Kelsey Grammer, Who Do You Think You Are?

I listen to a lot of podcasts every day, and a couple of times a month I get some genealogy-related ones.  Among those is Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems, which I have mentioned previously.  On her most recent episode she featured a (second) interview with Lisa Kudrow, star of Friends, The Comeback, and (for our purposes) an Executive Producer of Who Do You Think You Are.

I would not normally make a second plug for anything so soon after I made the first one, but I was fascinated by the interview.  Kudrow was actually pretty honest about the flaws of the show despite the fact the interview was completely softball and fawning.  In particular, she lamented how similar this season’s celebrity stories have been, and how the ethnic mix for the celebrities has been, especially since the show moved to TLC, nearly completely homogenous (not her words, but that was the gist).  I bring this up, because I made the same complaint last week, so I felt rather gratified to hear the show’s EP make my exact  complaint in a program uploaded to the Internet half a day after I posted my critique.

Another criticism of Kudrow’s was about how rushed this season has been (she effusively praised the hardworking researchers who found stories and crafted coherent and enticing narratives in such a limited time).  She said next season, which starts this coming January, will go a long way to rectifying what she sees as problems with this season.

I bring this up for two reasons.  First I want to give credit where credit is due (and point out that I am not alone in my complaints).  Second, Kudrow’s criticism is especially apt for this week’s episode, which was, frankly, boring.  There is nothing wrong exactly with the episode; the Oregon Trail is a new historical event for the show, but how many pioneer ancestors can we possibly see?  And the ending monologue every week–bravery, blah blah, pride, blah blah, courage.  It all merges into the same story after a while even if the particulars are different.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Kelsey Grammer was the son of Frank Allen Grammer Jr. and Sally (Cranmer) Grammer.  Kelsey was born in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and when he was two, his parents divorced and his mother moved in with her parents Gordon and Evangeline (Dimmick) Cranmer.  Grammer’s life was tinged with tragedy.  His father died at age 38, his grandfather died at 63, two twin half-brothers died in a scuba diving accident, and most horrifying of all, his sister Karen was abducted, raped, and murdered two weeks before her 19th birthday.

In between tragedies, Grammer became very close to his grandmother Evangeline (whom he called Gam).  It is her life he wanted to know about.  She never spoke about her mother–never even said her name–and only mentioned her father once, who walked out on the family when she was little.  Evangeline found him when she was older, and he wanted nothing to do with her.  Evangeline was raised by her aunts, especially her Aunt Lela.  Grammer wanted to know why.

First Grammer met with family historian Jennifer Utley who, via Ancestry (plug 5 minutes in),  found Evangeline in the 1910 Census.  She lived in Alameda, California with her mother Genevieve Dimmick and with Genevieve’s family, including parents, Charles B. and Amelia R. Geddes and sisters Evangeline, Minerva, and Lela (who in 1910 is listed as Delia).  Genevieve had been married for 5 years, but there is no mention of a husband.  On my own perusal of records, what I found particularly interesting is that Evangeline the elder was divorced, which was not mentioned in the episode, but was actually an important piece of information in hindsight with regard to Genevieve’s story.  (Also not noted, Charles, Amelia, and Evangeline the Elder were all naturalized, having been born in Nova Scotia.)

The next stop was the 1920 Census, where Grammer found that his grandmother was living with her Genevieve’s sister Eland Swindell and her family.  Genevieve, Minerva, and Lela lived in the same residence but were a different household.  The historian offered an explanation for that, but I forget now.  Something about a split level home.  In any case, Genevieve is now divorced.

Grammer went to a repository of digitized articles from California and in 1913, he found that Genevieve brought charges that her husband Ellis Dimmick neglected and deserted her.  Apparently they married in Oakland in 1905 and he left her later that year (the implication being that Genevieve was pregnant when they married).  But why wait 8 years before filing for divorce?  Grammer went to the Bay Area to find someone to explain divorce in that era.

And he got a social historian who found the final decree of divorce.  Genevieve Marriott Dimmick filed for divorce against Ellis Loughborough Dimmick, who did not participate in the proceedings.  Why did it take so long?  Grammer and the historian talked about social stigma.  Maybe it was Genevieve who felt the social stigma or maybe her parents pressured her.  (There was already one daughter who was divorced, although again, never mentioned.)  But I wondered–and this was never brought up–if perhaps there was a specific amount of time that had to pass before a woman could get a divorce on the grounds of desertion.

Grammer got more information about Genevieve, specifically her death certificate.  She remarried William Foltz and died at age 52 (in 1924).  The cause was cirrhosis of the liver, meaning that she was probably an alcoholic.  There was some discussion about Prohibition and Genevieve being a victim of her time.  Grammer posited that she was a party girl and Ellis probably knocked got her pregnant, which is why they got married.  And that seemed to answer why Evangeline never spoke about her mother.

With that, Grammer closed the book of Genevieve and turned to Ellis.  He went to Oakland to learn about his great-grandfather.  At this point I notice that typical WDYTYA arc of tragedy and triumph.  We are well into the tragedy part.  Inevitably there will be some family redemption, but I wondered how.  It turned out we would not find it with Ellis.

Ellis Loughborough Dimmick was, how do I put this gently?  From the evidence shown, he appeared to be a rat bastard of a human being.  In 1908 at age 29, three years after his marriage, he joined the Marine.  He waived his marriage so that he kept all his salary rather than send any to his wife and child.  His record notes many absences over leave and one glaring AWOL.  Then Grammer read the comments that (commercial break for drama) he was discharged as undesirable because of habitual use of intoxicants.  He was also labeled as having a bad character.  He spent a lot of time in the brig living on bread and water, and his salary was repeatedly docked.  In 1917, he worked as a night porter at the exclusive Shattuck Hotel in Berkley.  On his World War I Selective Service Card, he listed his daughter Evangeline Lucille Dimmick (address unknown) as his dependent.  Grammer thought it was a showing of decency, but I wonder if it was a way of avoiding the possibility of getting drafted.

It is a cliché of WDYTYA that the celebrity always finds some virtue of him or herself in the ancestor being traced.  It is always, always, always a virtue–never a vice.  The irony is that whereas most celebrities struggle to make these far-fetched connections with ancestors, Kelsey Grammer already has some, granted dubious ones.  Over the years, Grammer has had some very well-publicized battles with his personal demons, specifically alcohol and cocaine addiction.  Substance abuse has a biological/genetic component, and Grammer discovered that two great-grandparents were also substance abusers.  Maybe that is a little heavy for the show, maybe it is just too personal for Grammer to talk about, I don’t know, and I am not going to assume or judge.  But I will say that when I heard about the fates of his great-grandparents, I wondered what went through his mind and if he made any kind of connection.  Grammer may have made a slight allusion to his past, but it went by very quickly.

Grammer got one last piece of evidence about Ellis, his death certificate.  He died at age 60 of arteriosclerosis.  His parents Joseph and Mary (Krichbaum) Dimmick were from the Midwest.

Back to the Census, this time 1880, Grammer found the Dimmicks living in Oakland.  Prodded by the historian, Grammer found that the younger children were born in California, but the eldest two were born in Oregon.  So that led Grammer to go to Portland rather than the places of birth of his 2nd great-grandparents.  Because this show is extremely heavy-handed and obvious.

En route to Portland, Grammer thinks of the Oregon Trail.  I do too, except that my recollections of the Oregon Trail are tinged by that old video game that I played endlessly as a child on the Apple II (as a banker because that gave you the most money to spend).  Also, I killed a lot of pixellated bison even though they weighed 900 pounds and I could only carry 100 pounds back to my wagon.  It was a horrible waste.  I am responsible for the near extinction of computer-generated bison along the Oregon Trail, and I feel horrible about it.  Maybe that is why I am a vegan today.

Grammer met Oregon Historian David Del Mar who told him about Joseph Dimmick, the son of Joseph Dimmick (born in New York) and his wife Comfort (Dean) Dimmick.  The names in this episode are fabulous: Evangeline, Genevieve, Minerva, Lela, Eland, Ellis, Comfort, Lucinda, Ebeneezer, and my personal favorite, Athalinda.  Love it.

Joseph the Younger (Grammer’s 2nd great-grandfather) is one of 14 children.  Or more.  There are multiple sources and the one that is least accurate was on WDYTYA which undercounted.  (I counted from the 1950 Census, and I could tell 12 was too few.)  It appears there may be a few more Dimmicks than were counted on the show.  Not that is matters.  The Dimmicks moved from Rushville, Illinois to Oregon along the Oregon Trail.  Land was cheap, and the scenery was beautiful.  Of course, pre-Transcontinental Railroad, getting to Oregon was exceedingly difficult, and the Dimmicks lost their eldest son Thomas to cholera along the way.  (A nephew of Joseph the Elder kept an account of the trek that history professor Peter Boag showed to Grammar.  According to that account, more people died than just Thomas.  It is very sad.)  But the rest of the family made it.  Joseph and Comfort both got land, and Joseph died on it.  There was a small biographical portrait of him, and he was listed as a pioneer, which is apparently a badge of honor in Oregon.  Thus, we have the triumph part of the requisite tragedy and triumph arc I mentioned above.  The episode ended with Kelsey Grammer waxing poetically about bravery and courage and pride, and I lost focus thinking about this write-up.

Next up: Lauren Graham and the season finale.

Edit:  The Lauren Graham episode is not airing this season if at all.  Instead next week will feature Minnie Driver.  Driver was actually featured on the BBC series, which means that this episode is probably a reedited version of that. 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s