Sunday, May 3, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Bill Paxton

Slowly but surely working my way through the last two episodes of this season of Who Do You Think You Are?  Only one more after this!  It's rewatching to catch details that gets me every time.

The opening voice-over for the Bill Paxton episode says that he would uncover a war hero — we hear Paxton saying the word "spy" — bloody battles, and the shocking truth about an ancestor.  We then hear that he is a celebrated actor and director with an outstanding career spanning four decades, and that he has starred in some of the most celebrated films of all time.  The only films they mention, however, are Apollo 13 and Titanic.  (I haven't seen Apollo 13, but I have seen Titanic, and let's face it, it was not well known for the quality of its acting or script.)  He also appeared in HBO's Big Love and a mini series, The Hatfields and the McCoys, for which he earned an Emmy nomination.  I was surprised they didn't mention The Terminator, Aliens, or Predator 2, probably much better known movies, but the film I always think of first for Paxton is the vampire cult classic Near Dark, a favorite of a former housemate of mine.

Paxon and his wife, Louise, live in Southern California with their children, James and Lydia.  We see Lydia in passing for a very short scene, and that's it for family member appearances.

Paxton says he was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and that his parents are Mary Lou Gray and John Paxton (who was in three movies with his son).  Paxton had a close relationship with his father, who died three years before the episode was filmed.  They shared many of the same interests:  theater, books, movies, and history.  Paxton credits his success to his father.

Because he was so close to his father, Paxton already knows quite a bit about that side of the family.  He had a great-great-grandfather who was a Confederate general and a great-grandfather who was an attorney in Independence, Missouri.  He's hoping to learn more about that side and maybe to gather strength from what he finds.  He also hopes he discovers some "savory bits" (ah, don't we all).

For the third time in seven episodes, the celebrity begins by meeting a researcher at the downtown (main) branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.  (Maybe the show sent out a casting call in the L.A. area?)  Paxton connects with Ancestry.com employee Kyle Betit, who earlier this season worked with Josh Groban.  Paxton has told Betit he wants to learn more about the roles his family played in history.

Betit has done some initial research and hands Paxton one of the famous "here's your family, already done" tree rolls.  He insists that Paxton be the one to unroll it, though.  He also says that he found the tree to be pretty impressive, but he's an Ancestry employee, so it's hard to tell if that's his real opinion.  The tree goes back to at least one 5th-great-grandfather, but he's on the Paxton line, and we have no way of knowing how much of the information in the tree was already known to Paxton from his family's prior research.

Paxton starts reading the names in the Paxton line, starting with himself.  His father, John, was born July 14, 1920 in Missouri and died November 17, 2011 in California.  Paxton comments that "he passed, it'll be three years next month", so we know this was shot in October 2014.  Next is grandfather Frank Paxton, born June 10, 1887 in Missouri, died May 16, 1951 in Missouri.  Great-great-grandfather John Gallatin Paxton was born September 17, 1859 in Virginia and died September 24, 1928 in Missouri.  He was the attorney in Independence.  Second-great-grandfather Elisha Franklin Paxton, the Confederate general, was born 1828 in Virginia and died March 4, 1863 in Virginia (at the Battle of Chancellorsville).  Third-great-grandfather Elisha Paxton was born about 1784 in Virginia and died November 24, 1867 in Virginia.  Fourth-great-grandfather William Paxton was born about 1733 and died in 1795 in Virginia.  The last name is John Paxton, Bill Paxton's fifth-great-grandfather, who was born about 1692 and died about 1746 in Pennsylvania.  No women's names are shown as we travel up the Paxton line.

After revisiting the names of his ancestors, Paxton says that he knows he has a family connection to the Civil War but wants to find someone in the American Revolution.  Three of his fourth-great-grandfathers were alive and of appropriate ages during 1775–1783, the years of the war:  William Paxton; Frank Wyatt, born 1757, died 1824 in Kentucky; and Benjamin Sharp (who married Hannah Fulkerson, born 1769, died unknown), born 1762 in Pennsylvania, died unknown.  The question is, did any of them serve?  When they show these names on the family tree floating in the sky, we finally see more women's names.  John Gallatin Paxton married Mary Neil Gentry, whose mother was Mary Neil Wyatt.  Her father was John Wyatt; his father was Francis Wyatt (as opposed to Frank, as he is shown in the family tree scroll).  John Wyatt was married to Attossa Pinkney Sharp, whose father was Benjamin Sharp.

In one of those rare occurrences on WDYTYA, the first computer site we visit is not Ancestry.com.  Betit suggests Paxton use the Ancestor Search on the Daughters of the American Revolution site.  Paxton appears to be familiar with the name of the organization and knows it is in Washington, D.C.  He uses his spiffy iPad to look first for William Paxton and then Frank Wyatt, both of whom give results of "No ancestor records found."  (This doesn't necessarily mean those men didn't serve in the Revolutionary War.  It could simply mean that no one has applied for membership in DAR and proven service by either man.  In fact, the Wikipedia page for Elisha Franklin Paxton says that William Paxton was an American Revolutionary War veteran but gives no further information.)  When he enters Benjamin Sharp's name, however, he is successful and says service Virginia, rank private, and spy — and then we cut away to a commercial.  When we return, the narrator says Paxton has "just discovered a record" about an ancestor, which is absolutely not correct.  What Paxton found was an index entry with transcribed notes, nothing more.  And when you find transcribed information, you should always look for the original document.

What they don't mention on the program is that a search for Benjamin Sharp actually gives two results.  The second one is Paxton's ancestor.  The first one includes a notice to treat as a new ancestor, which means he was used by someone in the past for membership in DAR, but since then there's some question about his service, and anyone wishing to claim him as her Revolutionary War ancestor must reprove his service before membership can be approved.


That said, now that he has found the entry, Paxton of course wants to track down more information.  He notes that Sharp died in 1842 in Warren County, Missouri, where John Paxton was from, and asks Betit where he should go next.  The surprise is that Betit tells him he needs to go, not to Missouri, but to the DAR library, where the people there should be able to help him find some more documents about Sharp's life and service.  Yes, the average person would probably just write to DAR, but on TLC and Ancestry's budgets, it's easy to fly across the country.

In the interlude, Paxton says that he knew his father's side goes back to the late 17th century in this country and that he had family alive during the American Revolution, but didn't know anything about Sharp.  Now he's wondering for whom Sharp was a spy.

As he drives around Washington, Paxton says he loves D.C.  His first trip there was in 1968 with his father and he has good memories.  As he arrives at the DAR library, he comments that it has one of the largest collections of genealogical documents relating to Revolutionary War patriots.  He is going to meet historian Jake Ruddiman (of Wake Forest University in North Carolina), whom he has asked to find information on Benjamin Sharp.  Ruddiman wastes no time in laying a folder on the table in front of Paxton.  In it is what appears to be a letter (but we are told is a deposition) written by Benjamin Sharp.  Dated May 7, 1833 in Montgomery County, Missouri, Sharp was making an official record of his military service during the war.  He was about 71 years old at the time and a resident of Warren County.

Paxton reads excerpts from the document, which is shown in short shots on screen.  In June or July of 1776 Sharp was living in Washington County, Virginia.  He volunteered with Captain Andrew Colville at Black's Fort (now Abingdon, Virginia).  He was about 14 years old.

Ruddiman interjects that Sharp was serving with a Virginia militia group, which would have consisted of family members and neighbors.  Militia were local men tied to their town or county, who defended their homes and land when the war came to them.  This was in contrast to the Continental Army, which was composed of men serving with George Washington who went to the British to fight against them.  At times, militia might fight with the Continental Army, if the army came to their area.

Paxton continues to read the deposition.  Sharp said he was a spy, and the deposition said "ranging."  He was at Glade Hollows Fort.  Ruddiman explains he was probably a scout and tracked enemy movements on the roads and trails.  It was an important role, because if the British surprised the local people, they could die.  Ruddiman adds that Sharp's position was important but dangerous, and that Sharp was expendable because he was young, unmarried, and had no children and no farm.  It would be tragic for his family, but if he died, it would not have been very disruptive to the community.

In 1778 or 1779, Sharp wrote, his detachment took several Tories.  This prompts a discussion about how the men knew who was a Tory.  Ruddiman admits that it was by roughing people up, often at sword point.

Sharp wrote that in 1780, Colonel (Charles) McDowell of North Carolina was driven by British and Tories over the mountains.  Sharp volunteered in early September and marched with other men to the Carolinas.  They overtook the British and Tories in South Carolina at Kings Mountain.

The narrator says that Patriot militiamen began in Virginia (the map shows them leaving from Abingdon, which was still Black's Fort at the time) and marched more than 200 miles over two weeks, on foot and horseback, to Kings Mountain in South Carolina.  The men, including Sharp, walked the last 24 hours in rain, arriving in October 1780.

Ruddiman explains that Kings Mountain was a pivotal battle of the Revolution in the South.  Even though he just read it in the deposition, Paxton asks where Kings Mountain is and is told South Carolina.  Ruddiman adds that the battle site has been preserved as a national military park and that Paxton needs to go there.

As he leaves, Paxton says he wishes his father were there because he would have enjoyed hearing about the history connected with the family.  He is astounded at the first-hand account he's just read and really feels his ancestor talking to him across time.  He hopes to find details about the battle and learn how it started and ended and how many casualties there were (all the gory details).  Now he is off to Blacksburg, South Carolina, the location of Kings Mountain National Military Park.

As Paxton drives to Kings Mountain, he sees a welcome sign (not the one shown on the program) and apparently reads, "Enjoy your visit," which he follows with, "I will.  I had a relative who was here!"  At the park he is looking at one of the informational signs when Chris Revels, the Chief Park Ranger, walks up and asks if he can show Paxton the battlefield.  Revels tells Paxton that at the time of the battle here the war had been going on for a few years, and this battle came at a brutal point.

The narrator returns, telling us that after having suffered several defeats in the north, the British had moved their efforts to the south, where they recruited Loyalists to fight with them.  They then won significant victories and played havoc with the Continental Army.  British Major Patrick Ferguson, leading a group of Southern Loyalists, threatened to attack frontier Patriots.  Southern Patriots planned their own attack.  The militiamen, including Sharp, confronted Ferguson and his men at Kings Mountain in a battle that changed the course of the war.

Revels calls the battle the first civil war in this country, with American versus American, about 1,000 men on each side.  He confirms that Sharp marched about 220 miles to get here from Virginia.  He points out that he and Paxton are standing on a ridge crest to the left of where Colonel (William) Campbell and Benjamin Sharp would have come up the ridge.  Paxton, of course, decides that means they are standing on the exact spot the men came up the ridge.  The Patriots (Revels says Americans, but since he's already told us that both sides were Americans, that doesn't help to identify which side he means, does it?) made three charges uphill, so it must have been a bloody battle.  Then Revels says he has a first-hand account of the battle, if Paxton is interested in reading it.  Coincidentally, it's by Sharp.

Sharp's account (click the "next result" link at the top) was first published in American Pioneer in February 1843; it was written when he was about 80 years old.  He mentioned the low gap the men had come through, which is now the road up which Revels and Paxton walked to reach the crest.  Sharp talked about how the Patriots surrounded the British and Loyalists, and Sharp's militia led the charge.  Major Ferguson, when he realized his side would lose, essentially committed suicide by breaking his sword and charging into the midst of the Patriots.  Shortly after that the British surrendered.  The battle lasted about an hour.  After the battle it was near sundown, and the men camped on the battlefield, among the dead and dying.  Sharp's signature is at the end of the article.

Revels says that about 28 men died on the Patriot side and 225 on the British.  Thomas Jefferson called the battle the turning point of success in the American Revolution.

Paxton wants to know what happened to Sharp after the battle.  He was only 18 years old at the time, and he had a lot of life left.  Revels says that Paxton can probably find some answers at the Library of Virginia, the home of the Virginia State Archives, and tells him that the archives are in Richmond.  As the two men walk off in different directions, I noticed that Revels has the book in his hands.  What, they couldn't afford a copy to give to Paxton?

It was somewhere around here that I got tired of hearing Paxton say "amazing."  I counted:  nine times in the episode.  He needs to find a new word.

In this interlude, Paxton admits he's very emotional about what he has learned.  He's proud of his ancestor and knows his father would have been also.  He thinks about Sharp's experiences at the age of 18 and can't conceive of his own son, who is 20, doing similar things.  Learning about his ancestor's experiences is really bringing the American Revolution alive for him (which is a great thing!).  Now he wants to know what Sharp did with the rest of his life.

Maybe Paxton understands how the celebrities on this show are led around, because he says, "So you guessed it — I'm off to Richmond, Virginia," to introduce the next segment.  The more he learns about Sharp, the more he wants to learn.  He's convinced that Sharp's life continued to be remarkable.

At the Library of Virginia, Paxton meets Gregg Kimball, one of the library's historians.  Kimball says that he found Sharp in southwestern Virginia and has a document from the executive papers of James Monroe (the one who became president) when he was Virginia's governor.  Paxton finds Sharp's name among the 60 or so on the document, which is a list of commissioners appointed to oversee the 1800 presidential election.  The candidates in the election were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  Sharp was then about 38 years old (I guess they didn't have any interesting documents to show for the 20 years in between) and had a prestigious position.  He was working on the state level in politics, and Monroe would probably have known who he was.

The next item Kimball brings out is an 1804–1805 attendance book for the Virginia General Assembly.  He directs Paxton to look in Lee County, where Benjamin Sharp, Esq. is listed.  He had moved up a little more in status and was then a member of the House of Delegates, the lower house in the Virginia state legislature.  Kimball points out that Sharp probably was an independent landowner and a man of some means; all assembly members were substantial landowners.

Paxton wants to know if the library has records of Sharp's personal property or land transactions (wanting to know just how much he owned?).  Kimball says indeed they do, and the two move to a microfilm reader.  First Kimball has Paxton scroll to the year 1804, the year Sharp was in the assembly.  He then has Paxton note what the row labels are so that he'll be able to interpret the numbers later.  The categories Paxton writes down are number of white males over 16, number of blacks over 12, number of blacks over 16, and number of horses/mares/mules.  Paxton understands that blacks would refer to slaves but not why there's a differentiation between age 12 and 16; Kimball explains that they were taxed at different rates, children versus adults.  Kimball does not have Paxton write down the categories of retail store license, ordinary license, stud horses, and rates of covering per season, so I figured Sharp wasn't going to have been taxed on any of those.  But he did have him write down the two slave categories, so I knew what I was expecting to see.

And indeed, when Paxton finds Sharp's entry on the tax list, it includes 2 white males over 16, 1 black over 12, 4 blacks over 16, and 9 horses/mares/mules, though the animals are never discussed.  When Kimball confirms that the five blacks listed were slaves, Paxton says, "Unbelievable."  Kimball adds that Sharp could have owned more slaves — women and children younger than 12 — who wouldn't appear on the list because they weren't taxed.  Paxton:  "Well, that's unfortunate."  From a modern perspective, this is horrible, and now this man whom he has considered to be so great doesn't seem quite as nice.  But he then adds, "Good and bad, it's your history."  At least he's honest about it and didn't ask the producers to take that part out, à la Ben Affleck.

Whether they talked more and it was edited out we don't know, but that was the extent of the slavery discussion in the segment.  Paxton wonders where he should go from there and recalls that Sharp died at the age of 71 (from the information we have at this point, he was actually about 80) in Warren County, Missouri.  Then was another one of those comments that makes me think he gets the joke:  "So something tells me I'm going to Missouri now."  Kimball concurs, and Paxton leaves.

This interlude is a little more somber.  Paxton recalls how his father told him that all idols have feet of clay; everyone has their foibles.  Learning that Sharp owned slaves seems to have thrown him off, and he admits he hasn't had a chance to process the information yet.  But in Missouri he figures he'll find out the rest of the story.

Paxton is happy to be in Missouri, the land of his father, and his father, and his father before him.  He's heading to the town where Sharp spent the last part of his life.  He's going to meet historian Gary Kremer, who has already let Paxton know that he found a significant document about Sharp.

Kremer greets Paxton at the Warren County Historical Society.  Kremer starts out by saying that some of the great social history documents available to researchers are probate records.  He then brings out Sharp's original will, dated June 19, 1845, not long before Sharp died (which means that the death date in the DAR database is off!).  Paxton compliments the beautiful handwriting (which looked really similar to the writing in the 1833 affidavit we saw near the beginning of the episode, but it didn't generate any comments then) before beginning to read.  Sharp wanted to have his estate divided equally among his children.  He also wrote, "My faithful servants, Bill and Judy, shall not be separated, but shall be left in the possession of all the livestock that may belong to them."  Servants in this instance is a euphemism for slaves.

Now we get some heavy-duty rationalization of Sharp's mores.  Kremer admits that Sharp still believed in the institution of slavery but emphasizes that he obviously cared about Bill and Judy, because he wanted them to be taken care of.  He wanted them to have land; he included a clause in the will stating that they were not to be sold against their will to strangers but should stay with Sharp's children.  He asked his descendants who inherited his slaves to treat them with humanity.  But guess what?  He didn't say anything (or at least we sure didn't hear anything in the episode) about actually freeing them.  So personally, I'm not buying the rationalization.  I don't think Paxton did, either; his comment was, "[T]hat's a tough one there."  Major understatement, Mr. Paxton.

To his credit, though, he again does not apologize for his ancestor.  He finds it disturbing to learn that his ancestor owned other human beings.  He does not understand how they could have been so blind.  This segues into a broader discussion, led by Kremer, of how even "enlightened" men of the period — Jefferson, Washington — owned slaves and the conclusion that slavery would end up tearing the country apart.

Kremer has no more documents on Sharp, but he "suggests" to Paxton that maybe they should try to trace Bill and Judy.  He says they can look at the 1850 census and "perhaps" find them and learn what their status is.  Paxton quite reasonably says they don't know Bill and Judy's last names.  Unfortunately, Kremer adds, "It's very likely — not a certainty . . . that they might have taken the Sharp name?"  Well, no, Mr. Kremer, it isn't that likely in most circumstances.  Shame on you for continuing to spread this misinformation, when modern scholarship has indicated that the majority of former slaves did not take their former owners' names.  But TLC and Ancestry have to pretend that these records are just being discovered, when in fact the researchers behind the scenes found them months ago.  And that means you have to give Paxton a reason to search on the names you already know they're listed under.  Feh.

The only positive thing to say about this part is that the ubiquitous Ancestry.com search (I am convinced that a celebrity will not be approved if there's no document on the site) did not appear until 48 minutes into the hour.  Kremer has Paxton search for William Sharp (why not Bill?  oh, because that's not how he's listed) in Warren County.  There are two results, both born in Virginia, one about 1780 and the other about 1811.  Though either man is plausible, Kremer has Paxton choose the one born in 1780, saying that would be about the right age.  We haven't heard anything prior to this about how old Bill was, however, or exactly when Sharp came to Missouri.  Surprise, surprise, we see Bill and Judy, now William and Judith, listed in the census of free inhabitants; Bill is a farmer.  We know they're the right people because they are mulattoes (the only people on the page who are not white, in fact).  The fact that both of them were born in Virginia means they came as slaves with Sharp when he moved from Virginia to Missouri.


Kremer points out to Paxton the significance of Bill and Judy being enumerated on the census of free individuals.  Kremer says that Sharp's sons were fulfilling his mandate by providing protection and watching over Bill and Judy, but this is beyond Sharp's instructions.  Not long after after Benjamin Sharp passed away, someone, most likely one of his descendants, took the extra, humane, step and actually freed Bill and Judy.  Kudos to him.  But couldn't the research team find the manumission document?  I guess it wasn't Paxton's ancestor who did it, because then they surely would have shown it.

Paxton asks what else there is and accuses Kremer of holding out on him.  Kremer admits that Sharp is buried about 20 miles from where they are at the moment.  The grave is on private property, but the owner has given permission for Paxton to visit the gravesite.  Naturally, he wants to see the grave, so that's where he'll head next.

Now Paxton does some rationalizing.  He says how amazing it was to hold his ancestor's original last will and testament and adds that Sharp was a very fair man who was concerned about the people in his life.  That's a big stretch.  Seriously, if he were that concerned and that fair, he would have freed Bill and Judy himself.  Paxton is looking forward to visiting Sharp's grave and standing on land that Sharp once owned.

We see Paxton driving on an unidentified highway, with no signs to indicate where he's headed.  I'm sure if you're from the area you could probably recognize some landmarks, but for the rest of us, the location of Benjamin Sharp's grave will never be known.  I guess they couldn't commandeer the highway they do repositories; at one point a car passed by him going in the other direction.  Next we see Paxton driving down some sort of side road.  Then he is suddenly walking through trees trying to find the gravestones.  He even comments, "Wow, it really is in the woods."  Obviously, the cameramen know where the graves are (did they have to cut a path for the equipment?), but either Paxton wanted to try to find them himself or they were told to let him do so, because he wanders around a little before getting there.  Unlike the new, replaced stones that Tony Goldwyn found, these stones really look to be more than 150 years old.  The text on them is barely readable.  Paxton traces his fingers over the letters:  Benjamin Sharp, died January 1, 1846, and Hannah, whose stone is next to Sharp's.  Paxton has brought some stones from Kings Mountain and places them on Sharp's tombstone, saying, "You are not forgotten."  I found that very touching.

In the outro, Paxton talks about how the journey he has taken during the past week has given him a lot of food for thought, and he becomes philosophical.  Seeing the Sharps' gravestones has brought everything home to him in a different way.  He will make sure his children know the stories of how their ancestors blazed a trail before them and learn that history.  He says his father taught him that prejudice is based on fear and ignorance, a lesson he also wants his children to know, and he wants them to know more about their family history.  People tend to want to hide the less pleasant parts of their history, but it's important to look at those parts also to understand who you are.  It isn't what your ancestors did that defines you, however, but what you do yourself.  Are you going to leave the world a better place than how you found it?

One final note:  Sometimes I find transcripts of television shows online, often generated by closed captioning systems.  A transcript of this episode is here, complete with hmms and ahs.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Free App for Making Videos

I recently learned about a free app that is designed to help you make marketing videos.  Directr for Business has built-in storyboard templates that guide you and make it easier to figure out what you want to say and how to deliver that message.  Templates exist for several kinds of marketing messages, but you could certainly use it for other types of videos also.  You can upload your new video quickly to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.  It's made for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch and is super easy to use.  I was able to use it to create a short video to let people know about my genealogy research business.  So check out my video and then think about the ways you can use Directr to help promote your own business!  (Or even outreach for your genealogy research?)  And did I mention that it's free?!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Commemorating Anzac Day (a day late)

First, my apologies.  I know Anzac Day was yesterday, April 25, but I was not able to post this then.  I did want to commemorate the day, however, especially as this was the 100th anniversary.  Anzac Day is the anniversary of the first military campaign with significant casualties for Australia and New Zealand in World War I.

I lived in Australia for two years, from 1971–1973, which is when I learned about the Anzacs.  The lesson obviously made an impression, because I've never forgotten, and I remember the immense pride that was always evident when their history was discussed.

The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps is particularly remembered for fighting at the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I.  I have no Anzac veterans in my own lineage, but I share the pride and esteem that I was taught while I lived in Australia.

More information on the Anzacs can be found on several sites, including the following:

Anzac Centenary Site

Discovering Anzacs

I Love the Anzacs

God bless Australia!

Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun: A Favorite Family Photograph

Randy's challenge this week for Saturday Night Genealogy Fun was to post a favorite family photograph and tell about who is in it:

1)  Show us one of your favorite photographs of your family - a group, yourself, your mom, your dad, your sibling(s), your grandparents, etc.  Tell us about it - the date, the event, the setting, the persons in the photograph.

I'm only a few hours late!  But this was an easy choice for me, especially with the inspiration of Randy's four-generation photo.


This is one of the few five-generation photos I have for my family.

Date:  Probably 1982, because the baby was born in March 1982.

Event:  Just the fact that five generations were together was probably enough, but maybe also to celebrate the new baby.

Setting:  I don't know, but probably my cousin's or my aunt's home.  (I need to ask my cousin!)

Persons, left to right:

Anna Gauntt Stradling (1893–1986), my paternal grandmother, mother of Ruth Stradling Appleton

Ruth Carrie Stradling Appleton (1914–1984), my father's oldest half-sister and my aunt, mother of Ruth Anne Appleton

Forrest Ronald Appleton, my first cousin once removed, father of Forrest Ronald Appleton II

Ruth Anne Appleton, my first cousin, mother of Forrest Ronald Appleton

Forrest Ronald Appleton II, my first cousin twice removed

Now that I've noted all the years, I realized that this photo is even more special, because only two years later my aunt passed away, followed two years after that by my grandmother.  I'm glad they took this photo when they did!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - America Ferrera

Well, I'm slipping further behind, but the light at the end of the tunnel can be seen.  Tomorrow (Sunday) is the final episode in this season of Who Do You Think You Are?, so I won't have too much more to catch up on.  Sometimes real life simply interferes and doesn't leave me the time I need to rewatch an episode and try to ensure I've understood everything correctly.

This is my delayed review and commentary on America Ferrera's appearance on WDYTYA.  The teaser tells us that Ferrera will travel to Honduras to connect with a father she barely knew.  She will also trace an ancestor with charisma and power and try to learn if he was truly on the side of good.

Ferrera is characterized as a beloved actress whose fame began as a teenager when she appeared in Real Women Have Curves and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  She was more recognized and gained critical acclaim after starring in Ugly Betty at the age of 22.  That part earned her an Emmy and a Golden Globe award.  She also portrayed Cesar Chavez's wife, Helen, in a biographical movie about the labor leader.  In her personal life, Ferrera is involved in social justice, particularly in immigration reform and children's issues.  She lives in New York with her husband, Ryan Piers Williams.

Ferrera's parents are América Griselda Ayes and Carlos Gregorio Ferrera, both Honduran immigrants who came to the United States before they had children.  Although she and her siblings were born and raised in Los Angeles, and she jokes that she was a Valley Girl, she feels a connection to Honduras because of the culture she grew up with.

When Ferrera was about 8 years old, her parents "split up" (according to Wikipedia, divorced) and her father returned to Honduras.  She never saw him again.  He died there in 2010.  The first time she visited Honduras, in 2012, she somehow "ended up" visiting the small mountain village that her father was from (and how exactly does one accidentally end up visiting a small, out-of-the-way mountain village?).  The visit piqued her interest in family history.

Ferrera's older sister Jennifer is her family foil at the beginning of the episode.  They discuss how family history wasn't really talked about and that they know nothing about their father's side of the family, other than hearing that his grandfather or maybe great-grandfather was possibly in the military, maybe a general.  They agree that if Ferrera wants to learn the facts, she's going to have to start in Honduras.  (Taking into account the documents she ends up seeing during the show, this is probably one of the few instances in the history of this program where taking off to another location, particularly at the beginning, to do the research is actually warranted.)

La Esperanza, the small town in which Ferrera's father was born, lived, died, and is buried, is the first location she visits.  While riding in a car to her first destination, she says that this trip, where her purpose is to learn about her father's family, has her feeling a little nervous.  She's thought about doing this, but now that she's actually here, she's feeling very emotional.  When she was here in 2012 she met a woman her father knew; she's headed to visit the woman's son, a friend of her father.

In what is probably his home, Romualdo Bueso says that he and Carlos Ferrera were close friends, like brothers.  They knew each other from about the age of 5 or 6.  Bueso offers to show Ferrera some photos, which include some of her father from the 1970's when he was about 20 years old.  Ferrera holds one photo and says it reminds her of her brother.  Bueso says he has many photos that her father sent.  Ferrera goes back and forth between speaking Spanish and English here and throughout the episode; when she does speak Spanish, it's a little stilted and hesitant.  I suspect there was usually an interpreter available, though we never see one on camera.

Bueso says that Carlos talked about his family and often cried.  He apparently missed his children very much and had good memories.  He thought he would eventually return to the U.S., though he never did.  He didn't contact the children because he had some problems, which Bueso describes as struggles in his heart.  In Honduras he worked with computers and ran a school teaching computer skills.  He enjoyed teaching.  Bueso points out that Carlos came from a very intellectual family.

Ferrera asks if Bueso knew her grandparents.  He says he knew her grandfather, Don Carlos Ferrera, but not her grandmother, Georgina.  Ferrera says her middle name is Georgina, and the two agree she must have been named for her grandmother.  When Ferrera asks about her great-grandparents, Bueso says they were María Luisa and General Gregorio Ferrera.  (Hey, look, we found our general already!)  Bueso says that to learn more about her great-grandfather, Ferrera should go to the Municipalidad de La Esperanza and find a historian there.  She thanks him and calls him Don Romualdo; he corrects her and says she should call him Tío (Uncle) Rumi, a nice touch.

In the bridge to the next segment, Ferrera says it feels good to have learned a little more about her family.  She may never really know about her father's struggles and why he stayed out of contact, but it means a lot to know he missed his family.

Palacio Municipal de La Esperanza
It is not stated where the next segment is, but the large building we see before Ferrera is inside is the Palacio Municipal de La Esperanza, the city hall (which has a Google+ page), so that's my best guess, and it could be what Bueso was referring to.  Inside some building, Ferrera meets Latin American historian Dr. Suyapa Portillo, of Pitzer College.  Portillo starts out by saying that the records from this area are in poor condition and that it has been difficult to find much on her great-grandfather.  She then says she found one document, which she hands to Ferrera in a file folder.  It turns out to be a page from the 1895 census (censo general) of San Jerónimo (part of Jesús de Otoro), in the Department of Intibucá.  On the list of names are Sebastian Ferrera (60 years old), Gregoria Gonzales (50), and what appears to be their fifteen children, including Ciriaca (24), María (20), and Gregorio Ferrera (14).  Portillo cautions that the form does not state relationships but only the head of household, but I was able to read that Gregoria was listed as mujer (wife) of Sebastian.  So it seems that the parents of Ferrera's great-grandfather Gregorio were Sebastian Ferrera and Gregoria Gonzales, her great-great-grandparents.  Sebastian was a labrador (farmer).  Ferrera asks how her great-grandfather could have gone from being a farmer's son to a well known general.  Portillo says she knows a local historian nearby who can help her find out.

Ferrera goes to Jesús de Otoro, where she meets Professor Jesús Orelio Inestroza, a "guardian of historical documents", who has been collecting them for decades.  (So is this a personal collection?)  He says he has found many papers about Gregorio.  The first one he shows is an 1895 list of students enrolled in a school for boys, which includes the monthly "dues" (probably better translated as "tuition") that were paid.  The first name on the list is Gregorio Ferrera, and his father was Sebastian, confirming the hypothesis based on the 1895 census.  Inestroza says it was not common for a 14-year-old to still be enrolled in school at that time; most children of that age would already be working to help support their families.  The fact that Gregorio was in school indicates that education was important to Sebastian.  Ferrera sees a parallel in that her parents moved to the United States so that their children would be able to have a good education.

Next Inestroza pulls out a copy of El Monitor, a national newspaper, from 1908.  It has a short article about Gregorio Ferrera, who was leaving his position as head of internal revenue to lend support to the government in its current military campaign.  His position was going to be filled by Rafael Pineda.  Gregorio was then about 27 years old.

Inestroza explains that Gregorio was a member of the liberal party (how does he know this?  where's a document that shows it?) and loyal to the president of Honduras.  There was a threat to overthrow the president, and Gregorio was going to defend the government, probably as a volunteer.  Ferrera asks what it meant to be in the liberal party in 1908, which Inestroza doesn't really answer.  He says that there were two parties, the liberal and the nationalist, and that this period is the beginning of the civil war, when the two parties sometimes resorted to armed conflict.

The narrator steps in at this point to explain that Honduran civil wars were tied to the popularity of the banana, which had become the main export of Honduras after its introduction in 1870 to the United States.  The term "banana republic" was coined by author O. Henry to describe the control exerted by U.S. interests in the area.  Bribes, kickbacks, and shady politics were the order of the day, creating policies that were good for American companies but bad for Hondurans.  In 1908, the Cuyamel Fruit Company backed nationalists over the legitimate president, Miguel Dávila, a liberal.  Men such as Gregorio Ferrera supported the president.

Ferrera asks Inestroza how she can learn more about Gregorio.  (It's a shame we saw only two of the "many" documents Inestroza said he had found relating to Gregorio.)  Inestroza says she should go to the national archives, where there should be more documents about him.

With no interlude, Ferrera heads to the national archives in Tegucigalpa, which the narrator tells us is 100 miles east of Jesús de Otoro.  Historian Rolando Zelaya y Ferrera (incorrectly shown as Ronaldo on screen) of Universidad Unitec is there to greet her.  (I don't know how common the name Ferrera is in Honduras, but one would think the coincidence of their names would have been mentioned.)  Ferrera has asked Zelaya to look for documents about Gregorio's military career after 1908.  They are in a room filled with shelves and stacks of books and documents.  Ferrera asks if any of the information there is backed up or protected electronically, and of course the answer is no.  Zelaya says they'll have to look through them the old way.  He eventually points out one particular pile, and they move those items to a table.

An issue of La Nación from August 16, 1919 is the first document Ferrera looks at.  She notes that it was about 11 years after the last item she had seen.  The newspaper is very fragile (I wonder if it or the issue of El Monitor is available on one of the ProQuest or NewsBank databases, which would have negated the need to handle this delicate item).  A translation of an article that mentions Gregorio appears.  The article, "Victory for the Defeated of Santa María", explains that the people of Intibucá had declared that President Francisco Bertrand was in that position illegally.  Several names supporting revolt against Bertrand were given at the end, including Colonel Gregorio Herrera, which Zelaya is a typo and should read Ferrera.  The other names are all military men also.  At the end of his legitimate term, Bertrand didn't want to hold elections but instead wanted to hand the presidency over to a relative.

Ferrera is confused by this turn of events.  Previously Gregorio had fought in support of a president, but this time he is against the president.  She gets very emotional and is proud that Gregorio stood for democracy and fought for elections to be held.  Zelaya tells her that the result of this revolution was that Bertrand was exiled and elections were held.  Rafael López Gutiérrez (yet another military man) won the presidency in 1920 (in an apparently manipulated election).

And what happened after this?  Zelaya has another item, an issue of Time magazine from September 15, 1924.  (This is online, so there's absolutely no excuse for handling the original, which again looks fragile.)  López Gutiérrez's term had expired on February 1, but he had forcibly remained in office and then had died in March.  Two more generals, Arias and Bueso (possibly related to Tío Rumi?, but again not discussed) took over as dictators.  Gregorio, allied with General Tiburcio Carías, now took up arms against them.  General Vicente Tosta became the provisional president.  According to the article, three months later (reported in the August 11 issue of Time), Gregorio said that Tosta was bad for the country.

from September 15, 1924 Time magazine

Ferrera says she wishes she knew more about why Gregorio had called for a revolution against Tosta.  Zelaya explains that during the first 33 years of the 20th century, this is how things went in Honduras.  Leaders were friends, then enemies, then friends again.  Someone might be on the side of the liberals in one fight, then support the nationalists, and then return to the liberal fold.  It was constant flip-flopping.  Gregorio seemed to have no qualms about starting a revolution against a president if he didn't agree with the man's politics.

Next, in what is probably one of the lamest segues, Zelaya says he has no more documents, so maybe they should look on Ancestry.com (at least it took them halfway through the episode before they resorted to Ancestry!).  But the comment of "right, maybe they have some more articles about him" was pretty pathetic.  Zelaya has Ferrera search for Gregorio Ferrera in Honduras and says to use the year 1925 because they want to look for items after the 1924 article.  Seriously?

San Antonio
Express
,
April 16, 1925
The sad intro notwithstanding, of course Ferrera finds an article:  "Again Hearing from the Irrepressible Ferrera", in the San Antonio Express of April 16, 1925.  (When I tried the same search, the first 99[!] hits were for Gregorio.  They actually had quite a bit of material to work with, even if we saw very little on screen.)  After "reputedly fair elections", Miguel Barahona was named president.  Gregorio, noted as "a former war minister" and "notorious for his political obstinacy", was said to be leading an insurgent force, although the article points out he was hostile to Tosta, not Barahona.

Ferrera wonders if this revolution was justified or not and asks Zelaya what happened next.  He points her to the national library, where she should talk to Professor Justin Wolfe.  As she leaves, Ferrera says she didn't grow up with her father, so she hadn't known what parts of her character might have come from his side of the family (here we go back to that theme).  Now, however, she feels a direct connection with Gregorio, but she is concerned because he seems to have turned against his own allies.  She wants to know if his intentions were pure or if he had become a power-hungry warmonger.

At the Biblioteca Nacional de Honduras, Justin Wolfe of Tulane University is waiting for Ferrera.  He also says he has had trouble finding materials after 1924 for Gregorio, but he has a printed item from 1929 titled "Al Pueblo Hondureño", with Gregorio's name at the bottom.  Gregorio was about 48 years old at this point.

The document, which unfortunately Wolfe does not explain the purpose or origin of (maybe it was a manifesto?), was addressed to the Honduran people.  It begins with a comment about a long and painful exile.  After the overthrow of Tosta in 1924, Gregorio had become persona non grata in Honduras and had to leave for a few years.  Now he is returning for Honduran peace.  He promises there will be no more revolutions or agitation and speaks of one flag to be symbolic of the future of the country.  He wants people to unite for the nation's peace and prosperity.  He talks about engaging in daily work and a modest living and declaims any interest in an official post.  The document is dated February 1, 1929, San Pedro Sula.  Sounds good, right?

Wolfe says the document is typical of what you could expect from Latin American caudillos.  These were powerful, regional strongmen, often with military ties, who controlled various areas.

The narrator explains that after independence from Spain in the early 19th century, many Latin American countries suffered from instability.  Caudillos often became champions of the poor and marginalized.  The local residents of Intibucá backed Gregorio Ferrera and made up the bulk of his armies.

Ferrera comments that Gregorio had come back without guns blazing and seemed to have had a more enlightened view.  But what did he do after this?  Wolfe says there was very little information but in the U.S. national archives he found a confidential communication, dated October 18, 1930, sent from the American consulate in Honduras to the U.S. Secretary of State.  The letter says that the electoral campaign in Honduras was becoming more acrimonious.  The then-current president, Vicente Mejía, was a liberal, but it was believed the nationalists might win the next election, which could give them a springboard to the presidency.  Recent reports about General Ferrera were disquieting, and the legation feared trouble if his candidates were defeated.  Colonel Maloney, an American civilian (a colonel is a civilian?) living in San Pedro Sula, had supplied some information.  Gregorio and his men were said to have about 200 rifles, 1,000 grenades, and five machine guns.  One comment was that "Ferrera is a difficult person to control."

So not even one year after Gregorio's "I come in peace" declaration, here he goes again.  General Carías was the leader of the nationalist party, and it seems that Gregorio had shifted in his loyalties.  The incumbent was liberal, but now Gregorio was supporting the nationalists.  Was this shift a betrayal of the state, or loyalty to the people?

The consulate document has more information.  The Honduran minister for foreign affairs was concerned about Gregorio and was urging the United Fruit Company to do something about him.  The United Fruit Company was financing Gregorio's cattle and banana ventures, so he was on some level obligated to the company.  United Fruit had a monopoly in the international banana trade, but the Great Depression had affected their revenues.  Earlier Gregorio had appeared to be idealistic, but now it looked as though he was "paid for" and under the thumb of a corporation.  It was difficult to know how much Gregorio was still supporting the people versus just being a tool of the company, but Ferrera comments that if he had been just a tool, it is unlikely there would have been much trepidation about what he would do.  Wolfe agrees.

From this we go directly to finding out about Gregorio's death.  Wolfe hands Ferrera another newspaper, this one dated June 27, 1931 (El [something]; the title was on the top of the page, but it was very small on screen).  The big headline was about the body of General Ferrera being sent to his wife and children in San Pedro Sula.  So one year after the consulate communication, Gregorio was dead, at the age of 50.  The article, by J. Antonio Inestroza (related to our "guardian of historical documents" perhaps?), says that the body had been checked to verify his identity.  It called him the principal enemy of Honduran peace.

Ferrera is astute enough to wonder if this was a national newspaper and whether the people in power would have controlled the perspective presented in the article.  Wolfe agrees that is indeed the case.  Gregorio was fighting against the government again, but on the side of the nationalists.  The unanswered question is still whether he was driven by his interest in the people of his country or by his own personal interests.

To try to answer that question, at least in part, Wolfe brings out a book.  Los Hijos del Copal Candela is what the cover shows, though it should be Los Hijos del Copal y la Candela ("Children of the Copal and the Candle").  The book was written by an anthropologist (Anne Chapman) who worked in the Intibucá region in the early 1960's.  Wolfe picks one interview, with Rómulo Gómez, who fought as a soldier with Gregorio.  Gomez said he was always on Gregorio's side.  Wolfe adds that people from Intibucá were "Ferreristas" and that many died following him.  Whatever reasons he may have had for what he did, he had the support of the local people, who loved him.  The interviews were conducted more than 30 years after Gregorio's death, and it was apparent that the interviewees still remembered him and his charisma.

Ferrera comes to the conclusion that whatever Gregorio was fighting for, it was clear he was fighting against dictatorship.  When Honduras had one dominant political party and one dominant fruit company things were stable, but the people had no options.  Gregorio fought for the people to have options, but that fight came with sacrifice.

A realization that hits Ferrera comes from the headline of the article:  Gregorio's body had been delivered to his wife and children.  It was easy to forget that he was not just a general but also a father and husband, part of a family, and she too is part of that family.  Overall, Gregorio was a complicated man and an enigma in Honduran history.  The interviews showed, though, that people who followed him respected him.

To close out the episode, Wolfe suggests that Ferrera visit Gregorio's home town of San Jerónimo.  There she finds a community center (salon de actos) dedicated to Gregorio.  It was finished or dedicated August 30, 2014, which seems a little too coincidental to me.  I suspect it exists because of the research done for this program.  But Ferrera is proud to have learned that her great-grandfather was a local hero and is still a legend 100 years later.

Ferrera has been involved with politics for a while and never questioned why it was important to her, or what parts of herself came from her father.  Now she "knows" and is proud to be part of a family that was willing to defend its ideals.  Her family history inspires her, which is a great thing to come out of an opportunity like this.

The Spanish-language Wikipedia has a page for Gregorio Ferrera.  It begins with a comment on how Gregorio was who people thought of when they talked about a caudillo and ends with a reference to a book published in 1933, El verdadero origen de la muerte del General Gregorio Ferrera ("The Truth about the Death of General Gregorio Ferrera").  Now there's a source I wish they had used during the show!  The page also includes a list of many of the battles in which Gregorio participated.

Several of the links I used for this post go to Spanish-language pages because the pages available in English had such limited information I did not think they were worthwhile references.  If you do not read Spanish, use Google Translate or a browser add-on, and you can get the gist of the articles.

Something I found while checking links for this write-up was a photo (undated) of Gregorio, which I was surprised they did not use in the episode.  But since I did find it, here's what our hero looked like.
Sheboygan Press, April 21, 1931

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thank You to the Calaveras Genealogical Society!

I had a fantastic time on Saturday with the Calaveras Genealogical Society.  This was the first time I have taught an all-day seminar.  Everyone was welcoming and very enthusiastic about genealogy, and they treated me great.  People had lots of good questions, and I think I even helped the society figure out how to handle a copyright problem with one of the older issues of their newsletter.

I will admit that I was a little — just a little, mind you — nervous on Friday.  People were going to come and listen to four separate classes from yours truly.  I've gotten enough good feedback over the past few years to know that I am a reasonably entertaining speaker, but four classes might be something entirely different.  But I was just about ready.  Everything was set up, my presentations were waiting for their final tweaks, I had even planned what I could grab for breakfast and eat in the car Saturday morning.

Then things started going wrong.

When I tried to start my car on Friday morning, it wouldn't turn over.  Wouldn't even make little clicky sounds.  All I heard was the "Sounds of Silence."  This did not bode well, as beautiful Murphys, where the Calaveras County Genealogical society meets, is a mere 132 miles from my home.  Not exactly easy walking distance.

But my car obviously didn't want to make the trip, so off it went to the mechanic, and I got on the phone to all my friends, searching for a car to borrow.  My back-up plan was to look for the least expensive rental available, but someone was generous enough to let me use his van, which even has air conditioning.  Hooray!  I could make it to Murphys!

Friday evening, I was looking over the four presentations, trying to make sure I had made all the updates I wanted.  Everything was looking good again, and I started to relax.  Until I remembered the oversize handout for one of the talks.  Which I had made 40 copies of earlier in the week.  And which were sitting in a box on the back seat of my car.  At my mechanic's garage.

Oops.

I was going to have to leave at oh-dark-thirty on Saturday morning to get to Murphys on time, so I couldn't go to the mechanic before I left.  I sent a panic message to my contact person at CGS and let her know that I would have the electronic file with me, if there was a copy place close enough that handled 11x17.  I also hunted around for older handouts for that class and found fifteen copies of the oversized page, which I immediately stuffed into my computer bag.

Breathe breathe breathe.

On Saturday morning there was a response to my message saying not to worry, we could figure something out.  Much calmer than I was.

It was a lovely drive to Murphys.  Amazingly enough, not a lot of people out on the freeways and highways super early on a Saturday.  After I turned off I-5, lots of open pastureland with lots of cows, and then very suddenly a treeline and climbing up into the Sierra Mountains.  Gorgeous scenery and twisty turny mountain roads that would have had me white-knuckled only a few years ago (I learned to drive in Florida, where everything is flat and straight), but which now just make me slow down a little.

After driving through several small towns (some with populations of only a couple hundred) — Copperopolis, Angels Camp, Vallecito, Douglas Flat — I saw the sign for Murphys.  It looked like there was good signage; every intersection appeared to have street signs.  I looked for the sign for Bret Harte Drive, which Google Maps had told me was where I needed to take a left turn.  But I didn't see it.  And then Murphys was behind me and I was headed further into the Sierras.

Whoops.

I pulled over at the first turnout and called Linda.  No surprise, I had passed the turnoff.  Once I turned around and headed back, I discovered that Google Maps had lied to me:  There is no way to turn left on Bret Harte Drive when you're headed east on the highway.

Note to self:  Don't trust the new, "improved" Google Maps.

After that things improved a lot.  I found the LDS Church and even got there on time!  I learned that there was a place right across the street that could copy the handout.  It took almost no time to set my computer up.  And a good crowd of people was there to listen to me talk about some ways to do genealogical research they might not have thought about yet.  They even laughed with me when I told them about the adventures I had gone through on my way there.  I couldn't have asked for a nicer group for my first time as a seminar speaker.  My most sincere thanks to a wonderful audience!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Crestleaf.com’s Guess My Family Heritage Blogathon Contest


Crestleaf is running a contest where you post a photo to your blog and ask your readers to guess your family heritage.  That sounded like fun, so here's my entry!  If you have a guess about my family heritage based on this photo, please post a comment!