This episode featured Bryan Cranston. The teaser tells us that he will follow a trail of clues to a family tree full of revelations. He will find traces of disturbing patterns across generations, which will shine light on long-held secrets. (Hmm, shades of Ginnifer Goodwin?)
Instead of beginning the episode with an overview of Cranston and his career, as we've seen in previous episodes, this one opens with Cranston talking with his wife, Robin, and sister, Amy. Cranston says that if everything he finds in the family is wonderful, it will be boring. If not someone famous, he figures he will find someone infamous (standard foreshadowing, and still suggesting a story similar to Goodwin's).
Then we hear about Cranston himself. A veteran actor (Hollywood code for "been around for a long time but generally not well known"), he first became recognized for playing the father on Malcolm in the Middle but at this point has become a cultural icon for the part of Walter White on Breaking Bad. He has won five Emmy awards and one Golden Globe (all for Breaking Bad). He also won a Tony for portraying President Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way. Not mentioned was his role of dentist Tim Whatley on Seinfeld, the only program I've seen him on. Cranston lives in Los Angeles with his wife of 26 years, actress Robin Dearden.
Cranston tells us that he was born in Hollywood (actually part of Los Angeles, but his Wikipedia page says Canoga Park), the son of Joseph Louis Cranston and Audrey Anneliese Dorothea Peggy Sell (there's a mouthful). He has a wry smile as he says his mother's full name. His father was a typical actor, underemployed more than employed. The good part for the kids, though, was that they got to visit him on the sets of several television shows. Acting is the family business (though not stated, Cranston's brother and daughter have also worked as actors). His family was happy and he has fond memories of growing up, until the age of 11.
Cranston was 11 when his family went through a seismic shift, caused by his father leaving them. His father was the love of his mother's life, and she never got over his departure. The kids were profoundly affected also. From the ages of 12–22 Cranston did not see his father. His father did not have the courage to stay and meet his responsibilities, and now Cranston wonders if there are traces of that in his family. (Really? This intro was shot after the results were in, right? 'Cause that's just way too weird of a thing to wonder.)
Returning to the discussion with Robin and Amy, one of them asks Cranston what if he'ss wrong and he finds someone heroic, maybe related to a king. He says he will be greatly disappointed and is hoping for shock value. (He had to know already to come up with all of this.)
Cranston decides that to make sense of his family he needs to start where his father was born and raised: Chicago. He doesn't know any details about his paternal grandparents and thinks it will be fascinating to find out what they were like. Maybe it will also shed light on his father.
At the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) in the Ronald Williams Library of Northeastern Illinois University, Cranston meets genealogist Diane Richard (who is from North Carolina, natch). He tells her he knows little about his father: He was born July 30, 1924 in Chicago, and his parents were Edward and Alice Cranston. Richard tells him that the 1930 census is a good place to start and says he can find it on Ancestry.com (of course). The good news is that she has him look specifically in the 1930 census database, rather than the entire census database. Cranston searches for Joseph Cranston with "exact" match checked and finds a Joseph L. Cranston with parents Edward and Alice (who are living on Long Island, New York, but that isn't mentioned; so much for needing to go to Chicago). Cranston comments on the name being spelled with an "m" (it appears in the index and on the census page as "Kramstun"), and Richard explains that census enumerators wrote what they thought they heard. Cranston is surprised that the system was that imprecise.
Cranston admits that he needs to put on his glasses to read the census page, which shows father Edward B., mother Alice B., and children Edward, Joseph, and Margaret. Cranston scrolls across to read the rest of the information and notes that Edward was a veteran of the World War.
|Cranston family, 1930 census, South Huntington, Suffolk County, New York|
|Cranston family, 1920 census, Winnetka Village, Cook County, Illinois|
|Edward Bennett Cranston, World War I draft registration, June 5, 1917|
Outside, Cranston says he didn't know his grandfather had been married before and had a child. His "half-aunt" would be about 100 years old, if she were alive today. Did she have a short or a long life? Did she have children? Maybe he has a string of other relatives out there.
Beth Bailey, a "historian of the recent United States", meets Cranston, who is carrying his notebook, at the archives. She looked in the divorce index and requested some documents from remote storage, and she has them now. The first document, dated May 11, 1921, reveals that the first wife's name was Irene. She stated that she and Edward Cranston were married June 25, 1912 in Chicago. In her complaint, she said that she had been a "true, kind, affectionate and virtuous wife", which really strikes Cranston, who questions it but then realizes what he is doing and asks why he feels the need to defend his grandfather. Further in the document, Irene said that the "fruits of said marriage" was a child, Kathleen, then about 8 years old. Edward had "willfully deserted and absented himself" "for the space of two years".
Bailey hands Cranston the next document, which followed Irene's attempts to track Edward down. I think the date on the outside was April 5, 1922. Irene testified that Edward did not appear in court on July 8, 1921. She had tried to find him but was unsuccessful. He left because he did not like the responsibility of family.
In the last document, Irene said that Edward had left in June 1913 (I don't now how this relates to him having been gone "for the space of two years", as stated in the first document, because we didn't get to see the entire thing). She wanted her maiden name, Kelly, back, but the judge said that she had to keep her name because she had a child. Irene responded, "All right." I guess the fight was already out of her.
Cranston asks what happened to Kathleen: Did she have a family? Bailey responds, "I was able to find this," and hands a document to Cranston right before a cut to commercials. It looked to me like a death certificate, which was confirmed when we returned to the program. Cranston reads that she died in 1930 of tuberculosis and was a student. Cranston is sad to hear what happened to Kathleen and admits this is his "first emotional reaction" to what he has learned so far.
(They did not discuss other details on the certificate, such as the fact that Kathleen was born April 27, 1913 and died April 5, 1930 in Winnetka, Illinois. They also didn't bring up the fact that the certificate is for the death of Kathleen Ann Kelly, whose parents are given as William Kelly, born in Ireland, and Mar– [I couldn't see the rest of her name], born in Illinois. That doesn't jive with Edward Cranston and Irene Kelly, so I was wondering if this was the right person. If it was, what happened? Did Irene give her up for adoption? Since Kelly was her maiden name, was William her relative? What is going on here? You can see from the transcribed information available on FamilySearch.org that Irene Kelly was the informant, so that at least seems to connect her to Kathleen Cranston. I eventually found Irene and Kathleen in 1920 living with Irene's widowed mother Mary and was able to piece together that William and Mary Kelly were Irene's parents. Oh, and Irene and Kathleen were going by the last name of Kelly in 1920, notwithstanding what the judge ordered in 1922.)
Now Cranston wants to know where Edward went after he left Irene. Did he join the Army and fight in World War I? Did he choose going to war over being a father and husband? Bailey tells him that the archives in Springfield, Illinois have records on Illinois regiments; maybe he can find something there.
As he leaves, Cranston comments on how everything was very analytical for him until he saw Kathleen's death certificate, which was very upsetting. Though he had thought that he might find some "unsavory characteristics" in his family, he had hoped not to do so (you wouldn't have guessed that from all his earlier commentary). He believes that Edward's behavior is a link between his and Cranston's father's actions (but did Joseph Cranston ever even know about Irene and Kathleen?). Now he wants to find more information: Did Edward ever send money to Irene, or any support for Kathleen? Was Edward completely absent from their lives?
In Springfield, Cranston meets Christopher Capozzola, a political and cultural historian from MIT. (Throughout this entire segment, Capozzola had an odd little smile on his face; I think he was starstruck.) Capozzola says that lots of records were destroyed by a fire, but Cranston's grandfather's records survived. Only 20% of the World War I applications for soldier's bonuses made it through the fire. When Capozzola hands Cranston the document, Cranston notices that it's singed.
The front is labeled "Enlistment Record." Edward B. Cranston enlisted on July 7, 1917 as a private with no prior military service. "Inducted" was crossed out, so he went voluntarily, a mere three months after the United States entered World War I. (Considering the fact that this was only one month after he filled out his draft registration, with the information about the quarantine and poor eye, I'm surprised the Army took him. They weren't desperate in the beginning.)
The flip side is a certified copy of Edward's honorable discharge from the Army. His serial number was 1393763, and he was a private, engineers unassigned, which Capozzola explains would have been dirty, heavy construction work and digging trenches. The men would have been ahead of the rest of the army, and it would have been dangerous. (We also see that Edward was in Company D, 106th Engineers and that he was with the AEF in France, at Somme and Meuse Argonne.) For vocation, Edward had listed actor, which surprises Cranston, who apparently didn't bother reading all of the information on Edward's draft registration card. (That, or it's all acting on Cranston's part. Naw, couldn't be that, could it?)
Cranston says he wants to go back to something on the form and reads where Edward said he was single, commenting, "He is an actor." He asks Capozzola about it, who says that's simply what Edward said when asked. It mattered because the Army took part of the salary of married soldiers and sent it to their dependents. This meant that families didn't starve, because soldiers couldn't spend all of their pay on carousing and the like. Cranston and Capozzola agree that this was probably an attempt on Edward's part to keep all of his money for himself. Capozzola says that's all he knows about Edward; to go back further, Cranston will need to talk to a genealogist.
Cranston is now somewhat torn about his feelings for his grandfather. Edward enlisted, a noble act, but said he was single, probably to deprive Irene and Kathleen of money. So it was two steps forward and one step back. Cranston won't be surprised if there are more secrets to learn. (Gee, you think?)
Still in Springfield, Cranston meets again with genealogist Diane Richard, who "had some success" with additional research. She has found Edward Cranston with his parents—Cranston's great-grandparents—in the 1910 census (not difficult at all for me; did Richard actually have a problem finding it?). Edward's parents were Daniel J. and Margaret J. Cranston, and brothers Louis R. and Arthur D. are also in the household (though Louis doesn't merit a mention on screen). It is pointed out that the census indicates that Daniel's father and Margaret's father were born in Ireland (not stated is that Daniel was born in Canada, his mother was born in England, and Margaret and her mother were born in Ireland).
|Cranston family, 1910 census|
Cranston notices that Daniel was born in Montreal and says he didn't know about that connection. I couldn't tell if he was referring specifically to Montreal or if he meant Canada in general, but the census had shown Daniel was born in Canada, even though Cranston and Richard didn't discuss it on air. The death certificate also says that Daniel was a retired brush manufacturer (this occupation was shown on the 1910 census). Cranston wants to know how to learn more about Daniel, and Richard says he should go to Montreal, to Notre-Dame Basilica, which has an archive of baptismal records. (So we'll accept that Montreal is correct and send Cranston to Canada but question the accuracy of the statement that his father was born in England. Nothing like making it obvious what they've already checked!)
Cranston is a little more cheerful after leaving Richard this time. Daniel appears to be an honorable man who stayed with his family, so not all of his ancestors are reprobates.
At Notre-Dame Basilica (looking at it reminds me of when I attended mass at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris), Cranston is met by Janice (what a great name!) Harvey, a historian at Dawson College. He tells her he is looking for information on his great-grandfather Daniel Cranston, born in 1849. Harvey says that the church archives have documents going back to 1642. She has Cranston pull a book down from a shelf but then says she "put a marker in the book". So why bother putting it back on the shelf? Is it that great of a camera shot to show him lugging it over to the table?
When Cranston turns to the conveniently marked page, he looks down the page to find the baptismal record of Daniel James Cranston. Harvey has a translation handy (probably a good thing). Daniel was baptized on February 24, 1849 and was born about five months before that (so he was actually born in 1848). His father was Joseph Cranston, carpenter, absent, and his mother was Sarah McLeod. (The sponsors were Matthew Kelly and Mary Delahoide.) Cranston immediately focuses on the fact that Daniel's death certificate said that his father's name was Henry. Harvey explains that there were fewer than five Cranston families in the city, and Joseph was the only one married to a McLeod, so she's sure it's the right person. There's some discussion about the possibility that Henry was his middle name, but nothing about the fact that death certificates are primarily full of second-hand information that depends on the knowledge and memory of the informant.
|Daniel James Cranston 1849 baptism|
So what is Cranston's next "stepping stone" for more information on his ancestor? Harvey admits she tried to find information about Joseph and Sarah and was unable to do so. She does have a copy of the 1861 Canada East census, however. It shows D. (Daniel) Cranston as an "inmate", causing Cranston to ask if Daniel was in prison. Things weren't quite that bad—he was in the Ladies Benevolent Institution, for children of families unable to support them.
|D. (Daniel) Cranston, 1861 Canada East census (edited image)|
That's all fine and good, but Cranston wants to know where Joseph was and how to find him. Harvey repeats that he was not in Canadian records but suggests checking Ancestry.com, which has data from several other countries (gee, will he be in the U.S.?). They go to the conveniently placed computer, and Harvey has Cranston use the "search all" page (shudder!) for Joseph Cranston, making a "guesstimate" that he would have been in his mid-20's when Daniel was born and therefore born about 1825, in Ireland. This search was done without "exact" checked for the matches, and surprisingly, the fifth hit is Joseph H. Cranston, born about 1826 in Armagh, Ireland (an Orangeman?), in a record from the U.S. National Home for Disabled Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio.
The first thing that Cranston notices on Joseph's record is an enlistment in April 1861, which he notes was the time of the Civil War. Another of his ancestors left his family to go to war. Joseph actually enlisted three separate times; he left Canada and joined the Illinois 23rd, the Illinois 39th (signing up in Missouri), and the Pennsylvania 26th. Apparently he liked being a soldier, or he felt it was the only alternative he had. At the close of the war he was discharged. On September 1, 1883 he was admitted to the soldiers' home.
|Joseph H. Cranston's record from the U.S. National Home for Disabled Soldiers|
Finally, the record says that Joseph died on March 4, 1889 and that his personal effects on death were $0.25 (yup, that''s all!). (It also says that the cause of death was "Said to be from inhaling Gas", but we'll ignore that for now, shall we?) Cranston asks if he might find more information at the Home for Disabled Soldiers in Dayton. Does it still exist? Conveniently, it does.
Cranston visits the church sanctuary before he leaves. (Why is he wearing shorts in there? I was taught that was sacrilegious.) With the basilica behind him, Cranston comments on the amount of abandonment by the Cranston men and wonders if there's something in their DNA (please!). His father followed the pattern of his great-great-grandfather Joseph (well, and so did his grandfather Edward, at least with his first marriage, but let's not forget Daniel, who was a good guy, married 41 years in the 1910 census!). He thinks of Joseph being called "dissipated" as meaning that he was no longer a man, that he was gone.
And off we go to Dayton, where the former Home for Disabled Soldiers became the Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center. Cranston is thinking about how his great-great-grandfather enlisted three times, which normally evokes glory and honor, but he sympathizes with the women his ancestors left behind. The men's behavior was less than honorable in the end. Sarah and Irene took the harder road and stayed; they are the more noble parts of his bloodline (what about his own mother?). Now he wants to learn how his Joseph spent the last chapter of his life.
In the VA Center, Cranston is greeted by Tessa Kalman, a visual information specialist there (though this page credits her as the archives manager). In the patient library, Kalman shows Cranston a photograph of several soldiers. All the men were disabled and probably spent their last days there in the home.
Cranston knows that Joseph died in Dayton but wants to know the cause. Was it related to the war? (Oh, I'm sorry, didn't you read everything on that soldiers' home record?) Kalman has found an article in an old, very musty, delicate book (but doesn't make Cranston wear conservator's gloves, hooray!). Cranston opens the book to the Dayton Daily Democrat of Saturday, March 2, 1889 and reads the title of the article, "Blew Out the Gas and 'Slept the Sleep That Knows No Waking'", right before a cut to commercials. (I at first thought that it might have been suicide but then saw the word "intoxicated".)
Cranston reads through most of the article, and I pieced more together by rewatching the scenes, but I wasn't able to get everything. As far as I can tell, the Daily Democrat is not online anywhere.
And "Slept the Sleep That Knows No Waking" at the Union House on Second street
On Thursday night [April 30] two soldiers, aged 60 years respectively, came to town from the Home, and after walking about for a time, becoming more or less intoxicated, went to the Union House on Second street, between Jefferson and St. Clair, and asked for a room. The clerk gave them a room on the second floor, and they retired, requesting not to be aroused early, but to be allowed to sleep late. Nothing more was thought of them until yesterday [March 1] about 11 o'clock, when the landlord went to their room to call them, so that they could be ready for dinner. On hearing no response from the inside, the landlord opened the door. To his surprise he found the room full of gas and the two men lying on the bed in a lifeless condition.
Dr. Von Klein was called, and the coroner, Dr. S. P. Drayer, was notified.
The men were examined, and one of them, named J. H. Cranston, was dead. He had papers in his pockets that showed he was a member of Company B, Thirty-ninth Illinois volunteer infantry, and that he was granted permission to come to town on Thursday.
The other man whose name was learned from — (and that's all I could get, but I think I saw that the other man's name may have been Charles)
(One of the first things I noticed is that the newspaper article is dated March 2, Joseph apparently died on March 1, yet the Soldiers' Home record says he died March 4. Neither Kalman nor Cranston brings this up.)
Cranston asks about the gas; Kalman thinks it was probably CO2 poisoning. So Joseph died unceremoniously, not due to injuries or from being broken-down.
Kalman also has found Joseph's grave record. For next of kin, it says "unknown". Kalman says that Joseph is buried there at the VA, several hundred yards from where the two of them are sitting. Cranston is very subdued but does want to see the grave.
In the cemetery (Joseph's gravestone can be seen on FindAGrave), Cranston muses over the fact that his great-great-grandfather died in a boarding house while he was drunk. The death could have been suicide, but he probably won't ever know. He does know that Joseph was disconnected from his family and got what he had worked hard for: He was alone. In an odd, bizarre way, he had been successful. Cranston thinks he got what he deserved.
He's learned a lot about his father's side of the family and the men who were born with suitcases in their hands (but let's not forget that trait skipped Daniel). It's sad as a child to be abandoned. We learn from our parents: In the best of circumstances we learn how to become whole human beings; in the worst, they teach us what not to do. Cranston learned from his family how not to live; he didn't want to be like his father. Families give us patterns we can follow, or we can choose to go in another direction. This pattern stops with him.