It’s time to talk about that most frustrating part of family tree research; the family. Genealogy is a less a hobby than an obsession, and as with any obsession, it often mystifies the people around us who just don’t understand. Sometimes we get a little bit of interest, while other times it seems that we are talking some poor, unwilling soul’s ear off. We may not understand why our relatives don’t care about their own personal history, but they don’t, and they just want us to shut up.
I have two brothers, and neither of them has ever expressed an interest in even so much as looking at the family tree I have spent years building. When I offered to show them, they said no. Which is why tonight’s episode was something of a pleasant surprise for me–two siblings actively explore together. Who Do You Think You Are almost always features family members, but usually at the beginning of the end of the journey. This is the first time the show has actually featured two family members taking the entire journey together. (Perhaps my brothers would be more interested if my research involved international travel.) And one of said siblings is not even famous.
Speaking of this lack of fame, did this season of WDYTYA have its usual promo tagline of “Some of America’s most beloved celebrities”? Because while we can joke about whether Valerie Bertinelli fits that bill, it is fair to say that Kayleen McAdams most certainly does not–regardless of how talented a makeup artist she is.
Kayleen is the makeup artist and Rachel McAdams is the star who was fantastic in Mean Girls. The McAdamses are from the exotic land of Canada, although I believe that both of them live and work in the United States.
Before we get into the details of the show, I want to talk a little about Canada, the Jan Brady of North America. WDYTYA is a British show, which had many offshoots around the world. There was a Canadian version, but it did not last beyond a season, which is a shame. Canadians who want to see their own celebrities’ stories must therefore either embrace either the British version (which originally aired the Kim Cattrall episode) or the American version (Rachel McAdams). Just as Canadians sports have been incorporated into US leagues (hockey, baseball, soccer), so too are their celebrities incorporated into US television. This particular episode is a fascinating look at Canadian history. The episode also offered a glimpse into a fascinating alternative universe, Canada as a mirror image of the US, what would have happened had the 13 colonies not broken away from the mother country but instead remained loyal. Maybe we in the US would have even had a period of sustained sensible governance and beneficial laws and policy. Or perhaps as a southern neighbor I will block out what makes Canada great and instead think of Canada as a frostbitten wasteland where everyone pronounces “out” incorrectly, and Toronto is a short jaunt from Vancouver, eh? (I am reminded of the Onion headline, “Perky ‘Canada’ Has Own Government, Laws.”)
Rachel and Kayleen, are the daughters of Lance and Sandra (Gale) McAdams. Their father was from a large, close family, so we can safely ignore them. Their mother’s side is a mystery because their mother’s parents–Howard Gowen Gale and Eileen Maude (Bell) Gale–died when she was in her early 30’s.
Our intrepid heroines began in the US on the phone with their mother who sent them the Gale/Bell family tree. Howard, who was a mechanic in the Battle of Britain, was born in Plymouth, England. Mother McAdams also sent a photo of Howard’s parents, William and Beatrice Maud (Sedgmore) Gale. William was a mechanic in the Royal Navy. Mother McAdams suggested that her daughters start their search in Plymouth, and I died a little inside. No research? Not even on Ancestry? (The plug would come 8 minutes in the episode, after they were already in Britain.) Come on, WDYTYA! Let’s at least pretend that this is an organic search.
At the Plymouth Central Library, genealogist Paul Blake showed the Sisters McAdams the marriage certificate of William and Beatrice Maud. William was the son of William Henry Creber Gale (b. 2 Jan 1850) who in turn was the son of William Gale and Elizabeth Creber. On his son’s birth certificate, William Gale the eldest was listed a servant, and on the 1851 Census, he was listed as a footman, which one of the sisters says was “very Downton Abbey.” Sure, why not? (My views of British servants is more informed by Gosford Park than Downton Abbey, so I kind of recoiled.)
William Gale was the footman. Having no conception of the hierarchy of servants, I will take the show’s word for it when they say it was a big deal. He was second only to the governess, and the face of the household. His wife and child however, did not live with him, and his job was 24/7 and very demanding. It seems like the job’s only redeeming grace was that it lifted his social standing, which was not insignificant, but what a trade-off.
William Gale’s family lived far away, and he barely saw them. He met Elizabeth Creber because they had both been servants at the same house, but once she had a child she had to leave because while a married servant was acceptable, children of that union were not. Probably because caring for a child would get in the way of around-the-clock-care for the family of the house. William died in 1860 from delirium tremens (alcohol withdrawal). There was some talking head/empathy for the fact that maybe this would not have happened had he had his wife and child near him, but honestly this is hypothetical psychobabble, which I really do not like about WDYTYA.
The Sisters McAdams headed back to Canada in order to learn about how their family got to Canada, which I interpreted to mean why the Gales immigrated, but no, they were talking about the other side of the family. Considering that the show focused on one tiny branch, the Grey family, my guess is the others were either not as interesting, impossible to trace, or merely redundant.
The Bell family tree goes back quite far. So far and so quickly, I did not catch all the names thrown at the audience, although that does not really matter. Somewhere along the maternal lineage we ended up with Rachel’s and Kayleen’s great-great-great-great-grandparents Alexander and Charlotte (Grey) McDonald. They were born just around the time the American Revolution broke out. The show did not care much about Alexander, but Charlotte was significant because in 1824 she petitioned the British crown as the daughter of James Grey of the Johnstown Loyalists for a land grant. When the American Revolution broke out, James was a Loyalist who fled to Canada where he would eventually join the Loyalist Army. WDYTYA’s narrator gave us a little history lesson about the Canadian side (or what would become the Canadian side) of the Revolution in the battle of the Loyalists vs. the Patriots. Kayleen and Rachel discuss a Canadian identity (and hint at a Canadian inferiority complex) and wondered what their Loyalist ancestors would think about them working and living in the US. I imagine not much, but both countries have changes tremendously in 230-some years, so who knows. Largest undefended border in the world and all that.
At the City of Ottowa Archives, the Sisters were shown the document where James Grey first appeared in the historical record. He was quartered at a refugee camp in 1779 at Fort Saint-Jean in Quebec with his wife and two sons. They had fled from the Lake Champlain area around the New York/Vermont side of the border. The historian assisting Rachel and Kayleen posited that James Grey was probably a farmer and a new settler because that area was full of new settlers. After the British were defeated at Saratoga, the Loyalists left their land forever to settle in the harsher conditions of the refugee camp at Saint-Jean. James Grey served in the Peters Corps in the Crown forces.
The Sisters McAdams went the land that was the site of one of the refugee camps, and looked like they were about to cry. There were a lot of children housed in the camps and disease ran rampant. One of James Grey’s sons died at the camp, probably from disease, which killed more than the actual fighting. And after all that hardship, the American forces beat the British so the Loyalists could never go home.
To find out what happened to the Grey family, the Sisters headed to the Archives of Ontario in Toronto. What struck me is how beautiful the architecture of Toronto is. At the Archives, they found records of James Grey. He was awarded two 200 acre lots of land along the Saint Lawrence River near the new United States.
Afterwards, the Sisters McAdams and their historian friend talked about this being a source of pride for many Canadians because these were the founders of Canada. Which begs the question, is there a Canadian equivalent of the Daughters of the American Revolution? It is a shame that there was no connection to the War of 1812, basically a wash for the United States and Great Britain, but a real win for Canada, which forever afterwards became not part of the US.
The Sisters were very excited to find out they had such deep roots in Canada. One might say like the deep roots of an old maple tree. Or something like that. One of the sisters said she wanted to be more like her ancestors. Here’s how you do it: attack the US. Impose your universal health care, curling, and Anne Murray. One of the McAdams sisters also said that ending the journey was like finished a book and she felt sad to leave the characters behind but excited to share the details with their mother. I totally understand the finishing the book sadness; I felt incredible melancholy when I finished Don Quixote and War and Peace given how much time and effort it took to read them, but I am not sure why this is the end of the McAdams journey. Genealogy goes on forever. This is not the end; it is the beginning. To any newbies out there, don’t listen to the McAdamses.
Next week is… I have no idea. Wikipedia says Kelsey Grammar. I missed the promo commercial, but it looked to be either Valerie Bertinelli or Lauren Graham.