Genealogy Roadshow – Austin

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.


Genealogy Roadshow–San Francisco

This week, Genealogy Roadshow left its heart in San Francisco and made sure to wear some flowers in its hair.

Truth be told, I have been looking forward to this episode more than the previous two.  With all due respect to Nashville and Detroit, neither city’s history–nor in fact any US city with the exception of New York (and arguably Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia)–has anything as colorful as San Francisco’s.  There’s just so much there.  The Gold Rush, the railroad, the Chinese and Irish immigrations, the 1906 earthquake, the Counterculture, the Gay Rights Movement–San Francisco is just so darn interesting.  I also have a small connection to the place; my great-great-grandfather’s brother moved out there and I recently discovered a whole large family on the West Coast.

This week’s episode took place at the Old San Francisco Mint, and although the history of the building is usually the best time for a bathroom break, I actually thought it was rather interesting.  Mints are fascinating places.  I loved visiting the one in Philadelphia.  I also remember looking at my coins to see if I could tell they were printed.  I believe it was a P for Philadelphia, an S for San Francisco, and a D for Denver, but if I am wrong I am sure some kind soul will correct me in the comment section.

As always, we are guided by our intrepid hosts Kenyatta Berry and Joshua Taylor, the latter of him looks different, perhaps it is a snazzier haircut.  I hope fame is not going to his head.  (I also wonder about the other genealogists who do work behind-the-scenes.  I highly doubt just Berry and Taylor do all the research.)

Our first participant was Lisa Gates, a fourth generation Californian, whose mother is the family history and who was at the Mint for the family presentation.  Apparently Lisa’s mother told her that they were related to James Marshall, the man who discovered gold in California, but other relatives said that was not true.  Lisa also wanted to know about the circumstances surrounding the death of her great-great-grandfather Clinton Augustus Edson.  He was murdered, but the reasons were unclear.  Was it an angry, cuckolded husband furious about an affair his wife had with his boss Clinton?  Was it a disgruntled employee?  (Could the disgruntled employee be disgruntled because his boss had an affair with his wife?)  Berry traced Lisa Gates ancestry back to Maine and found no evidence to connect her to James Marshall, who was from New Jersey (Lisa’s reaction?  She tells her mother, “You’re in trouble.”)  Berry was however, able to tell Lisa how Edson was murdered.  An employee named Charles Becker killed him.  As Edson was in is 50’s and Becker and his wife were in their 70’s at the time, it was probably not about an affair.  Becker alleged that Edson hadn’t paid him for three years and owed him $800.  Becker filed an unsuccessful lawsuit and then took matters in his own hands.  Becker killed Edson and was sentenced to San Quentin for eight years for manslaughter.  Lisa joked about whether they still owned the Becker family and would be hunted down.

Cecilia Chen is a fourth generation Chinese American in the San Francisco Bay area.  Her father said that they were related to a gangster named Big Jim Chen.  Cecilia wanted to know about how her family and her connection to her history as an Asian-American.  Taylor told her that Big Jim Chen was very hard to trace.  Then we get a history of the Chinese immigration, how they were first embraced and then in the 1870’s blamed for an economic recession which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, and which in turn led to a rise in criminal activity and secret societies.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943 and the quotas were eliminated in 1965.  For Cecilia’s family, her grandmother Mary Fat Yee came to San Francisco with her family from New York, but it was neither direct not easy.  (Cuba was involved somehow in their travels.)  The family had to carry picture identification with them at all times, which was bad for them, but great for Cecilia who got to see pictures of her great-grandparents Fat Yee and Chin Shee.  Fat Yee was a native-born citizen, but still he was interrogated because he was Chinese.  Chin Shee came from the same region of China as Big Jim Chen (who also went by the name Chin Shin), but other than that Taylor could not find a connection, sort promising that he would keep trying.  Big Jim Chen was apparently a really good gangster, which meant that he was really good at hiding the paper trail.  So in the absence of documents, only the oral history is left.  Then Taylor says something about the American dream, and I kind of tuned out thinking I had wandered into Who Do You Think You Are.

Jennifer Weed’s great-great-grandfather was John W. Lambert, the inventor of the first gasoline-powered automobile–years ahead of Henry Ford and others.  The story in Weed’s family was that there was a feud with Ford, and no one in her family has driven a Ford since.  Taylor confirms that Lambert did invent the gasoline-powered automobile (and was also the first crash in American history when he ran into a tree), but there was no evidence of a feud, so Jennifer can safely drive a Ford.

Dava Segal’s family was from the South and she wanted to know if they were involved in the Civil War.  They were. Her ancestor George Efner was in the Confederate Army, the Shreveport Rangers from Louisiana.  They were an elite side who fought in major battles including the Siege of Vicksburg, where Efner was wounded and taken as a POW.  Despite taking an oath of allegiance, Efner returned to the fighting, and I think I heard that he was taken as a POW again.  One of Efner’s ancestors, Joseph Efner, fought in the Revolutionary War under Benedict Arnold at both battles of Saratoga.  Although no one said this out loud, Dava now can petition to be in the DAR.

Casey Robbins was researching her father’s side when she discovered that she may be connected to the Folger family, one of the original families to settle Nantucket.  Benjamin Franklin was also a Folger and Casey wanted to know if there was a connection to him.  There was a history segment about Franklin’s early life (being from Philadelphia, I am quite familiar with Ben Franklin.  There was however, a really interesting article about his sister Jane a couple of months back in The New Yorker.)  Casey did have a connection to Nantucket; her 5th great-grandfather Jesse Bunker was a Nantucket whaler who died at sea.  Bunker’s widow was Eunice Folger Bunker.  Eunice’s line could be traced back to Peter Folger (Casey’s 10th great-grandfather), who was one of the first settlers of Nantucket.  He learned the languages of the native tribes, was a court clerk, and wrote all the early records.  His wife Mary Morell came over as an indentured servant, but Peter paid $20 to buy her contract and married her (“the best appropriation of money I ever made.”)  Apparently Mary Morell was mentioned by Herman Melville in Moby Dick as Franklin’s grandmother.  ( I need to try to read that book again, but every time I give up.)  Benjamin Franklin and Casey are first cousins 10 times removed.

Michael Logan got a DNA test.  When he went to give blood for the bone marrow registry, he was discovered to have an unusual pathogen, which will be fatal if he gets sick. On that less-than-cheerful note, Berry went through the results of his admixture test–primarily Northern European descent, some Southern and Eastern European descent, and a tiny amount of North African descent.  His paternal line (Y-Chromosome) appeared to originate in Scandinavia (“ABBA country, right?”)  Maybe it’s just me, but that seemed rather glib and uncomfortable: “I could die.” “Okay; let’s check your DNA results.”  I think that perhaps different decisions should have been taken in the editing room.

Karla McLaren had troubled getting past her grandparents on one branch of her tree for her own research, so Taylor tells her about her grandfather, his father Delaney Rogers, and Delaney’s father who fought for the Union in Civil War from 1861-64.

Jamie O’Keefe is a 5th generation San Francisco native whose great-grandparents, Frank and Anne (Savage) O’Keefe, met as a result of the 1906 earthquake (you knew they had to get that in somewhere).  There was confusion about how they met.  Was his home destroyed and he stayed in her barn or was hers destroyed and she stayed at his bar?  According to Berry, Timothy O’Keefe, Jamie’s great-great-grandfather, immigrated from Ireland in 1874.  He ended up in San Francisco where the Irish were a third of the population.  In 1896, Timothy opened a grocery store and saloon (O’Keefe’s Saloon).  Seven years later, he died and his son Edward took over.  Edward’s younger brother Frank was 19.  Anne Savage was also of Irish descent.  She and her sister owned  business which primarily sold ostrich feathers.  Frank, in the Mission District, survived as did his business and much of his neighborhood.  Anne was not so lucky.  In 1909 Frank and Anne were married, all of which points out to her taking refuge in his saloon.

Finally Jim Saltzman wanted to know about his relative who was reportedly a survivor of the horrific 1860 Wiyot Massacre on an island off Humboldt County.  He brought in a walking stick that he thought belonged to his ancestor Eliza Lindgren, but his mother said it belonged to Josephine Beach, who he thought was Eliza’s sister, and who was the survivor in question.  Josephine got lost in a fog, and as a result, she escaped the massacre.  The rest of her family was not so lucky.  It turned out that Eliza and Josephine were not only not sisters, they were not even from the same tribe.  Using the 1900 censuses (General and Indian), Taylor was able to tell Jim that although Eliza and Josephine were not sisters, there was a connection–Eliza’s daughter married Josephine’s son.  The walking stick belonged to Jim’s ancestor.

And that is it for this week.  Next time, the season finale.

The Ellis Island Myth

On this week’s Genealogy Roadshow, I and many, many other genealogy fans noticed a glaring mistake–host Joshua Taylor seemed to acknowledge that the surname of a participant’s ancestor was changed at Ellis Island.  Now, most people probably didn’t nothing and presumably don’t care very much, but in the genealogy community spreading this myth is one of the cardinal sins.  Names were almost never changed at Ellis Island for a variety of reasons–not the least of which being that the passenger lists were created at the location of departure.  That is why it was both shocking and disappointing to hear the President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies perpetuate a wide-spread story that may be romantic but is blatantly false.  Dick Eastman has a very long post on his blog dispelling the myth.  If you don’t believe him, then try the New York Public Library.    

Anyway, to give credit where credit is due, Taylor has explained himself and sort of apologized, which is good because a show’s credibility is on the line when the viewers can spot clear errors.  Which is not to say that one blog post makes it all better–more people will have seen the show than will read this post, Taylor’s, Eastman’s, the New York Public Library’s, or any of the other zillion posts out there on the Internet dispelling the Ellis Island myth.  But it’s better than nothing. 

Genealogy Roadshow – Detroit

From my very brief perusal of the genealogy blogs, my take is that last week’s episode of Genealogy Roadshow got a decidedly mixed reaction.  While it is always nice to see a genealogy-themed show and Kenyatta Berry and Joshua Taylor make for very appealing hosts, there is also a feeling that the information is just coming too easily.  The participants are simply told their histories, and there is little to no documentation backing up the claims.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that the genealogists and historians who work behind the scene are wrong or making things up; I’m sure they are correct.  But in a profession that worships documentation and citation it is a little jarring to see so little of either.  Who Do You Think You Are has a similar problem but with the focus on only one person as opposed to eight or so, there is more time to show records (especially when contractually obligated to do so).

My complaint about Genealogy Roadshow is different.  When I watch a genealogy show I wonder how it could help me with my own research.  And my answer for Genealogy Roadshow is, so far as I can tell, not very much.  The research seems to be somewhat limited, and I have yet to see any kind of documentation that I cannot already find on Ancestry or some other genealogy website.  This week four of the participants had stories originating outside the US (and three from outside the Anglosphere), and even that I am not sure required all that much research beyond what is already on the Internet.

This week’s setting was Indian Village, one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods (and probably the nicest Detroit has ever looked on television).  Michelle Stoutenberg brought in a blue, glass plate that her grandmother said was a butter dish on Abraham Lincoln’s Inauguration table.  Apparently the story is that Lincoln was a relative of some kind.  Michelle’s Lincoln ancestry was already traced with pages of family tree data, but Abraham Lincoln was not on it.  Taylor found the connection–Samuel Lincoln, the first of his line to come to the United States was the common ancestor, which makes Honest Abe Michelle’s fifth cousin four times removed.  As for the plate, it was not part of the Lincoln state china set that Mary Lincoln bought, which means that Michelle’s next stop should be Antiques Roadshow.

(As an aside, does it seem like the histories we are getting are just filler?  Maybe it’s me, but I am getting very little out of it other than a necessary bathroom break.)

Charissa Joy Los was adopted when she was 2 days old.  Because her parents did an open adoption, her birth mother was a part of her life.  She met her birth father when she 14.  Charissa is biracial; her mother is white, and her father is black.  Like many of this week’s participants, Charissa is very interested in her genealogy and has done research.  However, she knew very little about her birth father’s line, and it was important to her because she wanted to know about her African-American heritage.  Berry showed Charissa her birth father’s ancestry–her ancestor Andrew Ingram came from Hancock County, Georgia where he was probably a slave of one Thomas Dudley.  During the Great Migration of the early to mid 20th century, her family went north to Detroit to get a labor job, in places like the Ford factory (in any show about Detroit, Ford will naturally loom large).

Steven (last name unknown) wanted to find out about his father’s family because his father Samuel never spoke about them.  Samuel’s father Lesley fought in World War I, and either during or after the war he lost his leg.  When Samuel was 2, his mother died.  He never knew his grandparents either.  The story made Steven cry.

Cynthia Bedolla-Redman wanted to know if she had any English or Irish ancestry.  She also wanted to know if there were any deep family secrets.  Thomas Hatchard–an ancestor whose relationship I did not catch–was born in 1730 and baptized in Dorset, England.  His son John started a bookstore called Hatchards, which had three royal warrants.  So apparently Hatchards was the royal bookstore and is to this day.  Cynthia is thrilled by this information.  For my part, I don’t understand the appeal of monarchy.  Thomas’s great-grandson, also Thomas, arrived in the United States in 1849.  He joined the Union Army as a surgeon and was in a regiment that was part of Sherman’s March to the Sea.  After the war he started a medical practice in Wisconsin.  When he was older he married a much younger woman named Nancy.  The marriage didn’t work.  Nancy was arrested for shoplifting, and she hung around some characters of ill repute.  Thomas filed for divorce.  In response, Nancy claimed his medical practice was not reputable and both Nancy and Thomas were arrested for murder–apparently a woman went to Thomas for an abortion, and she died the next day.  Although the community loved Thomas and hated Nancy, they were both convicted and served 4 years in prison.

Rose Thompson wanted to know what happened to an uncle who one day just disappeared.  Taylor brought in evidence of two possible marriages (and the suggestion of bigamy), although he said it was merely “highly probable.”  Then came World War II and the uncle reappears in the record with a draft card.  That was the end.

William Blackman wanted to know two things: (1) was he related to Daniel Boone and Patrick Henry on his mother’s side; and (2) was his father’s family name changed to Blackman at Ellis Island?  Taylor gives him some very good advice–never trust unsourced family trees online.  With that, Taylor tells him that no, he is not related to either Boone or Henry.  His ancestor James Grubbs, however, was in Robert E. Lee’s army and wrote to Jefferson Davis to see if he could get out and take a desk job instead.  It failed.  Instead Grubbs was injured in 1865 and admitted to a hospital in Richmond a week before the city surrendered to the Union Army and his opponents became his caretakers.

As for the Blackman family, they came from Courland, which is in today’s Latvia, but at the time his ancestor Abraham left, it was a part of the Russian Empire.  (The Courland Jewish community was unique in the Russian Empire because of an affinity with Germany, the German language, and German culture).  Taylor found a passenger list for Abraham–then named Abram Bleckmann–from Hamburg.  That meant that Abram traveled probably via foot to Hamburg where he sailed to Grimsby, England.  In Grimsby he took a train to Liverpool and got on another ship to New York.  But did they change their name at Ellis Island?  Taylor hedged on that, and I think it is important to note that the answer is no.  One of the enduring family myths is that the people at Ellis Island changed your name.  They didn’t.  Really.  It’s a fable.  I criticize Taylor for allowing this pernicious myth to perpetuate.  What happened is that immigrants changed their own names subsequent to landing either through a formal name change or a massaging of the spelling, which, especially for Eastern European immigrants, was never firmly fixed anyway.  In Abraham’s naturalization papers, he was Bleckman, and in the 1910 Census he was Blackman.  (Keeping in mind that the not exactly the gold standard of accurate spelling.)

Eugenia Gorecki is a retired Ford Motor Company engineer.  She was a pioneer–the first female engineer at Ford.  Eugenia was born in a little Polish village.  Her father was also an engineer, but he died in 1942, when she was two and she knew almost nothing about him.  He was taken away, and when died 10 days after he came home.  She wants to know what happened to him.  According to Berry, Eugenia’s father was in a sporting club called the Falcons which was also a Nazi resistance group.  Members of such group, usually from the intelligentsia and the elite, were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps or work camps.  The Nazis dragged members of the Falcons into the woods and beat them.  One of those Falcons was Eugenia’s father who died from injuries (nephritis or kidney failure).  Shortly after the War, Eugenia and her mother immigrated to the US.  (Eugenia’s mother was born in Detroit and her father moved the family back to Poland during the Great Depression).

Finally Monica Donley wanted to know if she was related to Ponce de Leon as her amateur genealogist husband Kevin said she was.  Wisely, he did not trust the family trees online and wanted to see the evidence.  (A brief aside–is the name pronounced Pons or Pon-say?  I’ve never been able to figure that out, and it seemed like it was pronounced both ways in this episode.)  We got the history of Ponce de Leon, although I take issue with the claim that he was a founder of the United States and the Caribbean.  Taylor talks about how Spanish genealogy is great because unlike Northern Europeans, the Spanish took the surnames of both their parents.  Because of that, he was able to trace Monica’s ancestry through Ponce de Leon’s daughter.  Monica was his 15th great-granddaughter, and very excited by the discovery.  I admit, I’m jealous that anyone could go back that far.

And that’s it for Detroit and half this season.

Genealogy Roadshow–Nashville

Thus begins Genealogy Roadshow, PBS’s latest attempt to capitalize on the family history craze that is sweeping the nation.  Well, I’m not sure it’s a craze.  It’s definitely a popular hobby though.

I honestly had no idea what to expect when I heard about this show.  I have only seen a few minutes of Antiques Roadshow, but even so I could not imagine how that show’s format could be used for genealogy–that is about object, genealogy is about people.  I thought maybe the producers (or whomever) would perhaps tie the participants’ genealogies into a history of Nashville (or whatever city is hosting), but no, the Antiques Roadshow format worked.  A quick overview, stripping away stories, and revealing interesting history. but it is also nearly impossible to write about.  I am not writing about a story anymore, just a series of vignettes and a couple of history lessons.  PBS however, is truly is the station for genealogical-themed television.


The main players of the show are the host Emmett Miller and two genealogists, Kenyatta Berry and Joshua Taylor.  The latter I know of by reputation.  I believe he appeared on Who Do You Think You Are, and he is mentioned rather frequently on a genealogy podcast that I listen to.  Both Berry and Taylor are excellent choices as hosts.

This week’s episode was set in Nashville at the Belmont Mansion.  The participants were an interesting mix.  Marguerita Page is an African-American woman whose grandfather’s cousin Albert Roberts was the illegitimate son of the future Governor of Tennessee Austin Peay (who was 14 when he became a father).  There was Edwin Kennedy, a white man who presented a photo of his grandfather’s then-toddler brother sitting on the lap of an older black man named Lafayette “Fate” Cox, who was a soldier in the Civil War, a farmer, and then a servant.  For good measure, Fate’s great-great-granddaughter was brought in to see, for the first time, a picture of her ancestor.  Then Marquita Fletcher learned that while she was not related to the Pointer Sisters or the abolitionist George Boxley, her great-grandmother Mattie Lee Fletcher worked in the house of the philanthropist Andrew Burton (great-grandfather of singer Amy Grant) who supported the preacher Marshall Keeble.

Then there were Michele Fox and David Vaughn, both of whom claimed a relationship to Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, who is apparently one of the top ten most-claimed relatives (for the life of me, I will never understand why people are so eager to claim relationship to famous people).  Vaughn’s connection was established (which was very good as he is a Davy Crockett reenactor), but Fox’s was disproved.  As a consolation prize, Joshua Taylor found that her husband’s family is descended from a soldier in the American Revolution, and thus her children and grandchildren are eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Following that, Berry gives Chris Hudson, a young African-American man the results of a DNA admixture test (mercifully not attributed to any specific company).  He is 84% Sub-Saharan ancestry, a fair amount of Northern European ancestry, and a very small amount of Native American ancestry.  I will restate my skepticism of DNA testing and leave it at that.

A lovely woman named Jean Carter Wilson claimed that she was related to George Washington, Jimmy Carter, the Carter Family, and Jesse James.  Three of the four were disproved.  But Wilson’s ancestor was Jesse James’s great-aunt, or something to that effect (the charts went by too quickly for me to figure our relationships).

Max Scruggs and his family learned that their ancestress Dinah Bell was a slave to a Sarah Henderson who brought Bell to Tennessee in the 1780’s, making them some of the original (non-native) Tennesseans.  And there were Janet and Michael, a married couple whose full hyphenated name I did not get, but one of those names was Hatfield, as in Hatfields and McCoys.  And yes, Janet is related to those Hatfields.

Finally, there was the story of Sarah Jones, who wanted to know about her father, who she never knew.  Joshua Taylor gave her a whole history of her father’s family dating back to her great-grandfather’s immigration from Poland (a week before the Titanic sunk) and ending with pictures of Sarah’s father David.  As I, and probably everyone else, wondered how Taylor got those pictures, he introduced Sarah to her cousin Sharon, whose mother had put together a photo album.  It was a touching moment.  Someone in the audience cried.

And that was the first episode of Genealogy Roadshow.  Easy to watch, not easy to review.  I’m holding out for the day the show is in Philadelphia, New York City, or Troy, New York.  Perhaps one day you will see me on the show.   Or maybe Antiques Roadshow; my mother has these mismatched heirloom candlesticks I would love to learn about.