Monday, August 17, 2015

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Ginnifer Goodwin

I am finally out of Comcast limbo!  I realize few people will be shocked that my Comcast problem was not resolved with the first technician's visit.  A tech did come on August 7 as promised, and he actually fixed the problem — but the fix only lasted while he was here.  After he left, OnDemand and the program guide were screwed up again.  Because I spent last week in Washington at the Northwest Genealogy Conference, the next day I could schedule a follow-up appointment was today, August 17.  My programming is working and I was able to watch the Ginnifer Goodwin episode again, but now I'm afraid to turn the TV off.

Seasons for series on cable television don't work the same as those for regular networks.  Season 3 of Who Do You Think You Are? wrapped up at the end of April, and only three months later Season 4 began.  In addition to these two seasons being so close together, the number of episodes varies quite a bit.  Season 3 had eight episodes; the original announced schedule for Season 4 had only five, and one of those is a recut of a British original.  Since then a "highlights and outtakes" episode was added, which aired August 16.  I'm sure some factors in the scheduling are how long research takes for a given celebrity and what they are able to find, but it's hard to plan ahead for watching.

Season 4 opened with Ginnifer Goodwin.  The teaser told us she would investigate dark family mysteries, uncover a shocking truth, and learn about her great-grandparents who had been shunned for generations.  Fun stuff, huh?

Goodwin is an actress whose breakout role was playing Margene in the cable series Big Love.  She is also known for the movies Walk the Line and He's Just Not That into You, and the Disney/ABC television series Once Upon a Time, in which she works with her husband, Josh Dallas.  (Once Upon a Time started in October 2011, less than a week before Grimm.  Both sounded fun, but after two episodes I gave up on Once Upon a Time.  It was just too sappy and "Disneyish" for me.  Grimm, however, is awesome.)

Goodwin has a one-year-old son named Oliver (born one month after his parents married, by the way).  After having a child, it became important to her to be able to give him his family story.  She knows three branches of her family well, but not her paternal grandfather's side.  John Barton Goodwin died when she was only a year old.  She knows he left home at the age of 11 to get away from his family, but that's it.  One photo of John Goodwin shows him in a Navy uniform, but his military service isn't discussed.  Goodwin is very close to her father and wants to let him know about his father's family.

Goodwin starts her research with a visit from her father, Tim, who comes to her home and brings a few things with him.  He tells her to find "whatever", even if it's dark (foreshadowing!  and they really expect us to believe they don't know ahead of time what the research results are?).  Tim didn't really start to wonder about his father until after he died.  Tim knows John was born about 1905 in Arkansas and that by age 11 he was living in Memphis, abandoned.  His parents were apparently around the area, but he was alone.  He spent some time in a juvenile home, but those homes at that time often functioned as orphanages as well as homes for kids in trouble.  Tim learned this information from his mother, not his father.

Tim has his grandparents' names, John A. Goodwin and Nellie Barton.  Tim's father, John, built his mother a home after he was successful but refused to allow her to be part of the family (which sounds very harsh).  Tim has a photo of three women; he says Nellie is in the center, but he doesn't know who the other two are.  Nellie looks elderly, and the other women are younger (rough age estimates could possibly make them Nellie's daughter and granddaughter).

Batesville Ward 1, Independence County, Arkansas, ED 41, sheet 4B
Tim had already started digging and has a copy of the 1910 census for Batesville, Arkansas (on an oversized piece of paper, no less).  Al was 29, Nellie 28, a daughter named Pearl was 8, and John was 4.  Goodwin notes that Al and Nellie had been married 6 years, but Pearl was 8.  Either Nellie was married previously, or the baby came before the marriage ceremony.  (She's pretty good with that census, isn't she?  Has she done this before?  She didn't mention, however, that the census indicates it was a first marriage for each of them.)  All of them were born in Arkansas, as were their parents, so Goodwin says she should probably go to get records in Arkansas.  (Seriously?)  Tim says there are "so many things I could have asked him that I regret not asking him", which should serve as a great reminder to everyone else to ask your older relatives questions now, while they are alive.

In the interlude, Goodwin says that as a mother, she wouldn't let her 11-year-old child out of her sight, so she wonders what happened.  Now she's heading to Batesville, where her grandfather lived with his parents, to look for some answers.

In Batesville Goodwin goes to the Mabee-Simpson Library at Lyon College, where she meets with professional genealogist Thea Walden Baker (who lives in Arizona and has no stated expertise in Arkansas research, so I'm confused as to why she ended up doing this; she does seem to have a Southern accent, however).  Baker tells Goodwin that she was unable to find any records for Nellie Barton but ordered the Social Security account application (SS-5) for John Barton Goodwin to see what names he gave for his parents.  The SS-5 was shown clearly, and it was easy to read multiple times that Nellie's maiden name was given as Haynes, but for some reason the two women talk about several other things on the application first — John applied on June 8, 1942, he was born October 14, 1905, and he was 36 years old.  (I don't think they mentioned that he was living in Memphis when he applied.)  When they finally do get around to discussing the different maiden name for Nellie, Baker declares that "finding the correct maiden name is a great step" (without mentioning that many people get their mothers' maiden names wrong on SS-5's) and then says, "Now you can look for records on Ancestry!" (Groan!)

John Goodwin and (Nellie) May Haynes
1906 marriage record,
courtesy of
Baker has Goodwin search specifically for a marriage record in Arkansas for Nellie Haynes, born about 1881–1882.  (Subtle, really subtle, guys.)  Of course, Goodwin does find an index entry for a marriage record.  (Are you surprised?)  Nellie married J. D. Williams October 4, 1900 in Independence County, Arkansas.  (They don't mention that the same database shows John Goodwin's marriage on April 2, 1906 to May Haynes, who is Nellie, in Jackson County, Arkansas.  Interesting that they married in a different county.  The image of the second record, much better than just the transcribed information, can be found on  But from the 1910 census, we know that Nellie married Al roughly around 1904.  So did Williams die, or did they get a divorce?  Baker says that death records are "not easily found" in Arkansas and were not consistently kept, so it "might be easier" to look for a divorce (as far as I'm concerned, that doesn't mean you shouldn't look for a death record — unless, of course, you already know that he didn't die and that there was a divorce).  She recommends going to the Independence County courthouse and checking the books there.  (That's right, lead them by the nose . . . .)

Goodwin is now baffled and overwhelmed.  She wonders if there was a "gross, extensive misunderstanding" or if her grandfather didn't want people to know who Nellie was and told family members an incorrect maiden name to make her untraceable (which didn't work anyway, as we can see).  But now she's on Nellie's trail and wants to learn all she can, whether it's good or bad.  Will the divorce decree shed some light on this?

At the Independence County courthouse, Melissa Murray, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in family law, greets Goodwin.  She has found Nellie Williams' divorce case against Duff J. Williams, which was filed on October 19, 1903.  Nellie stated that she and Williams were married on October 3, 1900 (only three years later, and she's already off by one day!) and that Williams had deserted her December 17, 1900, leaving her with a baby girl who was 8 months old (which means born before the marriage, at least by my calculations).  The baby was probably Pearl.  The fact that Nellie didn't file until 1903 prompts Goodwin to ask why she would wait that long.  Murray explains that in that era women's economic support and security depended on marriage or parents.  She says that maybe Nellie wanted to stay married but finally decided Williams wasn't coming back, or maybe she had met a new man, e.g., Al Goodwin, and needed the divorce to be able to marry again.

The two women don't discuss the resolution of the divorce suit, but the front of the docket shows that the case was "disposed of" on May 11, 1904.  Other tidbits from Nellie's claim that weren't talked about on air but were easy to read in the screen shots of the documents were that Nellie and Williams were married by Judge J. D. Fulkerson, circuit judge, at the courthouse, and the words "arrested", "penitentiary", and "18 months imprisoned", presumably referring to Williams (which suggest that perhaps part of the reason he "deserted" her was because he was in prison?).  Perhaps the latter weren't considered relevant to the discussion because they were trying to surprise viewers with what was to come later?

Goodwin asks where she should go now.  Murray suggests the Arkansas History Commission, where her colleague, Brooks Blevins, can help her with the wonderful archive there.

Goodwin says she now has a more neutral view of Nellie, after learning that she was abandoned and poor.  She doesn't know yet how her great-grandfather fits in; she assumes he was Nellie's knight in shining armor.

The Arkansas History Commission is in Little Rock.  Brooks Blevins, Ph.D., is there with a stack of legal records to show Goodwin.  All appear to be indictments against Al for selling liquor without a license; he was a bootlegger.  The first one shown is from June 1906 for an infraction in spring of 1906, so Goodwin's grandfather would have been only about one year old.  All were filed by 1910.  The two discuss that Nellie would have known that this was happening.  It was a way to make a good living, however, and she might have supported it.

Blevins has a newspaper article from the December 23, 1910 Batesville Guard showing that Al was in jail and waiting for trial.  This was well before Prohibition, so he wasn't being prosecuted for selling alcohol, but for failure to pay taxes on controlled items.  Goodwin jumps to the conclusion that he wasn't paying taxes on his income, but the government apparently was not collecting taxes from 1906–1910, since the Income Tax of 1894 was apparently ruled unconstitutional, and the 16th Amendment wasn't ratified until 1913.  (Oh, and the name IRS, which Blevins uses, didn't come about until 1918.)  Blevins apologizes for not being able to find Al's federal trial records but tells Goodwin that some National Archives branches have records from federal prisons.

Al Goodwin's mugshot
Blevins mentioned the federal prison records because he found Al's, of course.  He hands Goodwin a file folder.  When she opens it and looks inside, she says, "Oh, wow," and pauses, then adds, "That's wild."  (That is such an odd comment, but maybe that means it was her honest reaction?)  She holds her head and has a pained, pensive look on her face.  She then holds up a mugshot of Al, who was apparently prisoner #3261.  Goodwin wonders if anyone in her family would have seen a photo of Al.

The file is dated January 11, 1907, though Al appears to have entered prison ("date of reception") on January 17, 1911.  He was 29 years old.  Goodwin pages through the file and picks up a sheet of paper labeled "Evidence of Previous or Present Disease."  Listed are pneumonia in 1901, syphilis in 1906, measles in 1907, mumps in 1910, and "Gonorrhea twice last 1910" (a charming fellow).  At the bottom is a note that Al's paternal grandparents and his father died of consumption (tuberculosis).  The only disease Goodwin mentions is the syphilis (which ends up being foreshadowing, but any others mentioned may have been cut in editing).

The file includes a letter from Nellie to the warden dated March 9, 1911, asking whether a 5'-tall woman with dark hair had been visiting Al.  Nellie wrote that the woman was trying to cause problems for her with Al.  We don't learn whether any information about this woman was used in Nellie's divorce case versus Al, but the next document Goodwin reads from is dated March 28, 1911 from Atlanta, Georgia and was sent by a lawyer.  Goodwin notes Al was being served with divorce papers. (Some of the text shown on screen is "please serve copy of Complaint herein."  Two lines down from that is "return to Geo. L. Bevens, clerk", and I had to look again at the researcher's name, Blevins, because they were similar.  At first I thought they might have been related.)

Goodwin asks what happened to Nellie after the divorce.  Blevins refers her to his colleague, Brian Schellenberg, in Little Rock and says that Schellenberg can "walk [her] through some of the genealogy trails."  Gee, it sounds like they're going camping!  (And just like Duff Williams, nothing else is mentioned about Al or his fate for the rest of the episode.)  As Goodwin leaves, she talks about how emotional she was when she saw the photograph of Al but sounds frustrated about the "endlessly bad choices" that Nellie made.

1918 Memphis City Directory,
R. L. Polk & Co., page 1340
Brian Béla Schellenberg is part of's ProGenealogists division.  He meets Goodwin at the Arkansas Studies Institute, Butler Center Galleries.  He tells her that he did not find Nellie Haynes or Goodwin in any Arkansas or Memphis city directories (Ddid he really search for the entire state of Arkansas?  How many years did he check?  Did he look offline?  Or did he just do a global search through all the directories on Ancestry for "Nellie Haynes" and "Nellie Goodwin?"), and that "we know that she had her daughter Pearl", so he searched for instances of a Nellie and Pearl at the same address (even though Pearl could have been living on her own at this point, it's a clever search technique).  He finally found what looked to be them in 1918 in the Memphis, Tennessee city directory with the last name of Wyllie.  Also listed at the same address was Hugh Wyllie, Nellie's apparent next husband.  Goodwin comments that her grandfather John was about 13 years old and already on his own, according to what he had told family members.  (On the other hand, minors are not normally listed in city directories, so the absence of his name doesn't actually indicate he isn't living with his mother.)

Schellenberg admits that the city directory on its own is not enough to prove it's the right Nellie, so he looked for a death certificate.  He started in Tennessee but didn't find anything there, so he searched in the states around Tennessee.  He discovered that Nellie died in Minden, Louisiana as Nellie May Wyllie.  Goodwin is now thoroughly confused.  All the stories she was told were about Memphis, but she is figuring out that she has to let go of stories, because stories aren't always true.  The death certificate says Nellie's husband was Hugh and that she was born in Batesville; it also lists her father's name as Will Haynes.  (Additional information on the certificate is that she was widowed, she had lived in Louisiana for 20 years, her regular address was 511 Myers Street, and she died at the Minden Sanit. Inc., which appears to have been a regular hospital, not one of those "other" sanitariums.  I really wish they had shown us who the informant was, however!)

Schellenberg tells Goodwin that Minden is in northern Louisiana, near Shreveport.  From that, somehow Goodwin comes up with the question of whether there might be more information in Shreveport.  (Why not ask if there's more information in Minden?  Because she did that and he told her no, and they edited that out?)  Yup, that's the next stop on the Nellie Haynes research tour.  Schellenberg wishes Goodwin good luck as she leaves.  Louisiana has come as a huge surprise to Goodwin, but she definitely wants to find out what was going on.

As she arrives in Shreveport, Goodwin has much less sympathy for Nellie.  She doesn't understand why Nellie was in Louisiana when her son was in another state.  Earlier she had assumed that Nellie just had bad taste in men, but now she's beginning to believe that Nellie was a bad seed herself.

At the Shreveport Memorial Library, Goodwin meets Joseph Spillane, a professor of social history at the University of Florida whom she says she asked to research the family's life in Louisiana, what brought them there, and what kind of man Hugh Wylllie was.  (Spillane seems to specialize in drugs, the history of drug addiction, and related topics.)  He looked for Hugh Wyllie in newspapers and found an item in an October 1925 issue of the Shreveport Times:  "12 Alleged Dope Law Violators" (not a happy start).  Hugh "Wiley" was accused of violating the "Harrison anti-narcotic act", which was passed in 1914.  (The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act didn't make opium and cocaine illegal, it just made them controlled and taxable.)

The narrator, who didn't have much of substance to add during this episode, explains that during the early 20th century several drugs that are now controlled — morphine, cocaine, heroine — were legal and accessible, used for many everyday ailments, and hundreds of thousands of people became addicted.  The Harrison Act placed some of these drugs under federal supervision, which meant that doctors were restricted in what they could prescribe, but drug dealers still sold stuff to desperate addicts.

But is this Hugh truly linked to Goodwin's Nellie?  Spillane says while looking in the newspapers for Hugh Wyllie he found one reference to Mrs. Hugh Wyllie.  Goodwin says, "Excellent," and then Spillane gives her a copy of the article.  Goodwin doesn't say anything but appears to be holding back tears, because this article is titled "Woman to Be Tried on Morphine Charge" (we are not told the date of the article or what newspaper it was published in).  Not surprisingly, Goodwin says, "Somehow this is not what I expected."  Nellie was 54 years old and had been caught with 1 1/2 ounces of morphine.  Spillane says that the amount would be significant even today and is a good indication that she probably had it to sell, not to use herself.

Goodwin assumes there were not a lot of female drug dealers.  Spillane responds that women were overrepresented as addicts, particularly in the South, and he wouldn't be surprised if some of them also distributed the drugs.  Goodwin wants to know if Spillane found any of Nellie's indictments after she was arrested, and indeed Spillane has more documents.  The first is a letter from Nellie addressed to the U.S. Attorney's office in Shreveport and dated May 8, 1934.  Nellie requested a transfer from the Shreveport to the Lake Charles Division so that she could enter a guilty plea and begin serving her sentence.  She signed as Mrs. H. Wyllie.  The second document was from the United States District Court, Western District of Louisiana.  Mrs. Hugh Wyllie was sentenced to two years at the Federal Industrial Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, starting from May 21, 1934.  I found it interesting that in the newspaper article and in both legal documents, Nellie's given name did not appear.

Goodwin wisely notes, "No wonder he didn't want us to know her name."  But why did Nellie go back to Shreveport?  Spillane says that in the early 1920's Shreveport was home to the nation's most significant clinic for narcotics addiction, and that records for the clinic still exist.  Those documents are held at Louisiana State University, not too far from where they currently are in Shreveport.  Spillane says that he can arrange for Goodwin to meet with Jim Baumohl, who can help her look through the material.  Goodwin is silent for several seconds and looks as though she is thinking it over, then grudgingly says, "Well, I should go see them."  I wonder if she would have gone if this hadn't been for a TV program.

In this interlude, Goodwin looks serious and contemplative.  She says she needs to learn if Nellie was an addict.  She considers addiction to be a disease.  If Nellie was an addict, maybe Goodwin's family won't be able to, but she can forgive Nellie.  She doesn't want to say that she feels sorry for Nellie and doesn't think she should be pitied, but views her as someone to be understood.

Still in Shreveport, Goodwin now goes to the Noel Memorial Library archives at LSU, where Jim Baumohl is waiting to help her.  (Baumohl specializes in research into urban poverty, homelessness, and social welfare.  We saw him previously on the Kelsey Grammer episode.)  For obvious dramatic effect, he has her take a heavy book down instead of having it on a table already.  It has the applications that people filled out when they wanted to come to the drug treatment clinic.

Baumohl has Goodwin look through all the W's instead of having marked a page (vicarious research?), until she reaches Mrs. Hugh Wylie.  The application is dated March 8, 1922.  Nellie (patient #710) was 43 years old and said she had been addicted to morphine for 11 years, which Goodwin notes means she started when John was 6 years old; Pearl would have been about 9 or 10 years old (actually about 11, if she's the baby mentioned in Nellie's divorce case against Duff Williams).  She originally took morphine to treat a heart condition and syphilis, which Goodwin says (and I agree) that she probably got from Al.  (When she submitted the application she was taking 10 grains of morphine each day.)

Baumohl explains that Nellie was likely prescribed morphine during the first stage of syphilis for the pain.  Baumohl adds that syphilis could not be cured until after World War II, when penicillin became available; during Nellie's time, doctors couldn't cure much but they could relieve pain.  Nellie stated that she was married and had three children (we haven't heard about a third child; where did this one come from?), and that she did want to be cured.  Her address was 210 Baker.

Goodwin pages through the book and comments on how many other women's applications are in it.  Many of them apparently said they started taking the drugs after surgery.  Baumohl says that medication addiction was ubiquitous in the South, particularly among women.

Speaking of Pearl, Goodwin finds her application in the book also, as Pearl Williams (Goodwin has to pause and remember that Williams was Pearl's father's name), dated the same day as her mother's, March 8, 1922.  She was 21 years old and lived with her mother at 210 Baker.  Goodwin and Baumohl comment on her coming in the same day as Nellie and say that they probably came together, but I think the more telling evidence is that Pearl was patient #711 and Nellie was #710.  Pearl said she had been an addict for three years and that she started when taking medication for bronchial asthma.  (She stated she began at 6 grams of morphine per day and in 1922 was taking 10 grams each day.)

Baumohl then tells Goodwin that the clinic for which these applications had been submitted closed in 1923.  Nellie and Pearl would have been patients for less than a year.  Goodwin notes that they really had no chance and wonders what would have happened if the clinic hadn't closed.  Nellie probably would not have gone to federal prison.

Baumohl also has an obituary for Nellie.  The Minden Press reported on the funeral service for Mrs. Nellie Wyllie, who had died at the age of 82.  Survivors included two sons, J. P. Wyllie (who must be that third child mentioned previously) and John B. Goodwin, and seven grandchildren, one of whom was Goodwin's father.  (The complete text of the funeral notice appears on Nellie's FindAGrave page, which is linked below.  I wonder who gave the information to the newspaper, since John was included.)  Pearl apparently died before Nellie, but nothing was said about her death during the program.  Maybe the researchers didn't find her?  Maybe they didn't look?

Goodwin talks about what Nellie faced was insurmountable.  She was prescribed drugs then struggled with them, and that's probably why she was cut off by family.  It was all a tragedy.  Goodwin is excited to tell her father what she has learned but also (understandably) anxious about how he will deal with the information.   Now that she's gone on this journey, she feels closer to Nellie.  She's amazed that at the age of 37 she has "inherited" great-grandparents (though she never refers to Al as her great-grandfather).

In the final scene, Goodwin visits Nellie's grave at the Minden cemetery and brings flowers.  The gravestone has Nellie's and Hugh's names on it.  (An interesting note per the FindAGrave page:  Nellie outlived all three of her husbands.  Also, her father's name is listed as Isaac Bart Haynes, not Will.)  Goodwin tells Nellie, "You aren't Jewish, but I am" (Goodwin's mother is Jewish, and she was raised in both of her parents' religions), and she leaves a small rock on the gravestone, explaining that the Jewish custom is so that the deceased knows a loved one has visited.

Goodwin regrets that there was no reconciliation between Nellie and John.  She concedes that it was his right to feel the way he did, but it's still sad.  She can't imagine facing everything Nellie did and not having a relationship with her own son because of it.

Questions left unresolved in this episode:  Who were the two women in the photo with Nellie?  (Was the middle-aged woman Pearl?  Maybe J. P. Wyllie's wife?)  What happened to Duff Williams, Al Goodwin, and Pearl?  You can find Duff's and Al's death dates on their FindAGrave pages, and Al's death certificate is posted, but Pearl isn't even listed as a child on Nellie's page.  Inquiring minds want to know!  As a side note, did you notice that all three of Nellie's husbands had trouble with the law?  What does that say about Nellie?  Whether deliberately or subconsciously, she appeared to make the same mistakes over and over.

This was rather a downer of a story, and Goodwin is more than a little teary throughout.  The research sources were interesting, but I was surprised that this was the lead episode for the summer season.  It made me wonder what would follow in the ensuing episodes.

New Orleans Times-Picayune,
October 29, 1930, page 4
While this episode focused on the the negative aspects of Nellie's life, I did find two newspaper articles from her time in Minden, when she served on the annual Presbyterian synodical conference committee in 1930 and 1931.  Apparently things weren't all bad all the time.  In addition, both articles referred to her as Mrs. Hugh Wyllie, so apparently Spillane didn't do a very thorough search?


  1. Hey Janice, I love your blog and your insights. Just a quick note: Pearl wasn't born before the marriage of Nellie and Duff, she says "there was a girl child born to us eight months after we were married".

    1. Hi, Eszter, thanks for the compliments and the clarification. Even when I (finally!) rewatched the episode I missed that. - Janice

  2. I was surprised too to see new episodes on again so soon. My guess is that TLC is short of programming to run because they have dumped the Duggar family and will no longer rerun any of their programs.

    1. I hadn't thought of that, as I don't watch other programming on TLC. You could be right. That could also help explain why this "season" has so few episodes.

  3. The ending was dissapointing to me . The real end of the story can be read at search John B Goodwin . I read a misquote on another side that he had a son die at 9 from an overdose . This is not true .A fireplace mantle fell on him during construction . John B. did indeed live on the streets and was a self made man .

    1. By the real end of the story, do you mean John Goodwin's professional success? I did find four articles on the Memphis Heritage site about him ( Thanks for the pointer to the site.

      Do you remember the site that had the misinformation about Goodwin's 9-year-old son's death? I'm interested in reading it.

  4. My daughter is the first born great grandchild to John B. Goodwin. I knew some of her grandfathers story but none of her great, great grandfather’s upbringing. I am particularly interested in the information concerning ties to Judaism and if anyone could elaborate on this it would be appreciated greatly..

    1. As I understood it from the episode, the ties to Judaism are only from Ginnifer Goodwin, whose mother is Jewish. I do not believe that her father's Goodwin line is Jewish in any way, at least based on what was shown in this program.


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