The April 5 episode of WDYTYA was about Tony Goldwyn. The teaser told us he would learn about a remarkable couple who pioneered women's rights, braved great danger, and helped shape the American West. Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it? While I certainly recognized the name Goldwyn from Hollywood history, I didn't actually know who Tony was. We learn he is an actor and director, particularly known for his role as President Fitzgerald Grant on Scandal (sorry, never watched that). Almost as an afterthought, the narrator mentions that his breakout role was in Ghost. Well, at least I saw that, even if I don't remember Goldwyn in it. I'm feeling old.
Goldwyn, now boasting an acclaimed career in Hollywood and on stage, is the father of two grown daughters. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Jane, a film production designer, but spends a lot of time in Los Angeles due to work. For this program, he appears to be staying with his daughter Anna. She is around for a short time only, seemingly as window dressing and to support Goldwyn's comment that one of the reasons he is doing this research is for his daughters, because it's their history also.
Goldwyn says he grew up in California. His parents are Jennifer Howard (her stage name) and Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. Samuel Goldwyn is the son of the Samuel Goldwyn of MGM, well known as a pioneer of the movie business. Goldwyn adored his grandfather. Jennifer Howard was the daughter of Sidney Howard, a Broadway playwright. Goldwyn tells us that Howard wrote commercially viable plays but also included commentary on social issues, society, and politics. After moving to California, Howard turned to writing screenplays and was the original writer (but one of several) of the screenplay for Gone with the Wind, for which he received a posthumous Oscar.
Being born into this family (both of his grandmothers were actresses, and other family members were also well known performers), it was almost inevitable that Goldwyn would be interested in a performance career. He says the romance of the profession drew him to the theater. He never knew his grandfather Sidney Howard, as Howard died in 1939 (in a pretty horrible accident, not mentioned on screen), and knows very little about him, so is interested in learning more.
Since Goldwyn is in Los Angeles, and apparently because WDYTYA doesn't have any other handy venue, he begins at the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, as Josh Groban did. Instead of Kyle Betit, however, he meets Jennifer Utley, "family historian" (and Ancestry.com employee), whom he has asked to find more information about his grandfather. She begins by showing Goldwyn one of those fancy calligraphed family tree scrolls, à la D. Joshua Taylor. It isn't as detailed as many of the ones we've seen and hops back and forth between different family lines.
The tree begins with Goldwyn at the bottom. His parents are Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., shown with no birth or date information (probably because he was alive when the episode was filmed; he died in January 2015); and Clare Jenness (Jennifer) Howard, born 1923 in New York, died 1993 in Los Angeles, California. "Clare"'s parents were Sidney Coe Howard, born 1891 in Oakland, California, died 1939 in Tyringham, Massachusetts; and Clare Jenness Eames, born 1894 in Hartford, Connecticut, died 1930 in Richmond, England (both IMDB.com and Wikipedia have it as London, England, but the New York Times obituary says Richmond). Howard's parents were John Lawrence Howard, born 1849 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, died 1914 in Oakland, California; and Helen Louise Coe, born 1860 in The Dalles, Oregon, died 1916 in New York, New York. Helen's parents were Lawrence White Coe, born 1831 in New York, died 1897 in San Francisco; and Mary Louise Graves, born 1843 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, died 1917 in New York, New York.
For whatever reason (did they cue him?), Goldwyn latches onto not the oldest generation shown, but his great-grandmother Helen Louise Coe and the fact that she was born in The Dalles (which he mispronounces) in 1860, supposedly because he's never heard of that place. She was born there right after Oregon became a state. Goldwyn asks Utley where they should go from the tree, and she of course says Ancestry.com. She has him enter Lawrence Coe in the search form and somehow the second hit shown on the page is a link to the "Early Oregonians Index" (even when I enter Lawrence White Coe, it shows up as the sixth hit). Utley tells Goldwyn to click on the link and he is taken to the Early Oregonian Search (Ancestry apparently felt the need to rename it on its site).
The entry they see says that Lawrence Coe was born in Nunday, Livingston County, New York on March 17, 1831 and died October 20, 1897 in California. (Currently the database specifies that Coe died in San Francisco and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. It appears more information has been added to the database since the filming, or possibly some was hidden for purposes of the program.) They don't discuss it, but Coe is listed as an agent for a navigation company. The page shows the names of Coe's parents, and Goldwyn clicks on the link for Coe's father, Nathaniel Coe.
Nathaniel Coe's record indicates he was born September 6, 1788 in Morristown, New Jersey and died October 10, 1868. It includes an alternative date of birth, September 12, 1888, and now has an alternative date of death, October 17, 1868, which I did not see when I watched the program. Nathaniel was a farmer. His father was Joel Coe (and his mother was Huldah Horton, something else I don't remember seeing on the program). Goldwyn either remembers his history or was given another cue, because he asks if Nathaniel was a pioneer on the Oregon Trail. (I think it was a cue, because he doesn't ask anything about Nathaniel's father, something that would interest most people.) Utley says it's possible (big hint that it wasn't the way he came?). Goldwyn then comments on the fact that Nathaniel was buried in Hood River in Wasco County, Oregon. The entry on screen shows the place of burial was K of P (Knights of Pythias?) in Hood River; the online record now includes Mountain View Cemetery.
Goldwyn begins to work out his 3rd-great-grandfather's path: New Jersey to New York, and then to Oregon. He thinks it would be interesting to see what he was doing in New York at that time. Utley says they can look on Newspapers.com (not mentioning it is owned by Ancestry, of course!) and disingenuously adds that they are "looking at all the historical newspapers that are digitized", with a straight face, no less. I'm going to hope she didn't actually say that as a stand-alone comment and that it was just poor editing that cut off more at the end. Someone really needs to look at these things more critically in post, because I'm sure NewspaperArchive.com, ProQuest, NewsBank, and several other companies would be really surprised to hear that.
That said, Goldwyn enters Nathaniel Coe in the search box on the home page, not even using quotation marks, and finds a useful hit as the second hit on the page. (You also can find this as the second hit, as long as you restrict your search to New York newspapers, which of course they didn't show.) In an article titled "Legislature of New-York", the New York Evening Post of November 14, 1843 shows a complete list of the legislature members for the upcoming year. Included is Nathaniel Coe, a Whig from Allegany County.
|New York Evening Post, November 14, 1843, page 2 (image edited)|
In the outro to this segment, Goldwyn says his big question is why Nathaniel went to Oregon. He also wonders why Nathaniel would have reinvented himself at the age of 55. Was it some sort of trouble or controversy? Was he just restless? It was a significant trip to make, so it's a puzzle. He hopes he finds something juicy, like a political scandal, at the root of it.
And onward to Albany we go, to the New York State Library and historian Daniel Feller of the University of Tennessee. Goldwyn admits he knows very little about Nathaniel Coe and asks about the Whig Party. Feller says the Whigs were the party of progress and reform. They believed in public education and were against slavery. In 1848 the Whigs had a majority in the state legislature and were able to pursue their agenda politically. Coe was an enthusiastic Whig. Feller has a New York Assembly Journal from 1848, the 71st session. It shows that on February 23, 1848, "on motion of Mr. Coe", "an act to punish seduction" was introduced to the legislature. Feller says that it eventually was passed. The purpose of the law was to hold the man responsible for engaging in sex with an umarried woman, with her consent or not. The charge was a misdemeanor, but it carried a prison term.
This was a new and controversial idea at the time. Nathaniel's fellow Whig Party members had to be convinced to support it. Goldwyn wonders why Nathaniel proposed the law and whether it was a personal crusade or if it came from his constituents. Feller tells him the answer might be in Nunday and that he should look for an expert in social and cultural history, particularly the antiseduction crusade. (Maybe Banai Feldstein is right, and Ancestry is trying to illustrate how research is actually done, though I don't think the effort is particularly successful.)
Now Goldwyn prepares to head to Nunday. He's happy that his ancestor was a champion of women's rights and was progressive for his time, but he's wondering what inspired him.
When we get to Nunda we discover that it's spelled without the "y." Goldwin goes to the Nunda Historical Society, saying that he wants to learn more about the antiseduction movement and Nathaniel's involvement in it. He meets historian Nancy Hewitt, a specialist in feminist reform movements (shown as a professor of 19th-century women's studies at Rutgers University). She immediately suggests looking at reformist newspapers (yeah, that would have been first on my list also). She has a copy of the Advocate of Moral Reform (not exactly light reading, I'm sure) of April 1, 1838 (April Fool's?). Goldwyn says, "19th-century print is very small, so I'm going to put on my glasses." An article with a dateline of March 3, 1838 refers to a meeting of a female society supporting moral purity, held on November 8, 1837 at the house of Nathaniel Coe, Esq., of Nunda Valley.
Hewitt explains that Mary Coe would have been the one who actually hosted the meeting. Goldwyn asks if Nathaniel was involved, and Hewitt says that he had to have been supportive or it wouldn't have happened at all. It was memorable because at that time no one actually talked about rape; they talked in a more abstract way about "seduction" and were trying to "protect women." They were essentially trying to challenge the sexual double standard that allowed men who assaulted women to get off scot-free but that tainted women forever. A woman who had been raped was considered unmarriageable. Part of the concern was that such women would turn to prostitution because they had no other recourse.
Goldwyn wants to know if Mary was always a reformer or if this issue was of particular concern to her. In response, Hewitt has him go into the storage area of the historical society to get a copy of the 1889 Nunda newspaper. There he speaks with Tom Cook, the society president. Cook says the society has the complete run of the Nunda News and takes one of the books off a shelf, warning that the book is old and brittle. You can even see a piece of a torn page hanging down. Why in the world are they having him carry this around? Is this really the only way this information is available? Hasn't anyone ever microfilmed this newspaper? If Ancestry really is trying to make an effort, no matter how small, to educate people about how to do research, encouraging them to use fragile resources that are available in other formats is not a good direction to go. Even if this is the only available copy, having someone unaccustomed to research handle this is simply inexcusable.
So when Goldwyn brings the book out to the front room, Hewitt has him put on conservator's gloves (not actually that great of an idea when something is this fragile, because you lose tactile sensation with these gloves, and it's much, much easier to tear something). But then what does she have him do? Go through the book page by page, instead of having marked it ahead of time and letting him go directly to it. Boy, are they sending mixed messages. At least Goldwyn seems to be very careful. Hewitt has told Goldwyn that the date he's looking for is July 20, so he keeps going until he gets there. In that issue he finds a retrospective article talking about what was going on 60 years ago. It mentions Mrs. Coe was a reformer and a radical but is not specific about anything, so even though the question is not answered directly, we are to believe that the issue of "seduction" was probably not her only concern.
Hewitt explains that at this time, women collected signatures on petitions to show that citizens were concerned about an issue. Nathaniel would have been the one to work on passing any legislation. Goldwyn is impressed by the obvious partnership and close bond the Coes had.
|Albany Evening Journal, April 28, 1852, page 2|
The narrator pops in and says that special mail agents were liaisons between the federal government and settlers. Their responsibility was to scout locations for mail routes. They were crucial in 1850's Oregon because they helped make communication and trade with the eastern U.S. possible. They negotiated with local Indian tribes to ensure safe passage for settlers. Unfortunately for an agent, because it was an appointed position, it ended with a change in presidents.
Goldwyn asks if Mary went with Nathanial. In another of the fake "suggestions", Hewitt says that to discover that, Goldwyn should go to Oregon and talk to an expert there. And where will he find an expert without the assistance of Ancestry.com and WDYTYA?
As he leaves, Goldwyn goes back to how Nathanial and Mary had a great partnershp and worked together as a team. He comments on how now he knows "genetically where I got my taste for liking strong women." He also says that Nathaniel and Mary were "obviously so close" and couldn't be separate from each other. I think he's extrapolating a lot, at least based on what we were shown.
So back to the West Coast he travels, heading now to Portland and the Oregon Historical Society. There to greet him, boxes in hand, is historian Lissa Wadewitz, a professor of the American West at Linfield College. The boxes she brings out are labeled "MSS 431 Nathaniel Coe Family Papers." It looks like Nathaniel may have been well known in this area, but Goldwyn doesn't ask that question. (I would have.) The first item Wadewitz has Goldwyn look at is a book, which turns out to be a scrapbook of Mrs. M. W. Coe (Mary White Coe) of Hood River, Oregon. It appears to be filled with obituaries, based on a comment from Goldwyn, but also includes photographs of Nathaniel and Mary. Goldwyn thinks Nathaniel reminds him of his grandfather but doesn't comment on Mary. Wadewitz has to tell him, "Let's move ahead," or maybe he would have continued to look at the scrapbook. I guess they had a schedule to keep.
The next item of focus is a letter dated January 19, 1853. It was written by Mary from Portland. She was reunited with her husband and wrote about the perilous journey she had made. She had left New York on December 6 (probably 1852, but not stated). She said it had taken ten days by land before she reached Aspinwall Navy Bay, which Wadewitz explains was on the east coast of Panama. (She does not mention that Aspinwall is the former name of the city of Colón.)
The narrator tells us that at the time there were three ways to travel from the East Coast of the U.S. to the West Coast. The most common method was the Oregon Trail, which took longer. Going around Cape Horn or across the Panama isthmus were faster but cost more money. The trip by the latter methods could take only six to eight weeks.
Mary's letter goes on to say that Lawrence (her son, Goldwyn's great-great-grandfather) had hired a boat for $100 to take them on the Chagres River. They then went by canoe, and finally across the isthmus by mule. This was a pretty intense journey for a 52-year-old woman.
A letter from February 12, 1854, also written from Portland, talks about the primitive conditions. She comments that the "native inhabitants" "must soon submit to their 'manifest destiny.'" Goldwyn appears a little stunned at this heavy-handed commentary. Wadewitz tells him that this was the common racial ideology of the the time: Whites were physically and culturally superior to everyone else. (It certainly makes an interesting contrast with the Coes' high-minded ideal of saving young women from "seduction." On the other hand, they probably were only concerned with saving white women.) Goldwyn asks, "Is it worth reading more of this letter?" Wadewitz says no, which made me wonder if there was more inflammatory material further on. Or maybe they were still behind schedule?
Mary's next letter was not written from Portland but from Fort Dalles (which Goldwyn now says correctly), on March 6, 1856. The Coes left Portland and went to Fort Dalles for protection by the Army unit posted there. They were concerned about attacks by the Yakima chief "Camiacen" (which Goldwyn somehow pronounces correctly the first time). Wadewitz tells Goldwyn that to learn more about what was going on, he should go to the Fort Dalles Museum.
As he leaves the historical society Goldwyn talks about the hardships that Mary faced on her journey and living in the wilderness, and then being "forced out" of her home. (Um, what about the Indians' homes?) He's looking forward to learning about the Indian conflict and what impact it had on Nathaniel and Mary's lives.
|Fort Dalles surgeon's quarters,|
now home to the Fort Dalles Museum
The narrator tells us that gold was discovered in Oregon in the early 1850's, and the federal government wanted to control the land. Local Indians were pressured to cede the land, and a treaty in 1855 forced them to give up more than 6.4 million acres, leaving them a small area supposedly as a permanent homeland. Gold miners were trespassing before the treaty was even ratified, however, which helped lead both sides toward war.
Fisher says that relations with the Indians were peaceful until the war and that there had been little violence. He then shows Goldwyn a newspaper article from the New York Tribune, dated April 4, 1856: "Indian War on the Pacific." It roundly criticized the white settlers for how they were conducting themselves toward the Indians but was extremely disparaging of the Indians themselves. This causes Goldwyn to ask what Nathaniel's opinion was of the situation. Fisher produces a letter written by Nathaniel and mentions that it came from the Nathaniel Coe Family Papers at the Oregon Historical Society. (So why didn't he get to look at it there? Oh, that would have messed up their narrative, wouldn't it?)
Nathaniel is responding to a missive from someone else, as he begins with "Your letter." (It could have been written in response to the Tribune article.) He says that the other person is doing an injustice to Oregon citizens who reside in the vicinity. The cause of the war was the yearly increase in the white population but the tribes had been greatly reduced and some were extinct. He also wrote that "Aborigines melt away with the presence of civilization." (Boy, that white ideology is getting to be just a little arrogant.)
Fisher tells Goldwyn that the war in this area was mostly over by 1856. If the Coes would have probably felt safe by 1857, Goldwyn wants to know why they stayed here, in such a wild place. Fisher tells him he should look at official records, such as land grants and probate, which he can find at the Oregon State Archives.
As he leaves the museum, Goldwyn is amazed at the extraordinary comment expressed by Nathaniel about the Indians melting away. He acknowledges that human beings are complicated, however, and that his 3rd-great-grandfather was progressive but not always so.
Oregon State Archives. Cynthia Prescott, an expert on the American West (history professor at the University of North Dakota), is there to welcome him. He asks about records relating to Nathaniel and Mary Coe and why they stayed around the Hood River area. What was in it for them? Prescott points him to the Historic Oregon Newspapers database (hosted by the Oregon State Archives), one of those few cherished instances when Ancestry.com allows acknowledgment that not all information on the Internet belongs to them. The Oregon newspaper database is available free to everyone and can be viewed anywhere. The article we see is "Story of Nathaniel and Mary Coe" from the Hood River Glacier, October 7, 1915. (A subhead says "Continued from last week", but they don't discuss the first part of the article.) Goldwyn reads highlights from the article: The Coes went back to Portland. They had more children. He wanted to continue his farm, which was in a relatively protected area with hardly any snow. He grew lots of fruit and vegetables; one bit Goldwyn didn't read said that seeds came from the Lewellyn Nursery in Milwaukie (Oregon) and from Rochester, New York. Mary is credited with renaming the Dog River as the Hood River, a more attractive name that helped establish the town of Hood River as a desirable place to live.
Goldwyn returns to the unusual partnership between Nathaniel and Mary and asks again why they would have stayed. Prescott points out that here they had land and tremendous opportunity. Nathaniel could reinvent the area and do something different. (It takes a lot of self-confidence and ego to believe you can do that, which I think they showed Nathaniel had in abundance.) The Hood River area was good for growing tree fruits, which Nathaniel did for market, not just to feed his family. Building a successful business helped start the town itself, which the article points out was build over the old Coe homestead. The Coes were buried in a family plot on the farm. The article ends, "Their graves should be kept with loving care." Goldwin says he would like to go to Hood River, and Prescott tells him that the graves still exist there.
As he leaves, Goldwyn says, "This was really fun and interesting." Now he knows why Nathaniel and Mary didn't go back to New York. They had a perfect oasis on the Hood River. He concedes that maybe it took ego to start something as substantial as Nathaniel had.
The final scene is at Mountain View Memorial Cemetery in Hood River. Goldwyn says he's going to meet Nathaniel and Mary, whom he likes to think of as great-great-great-grandpa and great-great-great-grandma. He finds their gravestones, which I suspect are modern replacements, as both are flat and flush with the ground. They're very simple, with only names and dates: Nathaniel Coe 1788–1868 and Mary Coe 1801–1893.
Goldwyn has been inspired by learning about his ancestors. He talks about how the Coes were really leaders, coming to this new "universe" and creating what they did. He knows his family has a long line of very strong women who were equal and indispensable partners to their men. The Coes helped build the next stage of the American story. He can't forgive their attitude toward Indians but won't let that define them. He had already known that his two grandfathers were pioneers who achieved great things, and now knows that the same applies to Nathaniel and Mary. He can see it's been carried down in his genes.
I was not that impressed with this episode. Having the researchers tell Goldwyn that he needed to find an expert in a given field just sounded stilted and phony. The facts that Goldwyn appeared to focus on didn't ring true to me. Maybe they're really what caught his interest, but they're not the types of things I've seen others latch onto. There were also several points that were mentioned but then not resolved. We never actually learn why the "seduction" issue became one the Coes supported. My gut reaction is that they knew someone who had been raped and it became a personal crusade. Goldwyn asked whether Nathaniel took the Oregon Trail, but that point was never addressed in the episode. (According to the first part of the "Story of Nathaniel and Mary Coe" article, Nathaniel also crossed the Panama isthmus.) The question of why the Coes went to Oregon was never answered: Did Nathaniel ask for the appointment? Did Fillmore offer it as a political thank you and Nathaniel decided it would be impolitic to refuse it? Did Fillmore offer it because Nathaniel did suffer politically for some reason and it was a way to help a fellow party member? At Fort Dalles Museum, Fisher told Goldwyn that searching official records such as probate and land grants would help him learn why the Coes stayed in the Hood River area, but the only document we see at the state archives is one newspaper article. That might have been just a continuity problem, but it stuck out for me.
Something which was never mentioned at all in this episode was the somewhat significant age difference in the three older generations of the family tree. Nathaniel Coe was 13 years older than Mary White; Lawrence Coe was 12 years older than Mary Graves; John Howard was 11 years older than Helen Coe. Based on when these people were born and married, none of the marriages should have been affected by the loss of so many young men during the Civil War, so why the big age differences? I was wondering if the three men might have been married previously.
I've noticed that in all the episodes for this season, except Julie Chen, the celebrities have talked about acquiring personality traits genetically. I don't believe it's credible that one can acquire persaonality traits in that manner. I'm starting to wonder if the celebrities are being "encouraged" to use that terminology for some reason (in order to help promote AncestrayDNA sales, maybe?). I know from friends who have done "talking head" pieces for TV "documentaries" that they are often steered toward saying things in certain ways. But maybe I'm just cynical.
Ancestry.com is still airing the commercial with the actress who says, "I got a leaf!" and misidentifies a World War II Old Men's draft registration card as being from World War I. How can the company not find that embarrassing? I saw it twice during this episode.
And I had an amusing coincidence occur while starting to write this post. One episode of Forensic Files from 2003, "Bio Attack", deals with events that happened in The Dalles, Oregon. The announcer, Peter Thomas, who usually seems to take great care in pronouncing names correctly, also mangled Dalles.