Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Sean Hayes

This episode of Who Do You Think You Are? was about Sean Hayes, whose name I vaguely recognized.  The teaser said that he would learn about dark mysteries connected to his father's lineage, an estranged ancestor living in squalor, and patterns of dysfunction going back generations.  Sounds like one happy family, doesn't it?

In the introduction, we hear that Hayes is an Emmy-winning actor known for his role on Will & Grace (at least I've heard of that, though I've never watched it).  He was nominated for a Tony award for his performance in Promises, Promises.  He also has been a producer of Hollywood Game Night and Grimm (now there's a show I watch!).  He lives in Los Angeles with his husband, music producer Scott Icenogle.

Hayes tells us his full name is Sean Patrick Hayes and that he is "named after no one I know of."  He was born in Illinois and at the age of 1 his family moved from Chicago to the suburbs (known to many as Chicagoland).  He is the youngest of five children.  He had a rather tumultous life growing up, as his mother worked all the time and his father was mostly not present.  He concedes that his father probably has some good qualities, but he doesn't know any of them.  He's never had a relationship with his father, as the man left when Hayes was 5 years old.  He doesn't know anything about his father's side of the family.

Hayes has always been drawn to comedy, probably as an escape.  It's a way of enjoying life without dealing with the real world.  Now that he's older, he has started to wonder about his family history and wants to learn about his father's side.  He knew his grandmother and was told that his father was in an orphanage at one time.  His parents met when his father had just come out of the Army.

We get some more information about the family through a letter from Hayes' brother, Dennis, which Hayes reads to Icenogle.  As background, Hayes doesn't know his grandfather's name, but his sister told him that the grandfather died literally in the gutter.  Hayes comments that his family history has been mostly full of bad luck.

From Dennis' letter we learn that the father (whose name is never used in the entire episode) was born in Chicago in 1936 and that his parents were William and Barbara.  Hayes notes that Dennis' middle name is William, so that appears to be a connection.  In 1947 the four children in the family were placed in an orphanage.  At some point Barbara broke both of her hips and was in the hospital; it wasn't clear to me if this was the same time that the children were in the orphanage (and therefore maybe the cause of the latter).  Dennis doesn't know if William was around, though it appears he was out of the picture.  He says their father's grandfather was from Ireland but doesn't know his name.  He ends by saying that he has run into lots of dead ends and hopes that Hayes has better luck than he did.

Included with the letter is a photograph of Hayes' grandparents, and it's actually labeled!  The photo is of four people; the person on the left is unknown, and then come William Hayes, Aunt Sally, and Barbara Hayes.  The photo is supposed to be from 1941.  Hayes has never seen a photograph of his grandfather before.  Going by the year, this was taken six years before the children were placed in the orphanage.  There is also a photo of Barbara in the hospital (just how did she break both of her hips, anyway?).  Hayes hypothesizes that maybe William wasn't able to take care of the children with Barbara laid up but then also says that "we know" he was out of the picture at that point.  Um, how do we know that?

The Hayes family in the 1940 census:
William, Barbara, Patricia, Ronald, and Kathleen
We go straight from the letter to "Let's see what we can find out about William on!"  For someone who has had little to no interest in his family history, that was a fast turn-around.  He apparently even has an account, because he's logged in.  He has also already figured out how to do searches and looks for William Hayes with a wife's name of Barbara, then finds them in the 1940 census.  The image shown on screen carefully does not include Hayes' father's name.  William is listed as a photo engineer (at an engineering company, though that was not stated), with an income of $3,400.  Hayes comments that his own father was also a photographer, and then that William was the richest guy on the block (well, actually just this one census page), so what happened?  That segues directly into how it seems that everything happened in Chicago, so he should go there.  (Boy, when he decides to do something, he jumps right on it, doesn't he?)  In the outro he wonders whether his grandfather was alive or dead when the children were in the orphanage.

Two things struck me with the census page showing the family.  The first is that Hayes' father, he of no name, must be Ronald, as he is not only the correct age but also the only boy in the family.  The second is that Aunt Sally does not appear to have been born yet (unless Sally is an unusual family nickname for Patricia or Kathleen).  With the family photo dated 1941, that would mean Sally shouldn't be more than 2 years old.  Admittedly, we didn't get the world's greatest view of the photo, but she didn't look that young to me.

Moving on to Chicago (I love Chicago!), Hayes heads to the Chicago History Museum to meet historian Mark Largent (an associate professor of social relations and policy at Michigan State University), whom Hayes has asked for "anything he can find out" about his grandfather.  Largent tells Hayes that he has found a document, and right before they cut away to a commercial, we hear Hayes exclaim, "Oh my god!  That's really, really sad."  When they come back to the program, we learn that Largent found the death certificate for William Hayes, who died November 16, 1951 in Chicago.

I have to admit I was pretty impressed with the way that Hayes appeared to be reading all the details on the certificate.  He noted that William was 40 years old when he died and said that he had to go back to his makeshift timeline.  His big question had been whether William was alive when the children went to the orphanage, and the answer is definitely yes.  Now he knows that his father and his grandfather were living in the same city but with very different lives.  William's address at the time of his death was 66 West Van Buren, which is now totally different but at the time was a slum. 
Cook County Hospital facade
Largent explains that in 1951 it was populated mostly by single men, a lot of whom were unemployed and/or suffered from mental illness.  William didn't die in the gutter, as Hayes' sister had claimed, but in Cook County Hospital.  He died from advanced pulmonary tuberculosis.  Of all things, Hayes asks if the hospital is still around.  (Is that something you would think of?)  Largent says it was shut down but the facade still remains, and that's where they go next, to look at what remains of the hospital.  (On the other side of the facade there is now a sports field, of all things.)

Hayes sees powerful parallels between his father's and his own experiences.  He says he was the same age when his father left as his father was when his grandfather left (though I don't know how he knows his grandfather left when his father was 5).  He doesn't understand how his grandfather could have gone from seemingly being the richest man in his neighborhood to skid row.  After the thrill of seeing the hospital facade, he asks how he can learn more about his grandfather's final days, and Largent says they can go to the medical library.

At the library (I couldn't figure out where exactly they went for this segment) Largent has a file folder with the police department report on finding Hayes' grandfather.  The page shows the report was for dealing with sick or injured persons.  Dated November 1, 1951, it shows that an officer went to 66 West Van Buren, found William, and took him to the hospital.  Hayes notices that nothing is entered in the field for relatives or friends.  Elsewhere on the report the officer noted that William could answer his questions intelligently, so apparently William simply had nothing to say in response to the question about relatives.

William's hospital admission record (I wish these types of records were available and accessible for more locations!) says that his father's name was Patrick, which Hayes seems surprised to realize is also his middle name, indicating he was likely named for his great-grandfather.  (It also seems to indicate that Hayes' father still had some feelings for his own father.)  Since an address was given for Patrick, he must have been alive at the time, but he does not appear to have been at the hospital.  (And now we have Patrick, William, and Ronald, all living in Chicago but apparently totally disconnected from each other.)  The doctor's synopsis says that William was suffering from anorexia; he hadn't been eating regularly for four to five months.  The report also says that William's liver was 3FB, meaning three fingers below median, a possible indication of alcohol abuse.  Largent is quick to emphasize it's only one piece of evidence that could support that.  William was noted as being extremely emaciated, pale, and having a red nose — another possible indicator of alcoholism.

Hayes wants to know if Patrick was an absentee father or if he just didn't know what was going on with William, but Largent says there's no way to know from the records they have.  Hayes then asks if Patrick was an immigrant.  Largent tells him that information about immigrants is in the Cook County court archives, so that's where he should look next.

As he leaves, Hayes talks about how this is the end of William's story.  He feels sorry for William and how he must have felt alone, and that his story was sad and frightening.  He now sympathizes more with his own father and what he must have gone through with William.  He wonders if some of the same issues were at play with Patrick.  He also wonders about a pattern of absentee fathers.

Still in Chicago, Hayes goes to the Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court archives.  There he meets Margaret Garb, an urban historian from Washington University.  He says he had sent her the information he had and asked her to look for his great-grandfather.  Garb begins by showing him the 1930 census page which has William living with his father Patrick; Patrick's wife is Jennie.  William, at the age of 18, is already a photography engineer (which is what, exactly?).  Patrick is 48 years old, meaning he was born about 1882.  He owned his home and was a motorman for the street railway.  Garb explains he worked on the streetcars, which was a good, stable job, so during the Depression (or at least the beginning of it), he was working and the family was doing well.  (The program didn't show Patrick in the 1940 census, but he was at the same address, widowed, and the census taker gave the extra information that he was from County Kerry.)

Patrick and Jennie were both born in Ireland (the census actually says Irish Free State, meaning the Republic of Ireland, as opposed to Northern Ireland), and all the children were born in Illinois.  Hayes is excited to identify his great-grandfather as the first person in the Hayes family to come to the U.S.  The census says he came in 1900.  Hayes reads the naturalization column as "no", and Garb corrects him, saying that it actually says "na" for "naturalized."  Hayes asks about finding those records, and Garb tells him they are in the same building, so that's the next search.  They look through index cards for men named Patrick Hayes.  Hayes uses a magnifying glass to read the cards on the microfilm reader.  He finds one Patrick with a birth year of 1879 and arrival year of 1901; Garb explains that the years could be off a little bit and tells him to write down the certificate number, 54916 (gee, I guess it must be the right guy).

From the microfilm reader the two walk to a shelving area with lots of stacked books.  It reminds Hayes of the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (what a great analogy!).  They walk down the aisle looking at the spines of the books, and Hayes spots the one that has 548–553.  They bring it to a table, and Hayes pages through until he finds 54916.  He almost sounds in awe when he's told that this is the original paper, with his great-grandfather's actual signature on it.  It shows that Patrick Francis Hayes, a streetcar operator, was from Ballylongford, Ireland.  His wife's name was Jennie.  Hayes declares this "has to be the guy!"  He had brown hair and blue eyes, just like Hayes.  He came to the United States on the Umbria, arriving in New York about April 1901.  He signed his Declaration of Intention on February 11, 1918.  (I have to wonder why they didn't show his Petition.  Maybe it didn't have as much information, or wasn't as accurate?)

Hayes is thrilled to see all this information and wants to know how he can learn more about Patrick's life in Ireland.  Garb, of course, tells him that he should go there.  Hayes responds, "I'll go to Ireland!  Thanks, Maggie!"  He sounds genuinely enthusiastic.

As he leaves the archives Hayes says he feels as though he has now met Patrick.  He's enamored of Patrick's drive and ambition.  He finds it inspiring that Patrick wanted a better life for his family.  It's a contrast with William's story, which was a great tragedy.  (On the other hand, he didn't follow Patrick all the way to his demise, so we don't know what happened to him later.)  Patrick seems to be the opposite of Hayes' own father.  He wants to go to Ireland to learn more about Patrick's surroundings and why he would have wanted to leave.

In Ireland, Hayes says he had a bizarre feeling when he landed that he was connected to the country.  (Maybe he's very suggestible.)  He's going to the National Archives of Ireland (in Dublin, which is where I thought he was, though they don't tell us that for quite a while) to speak with historian Shane Kilcommins (head of the School of Law at the University of Limerick).  Of course, Hayes has "asked" Kilcommins to look into Patrick's life before he left Ireland.  The first document Kilcommins has for Hayes is a 1901 census page.  It's for a prison in County Kerry, which causes Hayes to say that "my great-grandfather wasn't as great as we thought."  The page doesn't show full names but only initials, so Hayes looks for PH, whom he finds on line 12.  That person is from Ballylongford and is the right age.  His crime was assault.

Hayes asks if there's any more beyond that, and Kilcommins brings out a book and has Hayes put on conservator gloves.  The book is for Tralee Prison records for 1901–1905.  Patrick shows up on page 1.  His entry shows he was 21 years old and from Ballylongford.  He was sentenced on January 30 to hard labor for three counts of assault.  The sentencing options were a fine, bail, or hard labor.  The narrator pops in at this point to explain that prisons in Great Britain and Ireland commonly used hard labor as a punishment.  Examples were to repeatedly carry a cannonball around, turn a crank, or walk on a treadmill endlessly.  The labor was exhausting, monotonous, and deliberately unproductive.  (Obviously, there was no concept of rehabilitation at this time.)  Kilcommins continues to explain Patrick's record, which shows that he was "entered into recognizance" on March 1, 1901, which meant that he promised to behave himself.  He accomplished that by leaving the next month for New York.

Now Hayes appears a little confused.  He had thought his great-grandfather was ambitious and driven, but it seems he may have just been running away from trouble.  He asks Kilcommins if there's more.  Kilcommins says that they can go back to previous criminal records.

The general register for Tarbert(?) Prison for 1896 shows that Patrick Jr.—which Hayes realizes implies that his father was Patrick Sr., so now he knows his great-great-grandfather's name—was 17 years old when accused of assault.  Right above Patrick's entry is one for a William Hayes, also accused of assault.  Both Patrick and William were from Ballylongford and posted bail on the same day.  Were they related?  It looks like they probably were, but right now they don't know how.  Kilcommins says that the Tarbert petty session records can probably shed more light on the subject.  Tarbert is a small town in northern County Kerry.  Hayes asks if the courthouse is still there, and Kilcommins tells him that the building is.  They arrange to meet the next day at the old courthouse.

Hayes has found this information on Patrick to be enlightening (to say the least!).  Patrick served his time, then left Ireland.  (But what happened to William?)  It does look as though he made a good life for himself in the U.S.  Now Hayes is going to Tarbert, where he can stand where his great-grandfather stood when he was sentenced—a very proud moment!

Tarbert, County Kerry, is about 150 miles west of Dublin.  Hayes and Kilcommins meet outside the old courthouse, which Kilcommins points out was also the jail (is it "gaol" in Ireland?), or "House of Corrections."  We see a statue of a guard as they go in.  Hayes admits it's weird to be excited to see where Patrick met his judgment.  (Some books were on the judge's bench, but they were not used during the segment, so they may have been only window dressing.)  Hayes stands in the dock and says it doesn't feel very comfortable.  Kilcommins tells him that since it was an assault case, he would have been only two feet away from the person who was accusing him.  Patrick might have been there with William, possibly his brother.

Moving on to the research, Hayes asks if Kilcommins has been able to glean more information, which of course he has.  And of course, he also has the records.  He takes some large printouts from the bench and brings them to a table to show Hayes.  The records show that two complaints were registered by Patrick Hayes, Sr. against defendants William and Patrick Jr., both for assault  (William and Patrick Jr. were laborers; Patrick Sr. looked like a farm something, but I couldn't read it, even after multiple attempts.  They lived on Kilcolgan Lane.)  Hayes is astonished to learn that a father filed assault charges against his sons and says, "This is one f-ed up family," but admits it's consistent with the other information he's been learning.

Specifically, on August 11, 1896, the record says that William "did unlawfully assault said complainant by attempting to stab him with a knife."  The complaint against Patrick Jr., filed the same day, says that he assaulted his father "by throwing a stone at him."  These revelations engender a "Holy <pause> moley!" and "This is crazy!" from Hayes, who asks what the fight was about.  Kilcommins says "another <something>" that I did not understand.

Then we learn about Patrick Sr., not exactly an upstanding citizen himself.  Kilcommins has compiled a list of his criminal infractions from the petty sessions from 1864–1914.  There was a crime of some sort almost every year, but Hayes notices that from 1878–1888 there was nothing.  After that most of the crimes were drunk and disorderly.  He wonders what changed, and Kilcommins produces a death certificate for Patrick Sr.'s wife, Bridgett, dated May 22, 1888.  Apparently the ten years Patrick Sr. was married (we didn't actually get to see anything that said when he and Bridgett married) were happy ones, and everything fell apart when Bridgett died.  It affected the children as much as it affected their father.  Patrick Jr. was born about 1879, so that would have been the beginning of the good years for Patrick Sr.  He had about ten years of a calm environment, and then his mother died.  Hayes says, "No one knew how to deal with it, they just drunk about it."

Hayes asks if there's anything more about Patrick Sr., but Kilcommins says that was all he could find.  (He couldn't find the death?)  He suggests that Hayes can go to Ballylongford to see the area, which hasn't changed much. As he leaves the courthouse, Hayes says he's been fortunate to learn this information.  It's proven that history repeats itself, and his family has had an endless chain of chaos.

Hayes goes to Ballylongford (Beál Atha Longfoirt) and simply walks around.  It's special to walk in the footsteps of his ancestors, but he hopes he doesn't follow their later paths.  He recognizes more connections now to his family.  His name, Sean Patrick Hayes, has new meaning now that he knows his great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather were named Patrick.  Patrick Jr. left Ireland at the age of 21 because he couldn't take it anymore, looking for something better.  Hayes himself left home at 24 because he had to get away, and went to Los Angeles.  He feels a kind of camaraderie with Patrick Jr.

Hayes realizes the knowledge of his ancestry he's been given is a great gift.  His family has a clear cycle of leaving, albeit for different reasons.  He can't excuse his own father but what he's learned has maybe helped him understand a little better.  He can't forget what his father did, but he can forgive him.

And just to prove how obsessive I can be, I watched and rewatched the scenes with the list of Patrick Sr.'s infractions until I could construct this list.  I'm sure I still missed a couple.

1900 Drunk and disorderly on the public highway
1900 Refusing to pay the poor rate
1899 Refusing to pay the poor rate
1899 Trespassing cows
1899 Refusing to pay debts
1898 Refusing to pay the poor rate collector
1898 Refusing to pay the poor rate collector
1898 Refusing to repair boundary fence
1898 Unpaid debts
1897 Drunk on the public highway
1897 Refusing to pay debts
1896 Assault
1896 Assault
1896 Assault
1896 Unpaid debts
1895 Trespassing cows
1895 Unpaid debt for trespassing cows
1895 Drunk on the public highway
1895 Drunk on the public highway
1895 Drunk on the public highway
1895 Drunk on the public highway
1894 Drunk on the public highway
1894 Drunk on the public highway
1894 Drunk on the public highway
1894 Unpaid debt
1892 Assault
1892 Unpaid debt
1891 Assault
1891 Assault
1891 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1891 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1891 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1890 Assault
1890 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1890 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1890 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1890 Unpaid debts
1889 Cruelty and torture toward someone's donkey
1889 Violent threats
1889 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1889 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1889 Drunk and disorderly on the public street
1889 Refusing to pay the poor rate
1888 Drunk and disorderly
1888 Drunk and disorderly
1888 Drunk and disorderly
1888 Drunk and disorderly
1878 Dog off leash
1875 Trespassing donkey
1874 Cow and goat trespassing
1873 Dog off of leash
1871 Assault
1865 Drunk and disorderly
1864 Assault
1864 Attemped assault with an iron bar


  1. A photo engineer is a lithographer., Sean Hayes went to the Illinois Medical archives, and the historian had copies of his grandfather's death certificate and police reports that were filed by CPF when his grandfather was admitted to cook county hospital with TB. Which is apparently where he died at age of 40y. I live in the Chicago area, and I'm a Genealogist.
    Jennifer Heer Norman

    1. Thank you for the additional information! It is greatly appreciated.


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