Monday, September 2, 2013

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Cindy Crawford

Instead of playing on the idea that she was very much like her ancestors (à la Kelly Clarkson and Chris O'Donnell), this episode of Who Do You Think You Are? went in the opposite direction.  It was emphasized several times that Cindy Crawford is just an ordinary girl-next-door from the Midwest, but we learn that she has ancestors who were extraordinary.  They did, however, maintain the trend of no pretense that the celebrities are doing any real research; at every location Crawford said that she had requested someone to do research for her.  That in itself is still a sham, of course — the program sets everything up with the researchers — but it is an improvement.

Crawford's introductory biography tells us that she was one of the first true supermodels, when they went "from mannequins to superstars."  At one point she was the highest-paid model in the world.  She has been on the cover of more than 400 magazines and has fronted for several brands of merchandise.  She now lives in Malibu, California with her husband and two children.

Crawford tells us she was born in DeKalb, Illinois, a small town about 60 miles west of Chicago.  She still thinks of herself as a small-town girl and grew up surrounded by her family, cousins, and extended family.  She was extremely fortunate that all four of her great-grandmothers and two of her great-grandfathers were still alive when she was a child (wow, that is fortunate!); they lived in Minnesota, and she visited them two or three times a year growing up.  She doesn't know anything about her family prior to them and considers herself a mutt.  She is pretty sure all of her grandparents and even her great-grandparents were born in the U.S.

The excuse for her to investigate her genealogy is that one of her children has a 6th-grade family history project.  She thinks it would be cool if she had an ancestor who was historically relevant (foreshadowing!), both for herself and her family.  Being American is great, but we all had to come from somewhere before that, and it would be nice to have a connection to history.  So we know there will be at least one important ancestor, and we'll be leaving the U.S.

Her father's mother was Ramona Hemingway, and she has a photo of Ramona and herself taken at a Hemingway family reunion, probably in Mankato, Minnesota.  She's always wondered if she might be related to Ernest Hemingway.  Ramona's parents were Frank Hemingway and Hazel Brown.  Apparently Frank, a popcorn farmer, wanted a son, but he and Hazel had eight daughters.  Frank's parents were called Grandpa Lou and Grandma Lou, and she thinks they probably both weren't named Lou (why couldn't it be short for Louise?).  That's as far back as she knows, so she decides to start with them.

Crawford goes to Ancestry.com, which is expected, but I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of her comments.  She says she's going to assume that her great-great-grandfather Lou's name was short for Louis — very nice to hear someone admit that a search is based on an assumption.  Then, when she sees the results, she says there sure are a lot of Louis Hemingways — this is the first time I can remember on this program that the person searching didn't just go unerringly to the right person.  Crawford even vocalized how she was choosing which person to look at — she focused on the Louis in Vernon, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, which is where her family lived.  Wow, an actual example of the research process!  Who would have thought?

That said, she clicks on an 1880 census result.  The page shows Louis was born in Minnesota, but his father Frank was born in New Hampshire.  Frank makes sense for Lou's father's name, because he named one of his own sons Frank.

Then we stray from reality.  Crawford decides that since Frank was born in New Hampshire, she should look for him in New England, and she's going to go to the New England Hitoric Genealogical Society in Boston.  Um, say what?  Let's see, she found one record — one measly record — that says Frank was from New Hampshire.  She doesn't even try looking for earlier or later censuses to see if they agree on Frank's birthplace.  She just says Frank "was actually born in New Hampshire."  And then she doesn't go to New Hampshire.  Nope, let's just take off for Boston!  On top of which, how does someone with no experience doing genealogy even know about NEHGS?  Geez, I wish I had this travel budget ....

As she is walking toward NEHGS, Crawford wonders how far back she can go with her research.  She says she has asked genealogist Chris (Christopher) Child to do some research for her.  At NEHGS, the first thing Child tells her is that he traced her Hemingway line back and that she is indeed distantly related to Ernest Hemingway.  Her grandmother Ramona is Hemingway's 8th cousin (yup, that's distant), so Crawford is an 8th cousin twice removed.  Considering all the suicides in that branch of the Hemingway family, though, best not to dwell on that side so much, so Child tells her he found a more impressive ancestor, in her Trowbridge line.  He has a basic family tree which shows Crawford's fifth great-grandfather Ebenezer Hemingway married Ruth Gates.  Ruth's parents were Amos Gates and Mary Trowbridge (born 1788).  Skipping back four more generations (magic!), Crawford's tenth great-grandfather was Thomas Trowbridge, born 1600 in Taunton, England.

The Trowbridge family is well known, and Child hands Crawford a book about the family, History of the Trowbridge Family in America (available as a free download from Google Books).  She is surprised that the entire book is about just the Trowbridges.  The book indicates that Thomas Trowbridge married Elizabeth Marshall on March 24, 1627, they had four children in England, and their son James (Crawford's ancestor) was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1636.  So between 1633–1636 the Trowbridges must have moved to North America.

Crawford asks for some historical context on why the Trowbridges would have made such a big move.  Child explains that during the 1620's and 1630's many people left England due to religious reasons, and it was a time of political upheaval.  It is known as the time of the Great Migration, when many Puritans, including Trowbridge, were seeking escape from religious persecution.  They moved to North America to establish a church and practice religion as they wished (they did not extend that privilege to other religions, by the way).  In 1636 many Puritans, among them Trowbridge, moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Soon after that, however, there was dissension among the settlers on religion, and a group who thought religious practices should be stricter created a colony at New Haven.  Trowbridge moved with that stricter group.  New Haven was an ideal religious community for these Puritans.

Crawford asks if the Puritans were like the Quakers (please!).  Child tells her that they were more like Congregationalists.  (Seriously, if you were going to describe Puritans, is that the first term you would think of?)  Crawford immediately identifies with this because she grew up Congregationalist (nothing like a leading question).  Religion and the church had been important for the Hemingway family, so Trowbridge's Puritan family values had trickled down through the centuries.

Crawford asks where she should go next.  Child suggests the Connecticut State Library, which has a lot of original records about the New Haven Colony.  In the outro to this scene, Crawford comments that she's amazed at what she's done in her "first day doing this" — going back to 1633 has set the bar high (why not 1600, when Trowbridge was born?).  Well, yeah, maybe it was her first day, but how many days and weeks and months before that were the researchers working so that Child could show her that big family tree?!  Geez!

And then we go to Hartford, Connecticut.  Crawford wonders what happened to Trowbridge in New Haven after 1636.  At the library she meets Judith Schiff, chief research archivist at Yale University Library, whom she says she asked to "pull any records she could find" (researchers just love requests like that).  Schiff has found some New Haven court records relating to Trowbridge.  The first she points out is from November 3, 1641 and says that Trowbridge owed taxes and was not paying them.  The second, from April 5, 1644, states that his estate is being taken to pay debts and his family is to be "dissolved", which means that the children are being placed with other families, similar to foster care.  No mention is made of Mrs. Trowbridge in the court records; Schiff says that "no record of Mrs. Trowbridge" was found.  Crawford says she probably died, but Schiff replies only that it's possible.  Either way, it appeared that Trowbridge had left New Haven and not returned.

The next document shown is for a wedding, between Trowbridge and a Frances Shattuck in 1641, back in Taunton, England!  (Hey, that isn't in New Haven!)  Crawford points to the word "weddings" on the page, but the year shown where she points is 1640.  The hypothesis is that Mrs. Trowbridge died, and Trowbridge needed to find a new wife to take care of his children.  Since most of the colonists came as family groups, it would have been difficult for him to find someone to marry in New Haven.  The only unmarried women would have been servants (not an appropriate social class for Trowbridge) or elderly.  So he returned to England to look for someone, but then didn't come back.

Crawford wants to find out more, so Schiff says she should go to England.  Crawford wants to know why Trowbridge would move his family from England if all he was going to do was abandon them.  She does not look happy at the prospect of her ancestor having been a deadbeat dad but says there must be a reason why he left his children.

In Taunton, which is in Somersetshire, Crawford visits the Somerset Heritage Centre, where she speaks with Dr. Susan Hardman Moore, a professor of early modern religion at the University of Edinburgh.  (Something that surprised me with this scene was that other people were actually in the room doing research during the filming; maybe British facilities can't be bought off as easily as American ones to clear them for celebrity film crews.)  Moore explains that it was not uncommon at the time for people to go back to England, either temporarily or permanently.  She goes on to talk about how King Charles I had ruled without Parliament for eleven years but reinstated it in 1640 because he wanted to raise money to wage a war.  Many people returned to England between 1640–1641 because of this.

Crawford sits through the history lesson and then asks, "What have you found?"  Moore has her put on conservator's gloves and shows her a document from the Taunton Quarter Session, a local court.  Crawford gamely stumbles along trying to read it and finally admits, "I can only read about every third word," at which point Moore hands her a transcription of the record.  The document, dated October 6, 1652, is a petition for the award of a pension to a man who fought with Captain Trowbridge (yes, our Trowbridge) under Colonel Robert Blake in the Parliamentary Army.  The petition is signed at the bottom by Trowbridge (which Crawford didn't get nearly enthusiastic enough about).  This was during the time of Oliver Cromwell, and Taunton was a center of resistance to King Charles in the events leading up to the English Civil War.

Putting the best light on the situation, Trowbridge left England in 1636 to escape the tyranny of King Charles, but when given a second chance, he stayed to fight.  He helped defend the council in Taunton for Parliament.  The petition in the Quarter Session indicated that he stood by the men who had fought for him.  As for leaving his children in the New World, Moore says that it was not unusual at the time for families to be separated by the Atlantic.  It is possible that Trowbridge intended to return to New Haven or to bring his children to England, but the war would have made either plan impossible.  After the war he apparently just didn't follow up on it, and the children remained in North America.  (I wonder if he had more children with his second wife?)

Crawford, now caught up in learning about the Civil War, asks what Trowbridge did during the Siege of Taunton.  (This was poor editing, because Moore doesn't use that phrase before Crawford does, and Crawford wouldn't have known about it before meeting Moore.)  Moore suggests she go to Taunton Castle and meet with a colleague.  As she leaves Crawford says that when she travels she has always tried to get cultural experiences, but the fact that this is about her ancestor humanizes the history, which is a great point.

At Taunton Castle Crawford meets Bernard Capp, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Warwick.  He explains that in 1664 Taunton was the only Parliamentary holdout in Somersetshire.  Royalist forces laid siege to the town for seven months.  The town's residents had supplies for only three months but managed to survive; at the end horses were being fed thatch from roofs.  In 1656 the Royalists broke through and gave an ultimatum to Colonel Blake to surrender or be massacred, but they suddenly had to withdraw to face Cromwell, so Taunton survived.  Trowbridge helped protect the people of the town during the siege.  A report written after the siege described the townspeople as being in awe of the soldiers.

Crawford said that Taunton must have been a decisive victory in the war, but Capp corrects her and says it was just one siege.  In 1646 the war ended and King Charles surrendered.  (Capp didn't mention that that was merely the end of the First Civil War; it wasn't until the end of the Second Civil War that the Parliamentarians really won.  Well, until the monarchy was restored with Charles II.)  Trowbridge stayed in Taunton to help the town start again, because there had been a lot of destruction during the siege.

Being at the castle, Crawford imagines what life was like for Trowbridge, who took the opportunity to fight when it was presented to him.  She decides it is an "honor to be descended from such a brave and committed man" (just not commited to his children, apparently).  And then, of course, she wants to know if she can go farther back than Trowbridge.  Capp tells her she should go to London.  That's it — just go to London.  Nowhere specific to go, no one mentioned by name.  Can you imagine wandering around in London hoping to find someone who can help you research your family past 1600?

Charlemagne
Somehow in the huge city of London Crawford ends up at the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace, where she is greeted by Charles Mosley, a "royal author."  He tells her that he has traced her family beyond Thomas Trowbridge.  He unrolls a massive scroll that shows Thomas' father, John, whom we heard about back at NEHGS, married a Prowse, who was gentry.  Going up the tree, Crawford finds counts, dukes, and a king of Italy (probably not actually Italy, but rather one of the Italian states, considering that Italy as a country didn't exist until beginning about 1859; so maybe he wasn't even really a king?).  Then she starts counting up the generations on the tree, until she's gone back twelve centuries and 41 generations, to — wait for it — Charlemagne!

The narrator said at the beginning of the episode that Crawford would find an "unbelievable connection to early European royalty."  But as Dick Eastman has explained, pretty much anyone alive today with Western European ancestry is descended from Charlemagne.  So it is eminently believable that Crawford is descended from him also.  What is more impressive is that she can actually trace her connection to Charlemagne.  (And what caught my attention on the family scroll was the name Walter de Gant of Lincolnshire, because in my family I have Gants and Gaunts floating around England.  I watched that scene again a couple of times to catch more details.)

Charlemagne is listed as being born April 2, 748 in Aachen, Germany (which wasn't really Germany, either, because it also was a bunch of city-states), and Crawford is amazed.  Mosley tells her she is "off to Germany" to find out more.  She wants to learn more about Charlemagne and says she learned about this stuff when she was studying history, but a lot of it she remembered just for tests.  Then she makes a great comment:  "You listen differently when it's connected to you."  This is what really gets people hooked on genealogy:  finding the connections between themselves and historical people and events.

In Aachen Crawford goes to Aachen Cathedral, where she finds Rosamond McKitterick, a professor of Medieval history at the University of Cambridge.  McKitterick tells Crawford that Charlemagne was the king of Frankia (France) and expanded his kingdom by conquering a lot of Europe.  By around A.D. 800 he ruled most of Western Europe.  As a father he was very protective of his daughters and wouldn't let them marry, but they were educated equally with his sons.  He had 20 children from several different mothers.

McKitterick gives Crawford a passage from Einhard's Life of Charlemagne (a translation of which is available on Google Books).  Einhard was at Charlemagne's court and wrote the biography after Charlemagne had died.  The passage McKitterick chose describes Charlemagne as a person.  Einhard wrote that he was tall and healthy, with long fair hair and large animated eyes.  He walked with a firm gait and had a manly carriage.  Toward the end of his life he had some health problems and his physician wanted him to give up roast meat.  Crawford is excited to learn personal, rather than just historical, information about the man.  She then wants to know what people actually thought of him.  McKitterick says he wasn't just a conqueror or a bully, but that he promoted culture and learning.  She points out that his empire must have been peaceful, because his palaces were not fortified, and that people could travel throughout the kingdom.

Crawford asks about the cathedral they're standing in.  McKitterick explains it was Charlemagne's palace chapel.  From about A.D. 796 he was a Christian ruler, after his conversion.  He went to mass every day in the cathedral, and toward the end of his life spent most of his time there.  Crawford is happy to have more understanding of Charlemagne's legacy and now thinks about him as a person, not just a name.

In her wrap-up, Crawford says again that she's always thought of herself as just a Midwestern girl, but now she has this connection to Charlemagne, her 41st great-grandfather.  She's looking forward to sharing what she's learned with her children, husband, and family and sounds pretty enthusiastic about history.  She had thought that maybe she'd be able to get back to around 1600 with the research and never imagined she'd go back so far, and that real people like her are linked to history.  She feels very fortunate to have participated in this experience.

The example of the research process at the beginning was good, and it was nice to hear Crawford sound excited when talking about history, but some of her comments, such as how far she had gotten on her "first day doing this", were unbelievable.  And I realized during this episode that the way the celebrity goes from expert to expert collecting information reminds me of computer games where the character has to run around and pick up puzzle pieces to get to the next level.

4 comments:

  1. Better, but still not a realistic vision of what real research is like. And I like your analogy of the game...I've played RPGs where the scenario was about as linear and forced as some of these shows are.

    If this interest in genealogy was started because her 6th grader had the "do your family tree" assignment, why didn't her 6th grader come along and "do some of the research" with her?

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    1. Thanks for reminding me -- I meant to comment about the lack of family members shown in the episode. I was a little surprised also, because it seemed like a great way to integrate the child into the program. It's possible she wants to keep her family out of the public eye, I guess. (Even though both of her children's names were shown on the large scroll.)

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  2. Very interesting piece! Strangely I live in Trowbridge which is the county town of Wiltshire, a neighbouring county of Somerset (Somersetshire doesn't exist) I wonder if his ancestry came from this area way back when.

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  3. That is interesting about Trowbridge. I suspect if they had been able to find a link between Crawford's family and the town they would have exploited it in the show, but maybe they had to draw the line somewhere. As for Somerset versus Somersetshire, I don't remember at this point which they used in the episode. It could be my mistake versus theirs. If so, I apologize!

    Janice

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