that stated that Juan was at the Battle of Bexar. Ergo, Denise qualified for the DRT, and lo and behold, there was someone from the organization there to give her a membership, a flag, and a hug. Taylor said, “Mazel Tov.”
The next participant was Earl Campbell. Now, I am not a fan of football (the American kind), so I had no idea who he is, but he was apparently a great player in college (at the University of Texas) and in the pros (at the Houston Oilers). Even though I didn’t know who he was, the people there did, and after his segment, people took pictures with him. Earl wanted to know about his father Burke (who died when Earl was in 5th grade) and grandfather Julius. Apparently Earl’s family goes back to at least 1863 in Tyler, Texas. Both of Earl’s grandfathers were landowners (although his maternal grandfather’s land was lost after he died, and Earl bought it back.) Furthermore Burke was a Black Army AirCorp pilot and was at D-Day.
Marc Airhart had done his own genealogy but hit a roadblock with his ancestor George Airhart who, according to family legend, was adopted. Taylor was very excited by this search because the name Airhart is so unusual and therefore easier to research. George served in the Civil War for the Confederacy and was at Vicksburg where he was captured. Also captured at Vicksburg, a William and an Alexander Airhart. Looking at old census records determined that there was some relation to each other and to an Eliza Airhart. After looking at the 1880 Census and an obituary, Eliza, it turned out, was a “mulatto” half-sister of George. Also apparently of William and Alexander, although I am not sure how they determined that William, Alexander, and George were brothers. Marc submitted to a DNA test, and his results included a bit of sub-Saharan DNA, which is extremely unusual for a white person. This led only to more questions, all of which went unanswered.
Sheila Jobe lived in Texas all her life. She had heard two stories, the first is that there was a murder in her maternal grandmother’s line, which she wanted to explore, warts and all. Also a great-uncle did research and through him she has a roadmap to how she may be connected to the Mayflower on her maternal grandfather’s side. Kenyatta Berry told Sheila about her ancestor Isaac L Page of Maine who was in the Civil War. Isaac’s muster record showed that he was left sick in the hospital at Gettysburg following the battle. He was also at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, which meant he was at three extremely bloody and horrific battles. After the war he returned to Maine, married Arletta Braun, and had five children with her. One day, Isaac walked into the home with a pistol when Arletta was in the kitchen. She said “Don’t shoot” but he shot her 6 times and killed her. Isaac’s aunt Sarah Horn said he didn’t remember anything; he had blacked out completely. Isaac was placed in an insane asylum, and while there he killed himself by jumping off a bridge. Berry wanted to examine why he killed his wife, and she offered a theory, probably correct, that he may have suffered from PTSD from his time at war.
As to whether Sheila could trace her origins to the Mayflower? Berry says everyone wants to be related to the 102 survivors of the Mayflower. I would just like to say here and now, that not everyone. I am quite happy about the fact that I do not come from the Mayflower, and I would not trade my heritage for anyone’s. Berry told Sheila that she is not related to just one person, but four people who were on the Mayflower. Sheila got a silver book of Mayflower descendants through five generations. (There were a lot of gifts in this episode.)
Max Hibben wanted to know if he was related to Roger Williams the founder of Rhode Island. Because Roger Williams was a rebel like Max. (If I had played a drinking and took a sip each time someone said, “rebel,” I would have dropped dead from alcohol poisoning before the show ended.) Taylor thought that there is a family resemblance between Max and Roger Williams (“America’s first rebel”) from the old portraits. Whatever. Don’t get me wrong; as far as our founders go, Williams was definitely one of the better ones. WIlliams negotiated and treated with the natives (unlike almost everyone else). Max is related–11 generations back. But now the big reveal, Taylor is also related to Williams, so they are cousins. Another famous relative was Anson Perry Windsor who also descended from Williams. In the Second Great Awakening he became a Mormon (which Max also is) and made his way out to Utah. I didn’t really catch the rest but Windsor had something to do with the time when President Buchanan called out the federal troops to Utah. Windsor was a rebel too. (I’m reminded of the SNL sketch when TIna Fey played Sarah Palin during the Vice-Presidential debate and said, “Maverick” over and over again.)
The final guest was Julie Delio who wanted to know how her family fit with American (and world) history. Julie believed that dead relatives easier to deal with than living ones, which is not a very happy thought. In 1985 Julie asked her mother to write a history, but decided her mother’s notes were completely unreliable. Berry told Julie that her ancestors came from Ulster Province in Ireland. The family immigrated in 1735 or 1745 to Philadelphia and then moved to Rockbridge County, Virginia. There were clergy in the family, one of whom built a Presbyterian church in Rockbridge. Julie, as it turned out, shared an ancestor with Samuel Houston. But that’s not the only governor of Texas she is related to. Berry told her that she is also related to Rick Perry. Julie is stunned. I would be too. I can’t imagine ever wanting to have anything in common with Rick Perry. Ever. Especially DNA. The truth is though that there are only so many ancestors to go around. Sooner or later we are related to everyone. We just lack the documentation to show it.
At the end of the show, useless host Emmett Miller wondered what will next week’s episode will bring. The answer is nothing because the show’s season is finished. This is what I mean when I complain about the editing.
But now my complaining is done. All genealogy shows are finished for now. Hopefully the next post I write will have nothing to do with genealogy television.