Monday, March 23, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Josh Groban

It seems like I'm always running behind lately.  I was desperately trying to finish my write-up about last week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? just hours before this week's was set to air.  I obviously was not able to make it this time.

This episode was about Josh Groban (another celebrity I had not heard of!).  The teasers said we would be researching his mother's side of the family and going to 17th-century Germany, there to witness brilliance and the torment of prediction.  Groban is a multiplatinum singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer.  He graduated from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.  He has sold more than 25 million records and has been nominated for numerous awards.  He started his own charity, Find Your Light, to bring music, the arts, and cultural awareness to school children.

Groban was born and grew up in Los Angeles.  He lives in Los Angeles just a few miles from the home he grew up in.  To start his research, he goes to visit his parents, Jack and Melinda (Lindy) Groban; he has a brother, Christopher, who does not appear in the episode.  Groban says that both of his parents are intelligent and that they took their sons to music performances.  His mother was (is?) an art teacher, and education was always important in the family.

From a family history perspective, both of Groban's parents were only children, so he didn't grow up with any aunts, uncles, or cousins, and family trees never came up in conversation.  That said, someone apparently has done research on his father's side of the family, because he says it has been documented.  No research has been done on his mother's side, however.  He knows that his mother was born in Los Angeles and that his grandmother lived in L.A. for many years.  His maternal grandfather, Grandpa Lee, died before Josh turned 1.  He is curious because he doesn't really know much about him.

Lindy (Melinda) says that her father was one of five children.  The Great Depression had a big impact on the family, and her father had to quit school to go to work to help support the family.  Her father's father died when she was very young, and doesn't know much about the Johnston history.

Groban says that he is doing this research mostly for his mother.  He would like to find out when and why the relatives on her side came to the U.S.  The research will be a gift for the whole family but especially for his mom.

Groban begins his fact-finding mission by heading to the main branch (downtown) of the Los Angeles Public Library, where he meets professional genealogist Kyle Betit (pronounced "Beatty"; we have seen him previously on WDYTYA, on the Trisha Yearwood episode, where he was able to show off his French research specialization).  He had asked Betit to research his mother's father's side of the family "as far back as possible" (oh, I love requests like that!).  Betit explains that he used wills, deeds, newspapers, and other records to help create the tree that he obligingly has posted on  What struck me immediately was that Groban's mother is listed on the tree with her married, nor her maiden, name, which is something you should never do.  I also noticed that Groban was squinting at the screen.  He went back and forth during the episode between wearing glasses and not, and when he didn't, he squinted.  Vanity, thy name is Josh Groban!

Lindy's father is shown on the tree as Merril L. Johnston (Grandpa Lee; 1909–1982), who was married to Dorothy Z. Blumberg (1906–2001).  Lee was the son of Merrill Willis Johnson (1882–1954) and Lulu Christine Winslow (1888–1969).  Groban comments on the spelling difference between Johnston and Johnson (very observant of him, but he didn't say anything about Merril [one "L"] versus Merrill [two "L"s), and then the subject is never brought up again.  (Does that mean the Ancestry researchers couldn't find out when or why the spelling changed?)

Betit clicks on great-grandpa Merrill Willis Johnson for more details.  He was born July 6, 1882 in Algona, Kossuth County, Iowa and died August 30, 1954 in Oakland, Alameda County, California.  Moving up the tree, his parents were George M. (maybe Merrill?) Johnson (1844–1899) and Mary Ann Zimmerman (1845–1914).  Betit clicks on Mary Ann, and we see that she was born in January 1845 in Cass County, Iowa and died in Algona, Kossuth County.

After showing Mary Ann's details, we jump from to the floating family tree in the sky.  On this tree, Grandpa Lee was Leander Merrill (two "L"s) Johnston, instead of Merril L.  We then fly through several generations:  Mary Ann's father was John Zimmerman; his father was Samuel Zimmerman; his father was another John Zimmerman; his father was Jacob Zimmerman; and his father was Jacob Christopher Zimmerman, Groban's 7th-great-grandfather.  Jacob Christopher is shown as being born before 1694 and dying in 1759 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.  He was married to Sibilla Van Fossen (1691–1745). When we arrive at Jacob Christopher Zimmerman, Groban jokes that he was the "original Jay Z."

Groban asks if there's more, and Betit shows him an index entry on that has Jacob Christoph Zimmerman arriving in Pennsylvania in 1694 (which actually means he was born before 1695, because without more information, he could have been born in 1694 and been a babe in arms).  The entry says that he arrived with the primary immigrant Maria Margaretha Zimmerman.  Groban wants to know what that means, and Betit explains that Maria Margaretha was the main passenger and that Jacob Christoph was traveling with her.  Some discussion ensues about how Maria Margaretha was probably Jacob Christoph's mother, making her Groban's 8th-great-grandmother. Groban wants to know where her husband is:  Did he take a hike?  Did he die?  Were they divorced?

Betit points out that what is displayed on the screen is only a transcription.  To learn more, they need to go to the source of the information, which is the book William Penn and the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania.  Groban wonders why they would have gone to Pennsylvania, and Betit explains that people of many religions were going there because it was a haven for freedom of religion.  Groban wonders whether Zimmerman would have been German or Dutch.

Betit conveniently has a copy of the book at hand and has Groban look up Maria Margaretha.  The reference is for page 409.  (Betit does not mention that the book is also only transcriptions.)  The entry for Maria Margaretha shows she came from Bietigheim (east of Pforzheim), Würtemberg [sic], now part of Germany.  (Betit is surprised that Groban pronounces Bietigheim correctly.)  She was the widow of John Jacob Zimmerman (Groban's 8th-great-grandfather) and came with four children.  John Jacob died in or after leaving Rotterdamn, en route to Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, page 409 of the book is not shown in the preview on Google Books, but I did find two other references to Zimmerman:

(William Penn and the Dutch Quaker Migration to Pennsylvania, William Isaac Hull, originally published Swarthmore, 1935, as Swarthmore College Monographs on Quaker History, Number 2; reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1970, pages 337 and 338.)

But they couldn't show the first section this early in the episode, because it would have given away some of our "surprises" later.

Now, of course, Groban wants to know how John Jacob died.  He also asks why Zimmerman would have wanted to leave Württemberg and go to North America.  Betit tells him he'll need to look in Germany and says the best archive is in Stuttgart, the capital of Württemberg.  From this point on, the episode is focused on this one ancestor and his story.

In the outro to this segment, Groban says that something is telling him that Zimmerman must have had a desperate need to make his journey.  Unless he's psychic, I don't know how he could have gotten that from the information Betit provided him.  But since WDYTYA is always heavy on foreshadowing, we can take that as a sledgehammer hint that not everything goes well for John Jacob.

After arriving in Stuttgart, Groban meets archivist Peter Rückert at the Württemberg state archive (Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart).  Prof. Dr. Rückert was subtitled throughout this segment, though I did not find him difficult to understand.  After Groban says he is there to find information about his 8th-great-grandfather John Jacob Zimmerman, Rückert pulls out a book of marriage records covering 1630–1749.  He has Groban put on conservator's gloves, but then lets him page through the book until he reaches page 1671.  If you're that worried about the book, why have him page through it?  Anyway, on page 1671 they find the marriage of Johan Jacob Zimmerman, the only words Groban can read on the page.  (They go through some pronunciation gymnastics here, as Groban says "Jo-hon" and Rückert is polite and says that's ok.  Later Groban correctly pronounces the name as "Yo-hon.")

Rückert kindly provides a translation of the entry, which says that on February 22, 1671, "Mister M. Johan Jacob Zimmerman, Deacon at Bietigheim, legitimate son of M. Mattheus Zimmerman, citizen and hospital cooper at Vaihingen on the Enz, married Maria Margaretha, legitimate and left behind daughter of Mister M. Philipp Henrich Schaal, late faithful Deacon here."  (I'm guessing that "left behind" is a poor, literal translation that should have been "surviving.")  Groban asks what religion this is for, which Rücker says is Lutheran.  Groban then latches onto the word Deacon, totally ignoring the fact that the entry also identifies his 8th-great-grandfmother's maiden name and the name of his 9th-great-grandfather on that line.  (Maybe he did ask about it but it ended up on the cutting-room floor.)  Rückert says that a deacon handled marriages, burials, and baptisms in the church.  He also explains that a hospital cooper was a craftsman who worked at the hospital (pretty vague, I know), and that Mattheus' father and grandfather probably also did the same kind of work.  The abbreviated title of "M." stands for Magister or Master, indicating that someone had a university degree.  (But does that mean Mattheus had a university degree, since his name was styled the same way in the translation?  If so, why was he still a hospital cooper?  Or was this another translation error?)  Johan Jacob studied Lutheran theology for his degree.

Rückert next produces a book recording visitation protocols, which were visits made by higher-ups in the church where they checked on your work and how everything was going (Big Brother looking over your shoulder).  The book is for Bietigheim from 1601–1809, and this time it has a bookmark.  An entry in 1676 for Deacon Johan Jacob Zimmerman indicates his birthday was November 25, 1642.  He had one little son and one little daughter.  The entry continues that Zimmerman had studied well and was a good preacher, and that the family was "holding themselves" very well.  (Ancestry really needs to hire better translators.)

Johan Jacob studied at the university in Tübingen, Württemberg, for eight years.  Usually four years would be enough, but he apparently was a great thinker and believer.  Rückert says that if Groban is interested in learning more about his ancestor's education, he can go to Tübingen, as the university is still there and has lots of great records.

As he is leaving, Groban comments that history repeated itself in his family.  His mother is a teacher, and her father had worked with his hands; she had broken the cycle.  (Guess what?  That's a common theme in lots of families.  Nothing special here.  In fact, since Johan Jacob had a university degree, the family had gone backward and then regained ground.)

Tübingen University Old Hall
And on we go to Tübingen.  Groban walks through the town and to the university, where he finds head archivist Beate Martin.  She points out that one of the buildings is a student dormitory where Johan Jacob lived while he was there.  They then go to the archives, which look cramped and which Groban calls very "cozy."  Martin says that the archive has documents for all the students who studied there.  She has a book for 1624–1748 which has a bookmark on a page with candidates for Master in 1664.  Johan Jacob is second on the list, which she explains was his ranking in the class.  Groban asks what he studied besides theology.  Martin has a document that is essentially Zimmerman's "report card" from 1668.  He had been a math and music instructor, in fact the only music instructor.  The report says he "supervises music with care", which Groban says gives him chills, and "not just because it's cold down here."

Martin then shows Groban a book she says that Zimmerman used for teaching music.  Groban revels in the fact that he is holding a book that his ancestor actually held.  He flips through pages showing music theory and some practice pieces.  (Wow, 17th-century music theory!)  Groban is excited that his ancestor was passionate about music, as he is.

Martin says that the library also has other documents and shows a book that Zimmerman wrote.  This is not about music but about the theory of movement of the planets.  From this they extrapolate that Zimmerman was studying the planets and could effectively be called an astronomer.  He was studying the planets to be closer to God and to understand God.  In all, he wrote twelve books about astronomy.  (And I looked on Google Books,, HathiTrust,, and WorldCat but couldn't find a single one of them online.  There are several variations of the spelling of his name, however, and I didn't search under all of them.)

Martin also shows Groban a copy of Newton's Principia, in which Newton mentioned Zimmerman.  Zimmerman witnessed a comet on November 23, apparently in 1680.  Since Zimmerman seems to have spent quite a bit of time studying the stars, Groban wonders how he managed to do that and have time to be a deacon.  Martin says he can visit the church in Bietigheim to find out more.  (I've commented before that WDYTYA reminds me of those computer games where you have to find one piece at a time before you are led to the next . . . .)  Groban wonders why someone who seemed to have everything going for him would want to leave and says that something must have happened.

The Duke of Württemberg
to whom Zimmerman wrote
And so we finally head to Bietigheim, where we have already heard the Zimmerman family was living before they began their journey to Pennsylvania.  Dr. Jonathan Clark, a historian at Concordia College, meets Groban at the church where Zimmerman was a deacon.  Groban says he has asked Clark to research Zimmerman's work at the church.  Groban starts here by asking why Zimmerman would go to America when he was so involved in his studies and being a deacon.  Clark shows Groban a document from January 28, 1678 with Zimmerman's signature.  The translation shows that the document is a letter addressed to the Duke of Württemberg, imploring the Duke not to transfer Zimmerman elsewhere but to spare his family; his wife was pregnant at the time.  Clark explains that the cause of the tension was that Zimmerman had rubbed his pastor the wrong way and had previously been warned.

Clark then shows Groban a book, Neue Comet Stern, from 1682.  Zimmerman saw Halley's Comet in 1682 and was profoundly affected by it, and wrote the book.  He believed the comet foretold future calamaties on Earth.

Another book, from 1684, has an author's name of Ambrosius Zehman von Caminiez.  Zehman means "seer", and the name is a play on words with Johannes Jacobus Zimmerman's name.  Clark says that the two names have the same number of letters (I think he said 27?), but I count 24 in Zimmerman and 26 in Caminiez.  When you remember that I and J could be substituted for each other, all the letters from Zimmerman's name are accounted for, but you end up with a V and a Z left over from Caminiez.  Maybe it works with a variant spelling of Zimmerman's name?  Either way, Caminiez was a pseudonym of Zimmerman.  He didn't want to use his real name because the book dealt with heretical predictions that the church would fall.  Many people, including Newton, have seen comets in religious contexts and as signs from God.  Zimmerman actually put his predictions about the destructions of buildings and Christ coming to earth in writing, however, and then he was caught.  Groban was amazed and said that Zimmerman was "mad by candlelight", a phrase I've not heard before.  (It only shows up six times on Google, so it isn't common.)

Some of what Zimmerman wrote in the book was that something would destroy the churches and that it would be the "fault of the ordinary ministry."  Zimmerman was part of a movement called Radical Pietism, which emphasized a personal relationship with God and a belief that the church was unnecessary and corrupt.  This was obviously not looked on kindly by the established church.

Zimmerman prophecied that 1693 would be a year of real change.  He apparently believed that the stars had revealed that date to him.  Historically it was not uncommon for people to believe that astronomical events could foretell tragedy.  A comet in 1618 was believed to have presaged war in Germany.  Zimmerman would have made his astronomical observations from the steeple in the church the two men are standing in.

Groban quite reasonably wants to know how Zimmerman could have maintained his decorum in church if his beliefs had become so radically different, and what would have happened if these heretical materials had been found in his possession.  Clark says he should go to the Evangelical Lutheran Church archives in Württemberg to see what records might exist.

The Evangelical Lutheran
church in Bietigheim
Groban has had an extraordinary experience being in the church where his ancestor worked.  He goes up to the steeple to see the sky as Zimmerman would have.  He wonders if Zimmerman's heresy is the reason the family left Württemberg.  Maybe they had feared for their lives if they stayed.

Groban now goes to Stuttgart, where the archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg are housed.  He heads to the central library (Zentral Bibliotek), where he is met by Jan Stievermann, a church historian at Heidelberg University.  Groban asks why Zimmerman would have begged the Duke for permission to stay if he no longer liked the church.  The answer is simple:  He had a family to support.  Stievermann has records from the Württemberg consistory, the ruling body of the state church.  If something official had happened to Zimmerman, it would be in those records.  It's possible he could have been called in and interrogated about his beliefs.

The book Stievermann has contains minutes from consistory meetings for 1680-–1688.  On page 577 the name of Johan Jacob Zimmerman of Bietigheim appears, from an action in 1684.  He had been discovered.  Even though he had published his book under a pseudonym, Stievermann asks, "How many troublesome theologians with astronomical training were in Württemberg?"  I guess it didn't take long for them to figure it out.  After Zimmerman was summoned, he confessed that he had written the book.  He pled that his conscience should not be constrained and said that he would quit rather than recant his words.  He believed that all European state churches were so corrupt that they would fall when the judgment of God came.  He was unequivocally a radical, which Stievermann says meant he could be expelled from the state.

Interestingly, the researchers lost track of Zimmerman in Württemberg after this.  (I guess that means he left before the church kicked him out?)  They don't know where he was; he just seems to have disappeared for several years.  The next mention of him was found in a letter from the St. Petersburg archives.  The letter was written by Zimmerman and was dated February 1688.  He was writing from Frankfort, but it was not stated which one.  He had been relying on his Pietist connections.  One child had died, and he was in debt.  He "recommend[ed] everything to the divine power."  (No explanation was given as to how the letter ended up in St. Petersburg, which I was really curious about.  Stievermann also didn't say to whom the letter was written.)  He was really hoping his beliefs would carry him through.

Groban asks if there would have been a community to help him.  Stievermann explains that other Pietists would have helped as much as possible.  They gathered in private homes, outside church authority.  Everything would have been very clandestine.

The last item after the letter from Zimmerman was one from a pastor in Hamburg, who wrote that Zimmerman had died in September 1693 and was buried in Rotterdam, where the family had gone to board a ship to Pennsylvania, but there is no information about how he died.  So Zimmerman actually died the year he had predicted would be a year of change; he just hadn't realized exactly what the change would be.  Other people hadn't wanted him to leave, but Pennsylvania would have acted as a magnet, as it was a safe haven for people with different faiths and unusual convictions.  The translation of the pastor's letter ends, "May God have mercy on his widow and children."

Groban is fascinated by what he has learned about Zimmerman.  He says that Zimmerman was honest about having written the heretical book (but conveniently forgot that he only did so after he was caught), even though he had everything to lose.  Zimmerman had seen a beacon of light in Pennsylvania and committed to taking his family there.  It was sad that he hadn't made it himself, but Groban sees it as a triumph for his ideas that his family did.

Walking in his ancestor's footsteps has obviously been a special experience for Groban.  His ancestor has gone from being a name on a page (one he only just found out about, no less) to someone he learned about as a person.  Because Groban himself is a musician, he particularly identifies with the fact that Zimmerman taught music "with great care" (gotta love those translations), but also appreciates that Zimmerman studied math and became a scholar and someone great.  He of course ties this into his own beliefs that education is important.  He appreciates the opportunities that he has had and is glad he is able to offer opportunities to young people.

I'm kind of surprised that is still airing the commercial where the woman says she found her grandfather's World War I draft registration but the image displayed is from World War II.  Personally, I think it makes them look unprofessional.  Would it be that difficult to edit it?

And of course, since I mentioned in my post about the Julie Chen episode that I found Long Island Medium questionable looking, when I tuned in to TLC to watch this episode, what were they talking about on Long Island Medium, which was just ending?  Genealogy!  Apparently they're getting into family history also!


  1. Hi, My bane is LaVon m BOWMAN.( Bauman).
    I have Been searching my family Line.
    So interesting. That Your Family went back to Wuttenburg, Germany .
    My gggggggrandfather. Was ( Johann) Daniel Bowman.( Bauman)
    Who came to America in 1740.
    I think your gggggggggggggggrand wanted to Cone to the Americas.
    To become more than He was in Germany.
    What a beautiful story.
    Guess genes don't fall to far from the tree. ( Smiles)
    You are getting fortunate to be able to search so far back
    I've been told that my grandmother (Louise Alice Langley was Tecumseh s granddaughter.
    Oh .how I would love to prove that.
    Im proud if my Bowman n Lohnes heritage.
    Oh, I love your songs. I do one of your songs on Kareoje. But It can bring me to tears. Lol .
    With Love and Respect,
    LaVon (Binnie) Neal

    1. It's nice that you have been able to research your family back so far!

  2. I would like to have seen them research the Winslow name that Josh Groban carries as his middle name. I wonder if perhaps he could have been related to the Winslows on the Mayflower?

    1. Certainly, the name could go back to the Mayflower Winslow. Because we didn't hear anything about Groban's father's side of the family or the rest of his mother's side, there are plenty of possibilities.


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