SPOILER ALERT: I'm giving away all the details...
Last night a new episode of Who Do You Think You Are? aired; the first of season 5. This episode focused on the family history of actress Cynthia Nixon who is best known for her role as Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series Sex and the City.
Cynthia knew little of her father's family history. Her curiosity was sparked when the 1850 census revealed her great-great-great-grandmother and her 3 children, all under the age of ten, were living with the mother's maiden name, Curnutt. As it turned out, 3rd great grandma Martha Curnutt, murdered her abusive husband, Noah Casto, with an ax and was sentenced to serve 5 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary at a reduced sentence of manslaughter. However, after having served two years and giving birth to her third child she pardoned by the Governor of Missouri. She returned to her father's home to raise the children. The child she gave birth to while in prison was not fathered by her late husband.
I thought it was one of the better episodes I have seen. Martha Curnutt made a compelling character and Cynthia asked all the right questions. They showed some of the research process in more detail than usual. I particularly enjoyed the moment when the librarian lead Cynthia to an old card catalog to look for a microfilm reel of a newspaper.
Not everything is online, folks. Yes, to get the whole story you might have to read a newspaper on microfilm.
In fact, this detail prompted me to request microfilm from the Family History Library. I ordered the films of New York City's Coroner's Inquisitions from 1874 to learn more about the murder of my relative, Edward Hughes. Which you can read more about in my past post called Edward Hughes Murdered?
However, the episode also showed Cynthia going to Washington, D.C. to view Union Civil War pension files; you don't have to travel to D.C. to see those, they can actually be ordered online for a fee.
Like with all of these shows the research goes much more smoothly and quickly than it does in real life. That is to be expected of TV though. Just as with real life though, once you start researching a specific individual you will bond with him/her. You will.
Next week’s episode features Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an actor on the sitcom, Modern Family.