It has been a while since I blogged. I've been busy with genealogy, though, and ushering relatives into the world of Ancestry DNA but I haven't really had the time to write.
The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? aired last night, though, and I like to write my reviews of these genealogy research vignettes while they are still fresh in my mind. And so, I am back on the blog...
...and maybe in time I will catch up on writing about my own summer family research. In time.
The first episode of this season of WDYTYA focused on the family history of actress Ginnifer Goodwin who played Margene Heffman
in the HBO series Big Love. Ginnifer starts the episode by stating that she knew a great deal about 3 of her grandparents' heritage but nearly nothing about her paternal grandfather, John B. Goodwin. As the episode progresses we see there is a good reason for that; Grandpa John's relationship with his parents was undoubtedly painful.
In speaking with her father about his recollections of the Goodwin family, he expressed to Ginnifer that he wished he had asked his father more questions when he was alive.
This comment made me recall an informal family history interview I had with my maternal grandfather. My Grandpa Gardner's love for his children and grandchildren was palpable but he was not terribly forthcoming with information about his past or his family's past. Although many might argue with me on this, I believe that regardless of it being YOUR family history, someone's past is not necessarily any of your business and perhaps it was best for the Goodwins to wait until Grandpa John had passed to go rifling around in his childhood and upbringing.
By all means ask your loved ones while they are alive about their knowledge of family history but don't press them to stir up painful memories; that is simply unkind.
In any case, Ginnifer learned her great grandmother's real maiden name by obtaining a copy of her Grandpa John's SS-5; the
application for a Social Security number. This program began in 1935 and although I have never used this type of resource in my research, it can obviously prove very useful to a researcher. It was evident to me, though, that Ginnifer's grandfather concealed his mother's maiden name on purpose. I suspect he did not want to revisit his relationship with his mother who could blame him.
The discovery of John Goodwin's mother's maiden name leads Ginnifer on journey through court records, divorce decrees, prison records, and hospital documents. Her grandpa John may have been better off on his own at age 11 then with his mother who suffered a series divorces from men who had more than mere run-ins with the law. John's biological father, Al Goodwin, was sent to federal prison for bootlegging. His mother and his step-father, Hugh Wyllie, were dealing narcotics at one point. And both John's mother, Nellie Haynes-Williams-Goodwin-Wyllie, and his half sister, Pearl Williams, wound up hospitalized for addiction to morphine, a commonly prescribed painkiller at the time.
It was not a pleasant history to unravel but many are not. And whether any of us would like to explore them or not, a wealth of family histories are buried in court records. Don't be surprised, or disappointed, or ashamed to discover you have an ancestor or two who's suffering is documented in court records. Life is hard, people.
Next week's episode which airs on TLC on Sunday, August 2 at 9 pm, focuses on author J.K. Rowling's family history.