Friday, August 29, 2014

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Kelsey Grammer

I had been looking forward to the Kelsey Grammer episode of Who Do You Think You Are? since they announced the celebrity line-up for the season.  It didn't go in the direction I had anticipated, but I enjoyed it a lot.  The teaser said he would learn about a troubled relative (wait, maybe another murder?) and a pioneer on his grandmother's side of the family.

During the opening sequence we saw the famous Hollywood sign; Kelsey Grammer lives in Los Angeles.  He is best known for playing the "iconic role" of psychiatrist Frasier Crane on Cheers and the spin-off Frasier.  The part garnered him five Emmy Awards and three Golden Globes.  He had a passion for Shakespeare at a young age and began performing in theater when he attended Juillard (but did not graduate).  He lives with his wife and two youngest children (deft phrasing which sidestepped the fact that this is his fourth marriage and he has four children from previous relationships).

Grammer's parents (both deceased) were Frank Allen Grammer, Jr., and Sally Cranmer.  They met in New York, married, and moved to the Virgin Islands (I wish they had told us why!), which is where Kelsey Grammer was born.  When Grammer was about 2 years old his parents separated, and he and his mother moved in with his mother's parents.  He called them Gordon and Gam, and they and his mother raised him and his sister, with the five of them together.  He remembers being a happy child and young man, but he has had more than his share of tragedy.  His sister died at 18, his father at 38.  Gordon died at 63 of cancer.  He and Gam became closer after that.  Gam was feisty, funny, loving, and tough as nails, and taught him to figure a way out and not to quit.

Gam's given name was Evangeline; Grammer's youngest daughter is named after her.  Gam never spoke about her mother.  Her father's name was Dimmick, first name unknown.  He left the family early.  At some point in her life Gam tracked him down, but he wasn't interested and didn't want to talk to her.  She was raised primarily by three aunts, and of them mostly by Aunt Lela.  Apparently raising Gam was difficult, because she ran away a lot.  The big mystery to Grammer is why she was living with her aunts.

Grammer is very self-deprecating:  While he is driving to his first destination he turns toward the camera and says that one of the scariest things to do in your life is allow an actor to drive you around.

And that first research destination is the Beverly Hills Public Library, where he meets with "family historian" Jennifer Utley (an employee of  Grammer says that Evangeline Dimmick was born in Oakland, California about 1905.  Utley says they should look for her on in the census.  Grammer searches from the census collection page, typing in Evangeline Dimmick, born 1905.  Only two hits are shown on screen, but the first four hits are her.  Utley says the first census they should look at is the 1910 census, because it's the closest one after Evangeline's birth.  Utley says they're in Alameda, and Grammer says that's near Oakland, but the family is actually in Oakland, Alameda County, California.  (Their address of 2276 Market Street, which is no longer a residence, is a mere half-mile from where I live.)  Evangeline was the granddaughter of the head of household, Chas. (Charles) B. Geddes; Geddes is a name Grammer recognizes.  Others in the home were Charles' wife, Amelia, and their four daughters:  Evangeline M. Daymont (who was divorced), Minerva and Delia Geddes, and Genevieve Dimmick, Evangeline Dimmick's mother.  The census says that Genevieve had been married for five years, but her husband was not in the household.  (Not mentioned was that Charles, Amelia, and their daughter Evangeline were born in Canada.)  Utley mentions that the combination of the unusual names — Genevieve, Evangeline, and Dimmick — means they can be pretty sure they've found the right family, a type of analysis not usually shown on this program.  Grammer can be seen taking notes on all of this information, and he continues to take notes throughout the episode.

After the 1910 census, they look at the 1920 census.  Evangeline was then living in San Francisco with an uncle and aunt, Walter and Eland Swindell.  At the same address, likely another unit in the same building, were her mother and her aunts Lela and Minerva.  In this census, however, her mother is listed as divorced.  So they've found Genevieve in two censuses with Evangeline but still no husband.  She's divorced, but they still don't know the husband's name.  Utley says that it would be difficult to look up information on the divorce because they don't know the husband's name (seriously?  Divorce records are indexed by last name; how many Dimmicks got divorces in San Francisco between 1910–1920?) but that newspapers tried to sell stories.  (Okay, as much as I love using newspapers for research, the scripting was incredibly lame.)

We got a big surprise:  They went to a newspaper database online, but it wasn't!  It was the California Digital Newspaper Collection, a free site (did it have to pay a "placement fee"?).  Grammer searches for Genevieve Dimmick, and the first result is "Neglect and Desertion Charges Made by Wife."  The San Francisco Call of October 31, 1913 carried the item, which said that Genevieve Marriott Dimmick had filed for divorce that day against her husband, Ellis L. Dimmick (we have his name!).  They were married in April 1905, but Dimmick left in November of that year.  Dimmick must have left while Genevieve was pregnant (or very soon after Evangeline was born), and it's possible they married while she was pregnant.  Grammer decides that "L" stands for "Louse."

San Francisco Call, October 31, 1913, page 1
California Digital Newspaper Collection, Center for Bibliographic Studies and Research,
University of California at Riverside,
Utley asks a logical question:  Why wait eight years before filing for divorce?  Grammer asks what he should do next.  Utley tells him it will be best to find someone in the Bay Area who can explain the historical context of what divorce was like at that time.  (My first thought was, "How about trying to get a copy of the divorce file?"  I guess that's why I don't get to work on these shows.)  As he leaves, Grammer comments that Ellis didn't even exist for him until that day.

From one library to another, Grammer's next stop is the San Francisco Public Library (a place I go often for research), where social historian Donna Schuele meets him.  (We saw her previously on the Cynthia Nixon episode.)  Grammer says he's curious as to why Genevieve would wait eight years to file for divorce.  Schuele says she has found the final decree of divorce, which was made on November 20, 1914.  (San Francisco didn't keep the complete divorce files for early decades of the 20th century.  Often all you can get is the register of actions, so finding the final decree is really good.)  Dimmick did not show up to contest the divorce.

As for the delay in filing, Schuele says that when Genevieve filed her parents were no longer alive.  It's possible that they didn't want her to file (they might have been Catholic), she didn't want to file, or she didn't want the social stigma that divorce carried.  It was even harder to be a single mother at that time than now, with no daycare or support system.  Genevieve's sisters probably gave Evangeline a more stable environment than she would have had otherwise.

Grammer wants to know what is next — what happened to Dimmick?  Did Genevieve remarry?  Schuele tells him that Genevieve did marry again.  She died as Genevieve Foltz on September 30, 1934; her husband was William S. Foltz.  The certificate showed her date and place of birth as September 10, 1882 in Merced County (not Oakland).  She died in San Francisco at 1249 Mason Street (residence 1117 McAllister); the cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver.  This leads to a discussion of how Genevieve developed cirrhosis.  While it is commonly associated with long-term alcoholism, several other causes exist, and today hepatitis overwhelmingly is the leading cause.  But they latch onto drinking and discuss some of the social conditions at the time that could have led Genevieve to drink too much.  It was easy to find alcohol in San Francisco, even during Prohibition.  They even joke that maybe Genevieve was a party girl, and Grammer suggests that maybe Genevieve and Dimmick hooked up on a drunk.  Maybe the reason Evangeline ran away was to try to get attention from her mother.

Having resolved the question of what happened to Genevieve, we return to the mystery of Ellis "Louse" Dimmick.  Since he and Genevieve married in Oakland, Schuele says she will put Grammer in touch with a historian there.

As he drives to Oakland over the new span of the Bay Bridge, Grammer talks about how Genevieve was probably a heavy drinker and wasn't there for her daughter.  Problems with alcoholism resonate with him because of his own (very public) experiences.  He comments that someone wiser than he said that alcoholism is caused by a broken heart and unresolved grief.  Now he wants to find Ellis Dimmick and learn why he abandoned his wife and child.

Completing a library hat trick, Grammer ends up at the Oakland Public Library and speaks with historian Jim Baumohl (who specializes in urban poverty, homelessness, and social welfare).  Baumohl has a copy of the May 26, 1908 U.S. Marines enlistment for Ellis Loughbrough (so much for Louse!) Dimmick.  At that time many rebuilding efforts were going on throughout the San Francisco area due to the 1906 earthquake and fire, so work was plentiful, yet Dimmick had enlisted, suggesting some level of desperation on his part to find employment.  Dimmick's enlistment paperwork said he was "waiving marriage." Baumohl misspeaks and says that the Army (Dimmick enlisted in the Marines) made sure that part of a soldier's salary went to dependents; Dimmick apparently said that his wife was not dependent on him, so he kept his entire salary for himself.  His service record shows several AOL (away over leave, as in returning late) and a few AWOL (away without official leave) entries.  The next to last entry reads, "Discharged as UNDESIRABLE, Private; Because of habitual A.O.L. and excessive use of intoxicants; Character 'Bad.'" He was discharged on November 8, 1909, less than a year and a half after he enlisted.

Grammer laughs and says that Baumohl must have more evidence of Dimmick's miserable existence, and Baumohl agrees.  The next document Baumohl shows is Dimmick's 1918 World War I draft registration (which looks like the original record).  It states he was born February 22, 1879 and lived in the Hotel Shattuck, where he worked as a night porter.  With Dimmick's poor military record he certainly wasn't going to be called up, and he was a little old to serve at that point anyway, but he did fulfill his legal obligation by registering.  He listed his nearest relative as his daughter, Evangeline Lucile Dimmick, but gave her address as unknown.  She was about 12 years old at the time.  Grammer comments that maybe Dimmick thought about Evangeline at times and sees this as a sign of something more human about the man.

When Grammer asks, "Now what?", Baumohl produces Dimmick's death certificate and says this will close the book on him.  Dimmick, aged 60, died in Alameda County on August 1, 1939 of arteriosclerosis.  The certificate says he was born in Healdsburg (about 75 miles north of Oakland) and that his parents were Joseph Dimmick, from Iowa, and Mary F. Krichbaum, from Ohio.  I noticed that the certificate has "2 OF 2" stamped on it, meaning the second of two pages.  I usually see that when there's a coroner's inquest, and the second page updates the cause of death.

Grammer says that both of Ellis' parents were from the Midwest and asks why they were on the West Coast, to which Baumohl responds that they should look in the census.  He suggests looking in the 1880 census, because that would be the first one in which Ellis appeared.  They find him living in Oakland with his parents and siblings.  Joseph and Mary were born in Illinois and Iowa, respectively.  The two oldest children, Victor and Ernest, were born in Oregon.  The rest of the children — Clarence, Lillian, Edwin, Virgil, and baby Ellis (only one year old) — were born in California.  It is obvious that Joseph and Mary moved from the Midwest to Oregon, whether separately or together.  Grammer wonders if they came out on a wagon train.  Baumohl says he will introduce Grammer to someone who can help with research in Oregon (apparently our next stop), if he's interested.

Grammer sees Dimmick as an irretrievably tragic man.  He can't really feel sorry for him and thinks he was a scoundrel and a weak character.  Now he's looking forward to learning about his second-great-grandparents and is headed to Portland to look at early Oregon records.

In Portland (I love Portland!) Grammer goes to the Genealogical Forum of Oregon and meets David Del Mar, an Oregon historian and associate professor at Portland State University.  Grammer gives a short background of his family and what he wants to learn (as if Del Mar didn't know already), and Del Mar shows him the Early Oregonian Search database (another free database not associated with  Grammer declines the opportunity to type the search himself, so Del Mar does it, entering Joseph Dimmick's name.  A lot of information pops up on screen (this is a pretty cool database).  Joseph was born in Ohio in 1842.  His mother was Comfort Dean, his father Joseph Dimmick, Sr.  Grammer correctly guesses that they are his third-great-grandparents.  Joseph Sr. was born in New York in 1808.  They arrived in Oregon on October 1, 1852.

Then we go back to (the third researcher to use it in this episode) to look for the family in the Midwest, before they traveled to Oregon.  Del Mar pulls up the 1850 census.  The Dimmick family is living in Rushville Township (Schulyer County), Illinois. Joseph and Comfort have twelve children in the household.  Grammer says, "I'm doing what I can to catch up!"

Del Mar says he has found something that will give more clues to why the Dimmick family picked up and moved across the country.  The Springfield Daily Journal (not online) of November 1, 1850 published an article titled "Oregon Fever!" which was essentially a sales pitch.  The article talked about homesteading for free land in Oregon and what a beautiful area it was.  (Springfield was in Sangamon County, which is not adjacent to Sangamon County, so I don't know how likely it is that Joseph Dimmick saw this particular newspaper article.  I guess they couldn't find something that was published closer to home?)  It's easy to understand how someone with a large family in an area where land was expensive could be enticed by the possibility of a large homestead and the hope for land for his children and grandchildren.  So the Dimmick family decided to follow Manifest Destiny and the Oregon Trail.  Del Mar cautions that getting there was not for the faint of heart and says if Grammer is interested in learning about the hardships the family would have faced (what, he's going to say no?) he has a colleague in eastern Oregon who can help.

Grammer is astounded to learn he had pioneer ancestors who traveled on the Oregon Trail.  As he gets out of the car at the next location, Grammer says something about Oregon and the "lure of gold" that doesn't make sense.  In Baker, Oregon, he is met by Peter Boag, an Oregon Trail expert.  Boag begins by explaining that the Oregon Trail was 2,200 miles long but only about 300 miles are still visible (and the camera obligingly shows us some of the ruts).

The narrator says the Oregon Trail began in 1836.  It was a dangerous journey, and settlers took up to six months to make the cross-country trip, through rugged mountains and dry plains.  People mostly walked; the wagons were there to carry supplies.  The trail started in Missouri and followed the Platte River through the Great Plains, then went over the Rocky Mountains and to the Snake River.  From there the trail followed the Columbia River to the Willamette Valley.  Until the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, the Oregon Trail was one of the most viable ways to cross the continent.  More than half a million people took the trail to go west.

Boag tells Grammer that many people kept journals detailing their trips.  The researchers found a journal kept by Joseph Gragg which mentions the Dimmick family, who traveled with him.  Gragg was Joseph Sr.'s nephew and Joseph Jr.'s first cousin.  Boag points out this is a "rare find" (and it's very, very cool when you do find something like that in your research).  Grammer reads several passages from the journal pages.  The party started out in April 1852.  The entire Dimmick family is listed by name.  Going down the list of the children, Grammer sees that by Thomas' name it says that he died on the plains.  Thomas was the Dimmick's oldest son (we saw his name on the 1850 census; he was 21 years old then).  The journal says that Thomas was on a buffalo hunt with two others; the weather was very hot, and when he returned he "drank quite freely of poor water."  He became sick with "colera"  that evening and died quickly, apparently either the same day or the next.  He was buried alone on the plains.

Boag explains that the water was contaminated by human waste; the pioneers weren't maintaining very good hygiene standards.  Cholera was the deadliest disease to affect travelers on the trail.  Grammer reads more from the journal:  The group passed several new graves daily as they traveled along the Platte River.  Grammer asks how many people died along the way.  Boag says that the mortality rate was about 4% (which really isn't that bad when you consider the circumstances).

Boag points out that the journey did not end where they are standing.  Immigrants still had another month of travel to pass through the Blue Mountains, which the two men can see from where they are standing.  He tells Grammer that the Willamette Valley is still another 300 miles from there.  Grammer thanks him for all the information and says he wants to say a prayer for Thomas and the others who didn't make it.

Grammer is impressed by the first-hand account in the journal.  He's awed by the sacrifices people made, and learning that the Dimmicks lost their first-born son is powerful.  But now he wants to know where his Dimmick family ended up, and Boag has recommended he speak with archivist Layne Sawyer at the Oregon State Archives in Salem (the same organization that provides the Early Oregonian Search used earlier in the episode).

Sawyer is at the archives building to greet Grammer, who asks if Dimmick got his land claim.  She tells him that all of the records are on microfilm, but the index is in a book.  Grammer finds Joseph Dimmick and wife; their claim number is 1501.  On the microfilm he finds Joseph's land grant of 311.04 acres; the eastern part of the land is Joseph's, the western part Comfort's.  Sawyer explains that it was the first land act that specified women could own land.  The document says that they worked the land from 1854–1858.

Sawyer asks if Grammer would like to see another record, to which he responds, "Oh, yes, I'd like to."  Sawyer hands him a manila folder with Joseph Dimmick, Sr.'s probate.  Grammer comments on the fact that it's incredible to be touching the original documents.  Joseph Sr. died October 1, 1860 in Benton County, only two years after getting title to his land, but he died on that land.  That's the end of the probate discussion; next Sawyer says she has found a reference to Joseph Sr. in the Portrait and Biographical Record of the Willamette Valley, a hefty-looking tome.  The index indicates Joseph's entry is on page 1172.  The biography mentions that Joseph was a pioneer, and Sawyer points out that means he arrived before the railroad; to Oregonians, this is an important distinction.  Joseph was born in Connecticut, so during his life he traveled from the East Coast to the West Coast.  They don't go into detail about the rest of the bio, probably due to the fact that in its discussion of the Dimmicks' travel across the plains it says, "Beyond the events incident to a trip of this nature in the early days they met with no hardship and arrived safely at their destination ...."  Losing your oldest son to cholera was "incident to a trip of this nature" and "no hardship?"  Kind of makes you wonder who wrote that bio.

Next Sawyer brings out a map of Township 14 South Range 5 West to show Grammer where the Dimmick property was.  Grammer finds the Dimmick property on the map, and Sawyer tells him it isn't that far from where they are, about an hour's drive south.  Grammer is glad that Joseph did get the land and wants to find it and thank Joseph.  While he's driving he says he consulted an updated map to find the property.  The area is still farmland.

Grammer muses at the end on how he began this trip to find Gam's story.  He thought he came from a small family, but now he has many more names and stories.  Some of his ancestors didn't do very well — Genevieve, Ellis — while others were successful — Joseph and Comfort.  He feels Joseph instilled a sense of obligation in his children and taught them that if they could imagine it, they could try to do it.  Grammer is at a loss for words for a few seconds and then says that maybe he got a small piece of that.

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