Monday, April 11, 2016

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Aisha Tyler

So, Who Do You Think You Are? is back, and I'm already running behind!  Not a good way to start the season.  I barely finished scribbling my notes for the first episode (after rewatching it three times) a couple of hours before the second episode aired, and I couldn't write the post before that.  Ah, well, I have all week to try to catch up.

This season's celebrities for the most part are unknown to me.  I know who Molly Ringwald and Katey Sagal are, and that's it.  I guess I'll be learning about the others as their stories are aired.

The teaser for Aisha Tyler, the season opener, said that she would be learning about her mother's family history.  One ancestor had shocking beliefs, while another refused to be held down.  We would see an extraordinary story about celebrating victory and courage over adversity.

I now know that Aisha Tyler has had an accomplished, wide-ranging entertainment career as a comedian, actor, host, producer, author, and director.  She apparently first made a mark in Friends (a program I never saw while it was being aired in first run, and oh!, she was in a total of nine episodes) and who is also known for her work on The Talk (never seen it), Whose Line Is It Anyway? (only watched the original, British, better version; apparently she's hosting the third iteration), and Criminal Minds (used to watch it but stopped a few years ago, well before she joined the cast).  She also has a Podcast called Girl on Guy (never heard of it).  (Yes, I feel old, thank you.)  She lives and works in Los Angeles (at least I used to live there!).

Tyler begins by telling us that she is a workaholic.  She's curious about how she arrived at her outlook on life and figures it must be a legacy of the relatives who came before her.  I found it interesting that we did not see any of her family members in the episode.

Tyler was born in San Francisco, California.  Her parents are James Herman Tyler and Robin Adair Gregory, both of whom were dream-driven.  When Tyler was about 10 years old her parents divorced.  (She did not mention it in the episode, but her Wikipedia write-up says that she lived with her father after that.)  Her parents were very different:  Her father was a hard-driving, rugged, motorcycle-riding badass, while her mother was an elegant, artistic, intellectual painter who attended Howard.  (Yeah, that's pretty different.)

Tyler has heard a fair amount of family stories about her mother's side.  She realizes that some are probably true, while others are likely apocryphal.  Her mother suggested that she write to her great-aunt Sheila Gregory Thomas, her mother's father's sister, for information, as she is the family historian.  Tyler has apparently received a letter from her aunt in response, although the envelope she opens on camera has no writing or stamp on it.  (Maybe little elves delivered it.)  She reads portions of the letter, but I have transcribed it in its entirety here.  The letter was typed and unsigned.

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Dear Aisha

     It's so exciting to know that you will be on a journey to uncover further information regarding our family history!  There is so much more I am curious about, so I hope you'll be able to find the answers.  Meanwhile, I believe the following information may be helpful to you.

     My father, Thomas Montgomery Gregory — your maternal great grand father — graduated from Harvard in 1910, at a time when, as you can imagine, there were very few Black students.

     He went on to teach English, drama, and debating at Howard University, and also founded and directed the Howard Players, a significant African American theater troupe.  His father, James Monroe Gregory — your maternal 2x great grandfather — was born free in Virginia in 1849, graduated from Howard in 1872, and went on to become an important advocate for Black education in America.  He was a protégé of Frederick Douglass.

     My mother, Hugh Ella Hancock Gregory, who of course was your maternal great grand mother, was born in 1896.  She was also well-educated — she attended Fisk University, which as you know, is a Historically Black College like Howard.

     Sadly, although our research on our family ancestry has produced a great amount of detail regarding the Gregory side, my mother's history is fuzzier.

     Her father, your 2x great grand father, Hugh Berry Hancock, attended school in Oberlin, Ohio in the 1860s and early 1870s.  After many years of marriage and raising a family, Hugh and hiw wife, Susie James, separated.

     When Hugh died, my mother was just a teenager and she had not seen him for some time.  These circumstances left a gap in our personal knowledge about him.  My theory is that Hugh became something of a rolling stone and wanted everyone to roll along with him, but that Susie wanted more stability for their family.  I have enclosed a photo of Hugh, the only one our family has left.

     There is a marvelous proverb, which I believe is African:  "When an old person dies, it is like a library burning down."  I wish I had asked my mother more about Hugh before she passed away.

     Happy hunting, Aisha!

     Aunt Sheila

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Tyler did not read the sections about James Monroe Gregory, the "fuzzier" comment about Sheila's mother's side of the family, Hugh possibly being a "rolling stone", or the paragraph about the proverb (which has been attributed to several origins, not only Africa) out loud.

Tyler notices that Hugh, who is clearly light-complected in the photo, looks a lot like her own mother.  She is excited and loves adventure, and is looking forward to learning about the people who came before her.  She "decides" (i.e., the producers told her) to go to Oberlin, Ohio, the only place she knows that Hugh lived, to start her research.  (Of course, she doesn't actually know that he lived there, only that her great-aunt said he was there.  But we'll take Aunt Sheila at her word, won't we?)

She goes to the Mudd Center at Oberlin College, probably to the library, and meets with Christi Smith, whose unusual on-screen credit reads "Author, Reparation and Reconciliation, Oberlin College."  (She was a visiting professor at Oberlin as of the writing of this post, but the book was published by the University of North Carolina Press.)  She tells Smith that she knows her great-great-grandfather Hugh Berry Hancock attended Oberlin (which she doesn't; again, she was merely told that by her aunt) and that she wants to learn more about his time there.  But we wouldn't be at Oberlin if Hancock hadn't been there himself at some time, right?  So Smith brings out a college catalog from 1872–1873.  An alphabetical list of names includes Hugh B. Hancock of Austin, Texas.

This is Tyler's first surprise:  She had no idea her ancestor was from Texas.  Smith then turns to the page for the department Hancock was in, which was the Preparatory Department.  She explains it prepared students for college, the ministry, and other areas.  The students were older than high school but not quite college-aged (my mental analogy was what junior colleges used to be like).

From this the two women go to the computer and (only eight minutes into the episode!) to learn more about Hancock.  Smith has Tyler go to the main census search page and search for Hugh Hancock in Oberlin, Ohio with exact match off.  They get seven results, the top two of which appear to be Tyler's Hugh Hancock.  (That's funny, because when I do that exact same search, I have 456,202 results.  Clicking on 1800's only brings the total down to 273,047, so I don't know how they got it down to seven.  At least when I restricted it to 1800's the two with Tyler's Hugh Hancock were at the top of my list also.)

Smith suggests that Tyler look at the earlier census first (not the right way to do research!).  The page shows a 5-year-old Hugh "Handcock" (actually transcribed by Ancestry as Handtock).  (Hey, that means he was only 17 years old when he was at Oberlin in 1872!  Hmm, that sounds like high-school age to me.)  Looking down the "race" column, Tyler discovers Hancock is listed as mulatto, which really surprises her.  She comments that it's a word not used much nowadays and that the politically correct term would be bi- or multiracial.  Smith points out that the main thing to keep in mind is that it means he had at least one white ancestor.

United States 1860 Census, Oberlin, Lorain County, Ohio
page 71 (handwritten)/218 (stemped), enumerated June 23, 1860

The next thing that Tyler fixes on is that Hancock was born in Texas, which means he was born into slavery, but that he is now living in Ohio, a free state.  He is in a household with several other people, including some Pattersons, but with no one else of the same surname.  Smith explains that the Pattersons were a black family who ran a boarding house.  They had students and others who lived there.

Tyler looks distressed and says it's clear from the "register" (census) that Hancock was not living with any parent or relative (which is not actually true; the 1860 census does not list relationships, so someone in the household could have been related and simply not had the same name, such as a remarried mother, a cousin, etc.).  She wants to know how he got to Oberlin from Texas.  Smith tells her that Oberlin was an important point on the Underground Railroad, and that in 1860 about 20% of the population was black.

From that Smith makes the leap to suggest that maybe someone had posted an ad about Hancock if he had run away.  (Um, a 5-year-old running away by himself?  Yeah, she's reaching.)  She tells Tyler to search on (yes, owned by Ancestry) to see what she can find.  She has Tyler search for hugh hancock and the word "mulatto" in Oberlin, Ohio.  (No, of course she doesn't know what Tyler will find!  How could you think such a thing?)  Amazingly enough (you're surprised, right?), the New Castle Index of New Castle, Pennsylvania, dated November 3, 1880, has a short note about Hancock and the possibilities being discussed about his parentage:

New Castle Index, November 3, 1880, page 4

The two men being bandied about as the possible father were General W. S. Hancock (the W. S. stood for Winfield Scott, a name I came across in my Emma Schafer research) and Old John Hancock.  The general was at the time a U.S. presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  Tyler says that the Republicans at that time were the socially progressive party, which Smith confirms, but then she says that the party was opposed to rights for blacks, which I could not understand in the context of what they were discussing.  About Old John Hancock, Smith says, "I've got nothing!"  At the time he was probably well known enough that no explanation was needed in the article, but that doesn't help now.

The article doesn't draw any conclusions about which man might actually be Hancock's father, so Tyler asks how she can find out which was her 3x-great-grandfather (without allowing for the possibility that it might have been neither).  Smith points out that the dateline for the article is Cleveland, Ohio and that the article says a reporter for the Leader, a Cleveland newspaper, was investigating the question.  She tells Tyler that she should go to the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland to see if maybe a longer article was published in the Leader.

As Tyler leaves Oberlin, she says she has questions about Hancock and which man, the general or "Old John", was his father.  She's hoping for the general, not Old John, whom she is sure was famous for holding up the corner of the bar.  She also figures that it will probably be the general because that would make for better television.  (Ah, I see I'm not the only person who understands "TV logic.")

We next see Tyler in Cleveland at the Western Reserve Historical Society, where she meets Daina Ramey Berry (we saw her in the Alfre Woodard episode).  Berry has a real, historic copy of the Cleveland Leader from October 29, 1880 for Tyler to look at.  (And I was happy to see they did not handle the newspaper with conservator's gloves.)  As Tyler pages through the issue looking for her great-great-grandfather's name, she finds it at the top of a page in large type.  (The article itself runs the entire length of the page and over to the next column.  It's available online at, but I guess Ancestry was only willing to allow them on screen, albeit uncredited, in one episode.)

Cleveland Leader, October 29, 1880, page 5

Tyler reads bits and pieces of the article.  The upshot is that after the Leader reporter researched the matter, Old John Hancock seems to be the father of Hugh, rather than the presidential candidate.  The article also has some information about Hugh Hancock's apparent mother and brother, with whom he was said to have come to Oberlin.  The brother died and the mother was not seen again; no one seemed to know whether she had died or left Oberlin.  And somehow Hugh Hancock ended up in the Patterson boarding house.

Tyler is struck by the tragedy that Hancock had already experienced by the time he was five, with his brother dying and his mother gone.  She also wonders how the family would have gotten to Oberlin.  Berry suggests that one way would have been via the Underground Railroad, but it's also possible that Hancock's father might have paid for them to leave.  Tyler had been hoping to learn the name of her 3x-great-grandmother also, but it is not given in the article.  Berry says she was probably a slave.  (Do any documents survive from Old John?  If so, did the family not feel inclined to work with the show's producers?  I'll revisit this point later.)

Tyler at this point was refreshingly direct.  Whereas previous celebrities, the first time they are confronted with some evidence of their ancestor's enslavement, have been very dramatic, she simply matter-of-factly said it was true and there's no whitewashing the fact.  The "cruel but intimate institution" of slavery meant that if the mother was a slave, her children were slaves.

Taking the article at its word, Berry tells Tyler that to learn more on Old John, she'll need to go to Texas.  The Texas State Library in Austin should have information about him, as he was a state congressman and socially prominent.  Tyler finds some solace in the fact that Austin has a "treasure trove of barbecue."

Tyler is happy that she has learned the name of her 3x-great-grandfather.  The last 48 hours have been exciting and overwhelming.  She's learned some good and bad:  Old John was a congressman, but she believes he was a slave owner.  She isn't devastated, she just wants to know more.

Something odd that caught my eye was when they showed a sign outside the historical society building.  It had the name, Western Reserve Historical Society, and the address, 10825 East Boulevard, and then what looked like two lines of text that were blurred out of focus.  It's a public sign; it probably has something like the hours and maybe the phone number of the society.  Why in the world would they need to obscure that?

Anyway, off to Texas we go!  As she heads toward the Texas State Library and Archives, Tyler says that Berry recommended she speak to Kim Kellison regarding her search for John Hancock.  Of course, Kellison (a "Historian of the South" at Baylor University) is inside waiting to greet her.  Tyler tells her she wants to know more about Old John, his life, and his relationship with Hugh.  Kellison has of course found something:  an article from the December 20, 1865 issue of the Galveston Weekly News, which they look at on microfilm.  I can't find that newspaper online at Chronicling America, GenealogyBank, Newspaper Archive,, or anywhere else, but here's a transcription of the article.

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Judge Hancock's Speech

In compliance with the request of many of our citizens the Honorable John Hancock delivered an address to the people of San Antonio, last evening, suggesting many idea[s] for them to cogitate upon, now that they will soon be called upon to act for themselves in a very important capacity.  We have not time to more than briefly allude to several of the prominent subjects that he discussed, nor have we the space in order to give justice to the speaker.  The address was a masterly effort and we do not think that we go far amiss in saying that the sentiments entertained by Judge Hancock met a response in the breast of every man present who had a desire for his country's welfare.

He thought that so far as disagreements in regard to the war and what brought it on were concerned we should let the past bury the dead, seize the present, and calmly and dispassionately consider the future.  He was anxious to get rid of the military, saying that whenever it became necessary to rule this country by force of arms, from that day would date the downfall of the Republic.  He considered the Provisional government equally "damnable," and although approving the course of the administration of Andrew Johnson as far as it had been developed, yet he thought the people of Texas, who were the only ones that did not lay down their arms at the point of the bayonet, had been badly treated in not being allowed three months ago to assume their original position in the Union.

He illustrated his views on the "negro suffrage" question, when called upon to express them by saying that when he became in favor of letting a mule vote, that he would give the suffrage to the negro.  At the close he paid a glowing tribute to Lee, S--ney Jackson, Stonewall Jackson, Sherman and Grant.  There was never a time during war at which he would not have been willing to have referred the matters in dispute between the North and the South to the decisions of these true men.  As we have said, the subjects were too numerous to admit of mention at present–; we may recur to them again.—San Antonio Herald.

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Tyler asks if this speech was made after Emancipation.  Kellison confirms that and explains that the war ended in May of 1865.  Judge Hancock is discussing how to move forward.  Blacks cannot yet vote.  In his speech Hancock made clear his opinion of blacks by comparing them to mules in terms of when they should be allowed to vote.  This sets Tyler off, who talks about the rampant hypocrisy among pro-slavery whites:  Blacks were good enough to take care of their homes and their children, feed their families, and be available for sex but shouldn't have freedom and be able to vote.  Judge Hancock had fathered children with a black woman, paid for his son's education, apparently bought him a ranch, and maybe even paid to move the family out of Texas, but still could compare blacks to mules. What it came down to was that the white Southerners wanted to hold on to the power they had had.

The narrator steps in with additional information for the only time this episode.  In 1870 black men gained the right to vote and made other steady gains in freedom.  This caused increased racial tension, which led to a backlash from white supremacists and to the rise of the KKK.  Intimidation and violence toward blacks rose, along with lynchings of black men.  By the early 1880's the rights that had been granted to blacks were being taken back.  The pushback created a dangerous environment in the South, which would have affected Hugh Hancock.

Tyler wonders why Hugh would have gone back to Texas.  It was a very dangerous time to be black in the South.  Kellison says that they might find more information in newspapers and that they should go upstairs.  They find a lone laptop sitting all by itself on a table, ready and waiting for them.  Tyler gets to visit for a second time, as Kellison says guilelessly that it has an "amazing array of newspapers from this time period."  She has Tyler use the advanced search and type in hugh hancock, and Austin, Texas for the location, then "suggests" that Tyler "pick a range maybe to look for" of 1875–1885 and "let's see what pops up."  (Aren't there scriptwriters anywhere in Hollywood who need work?  They have to be able to write better than this.)

So yes, surprise, surprise, something comes up that Kellison points Tyler to:  a short note in the Austin Weekly Statesman of June 19, 1884.  On the front page, in a section titled "Recorder's Court", is an item that says Hugh Hancock pled guilty to assault and battery and was fined $10 plus court costs.

Austin Weekly Statesman, June 19, 1884, page 1

There is no other information.  Tyler comments that if you were biracial in Texas at that time that you easily might encounter provocative situations.  Tyler doesn't ask, but Kellison says she thinks the next step should be for her to go to the Travis County Archives, which has many court records and other documents, to see if there's something about the case.

In this departure interlude, Tyler says it was jarring to find out that her 3x-great-grandfather was a white supremacist.  He was shameless, and she is disgusted by it.  Old John provided Hugh a ranch, but why go back to a place where he would be so unwelcome?  Even though Hugh was fined for the assault and battery, she doesn't think that's the entire story.  She figures that if you were a proud black man in Texas in the late 1880's, sometimes someone would need a box in the mouth.  I can't disagree with that!

As she drives to the Travis County Archives, Tyler says that she doesn't know yet who Hugh Berry Hancock is.  She has a lot of information, but she needs to learn more.  At the archives she meets Christine Sismondo, a social historian from York University, who says she has good news and bad news.  She has not been able to find any additional information about the assault and battery case because no court records from prior to 1890 have survived.  (That's definitely disappointing, but then why bother making such a big deal of the newspaper item?)  The good news is that she has found something else.  She gives Tyler a copy of a page from the 1885 Austin city directory, which includes listings for saloons.  Tyler has a lot of fun reading the names of the bars and giving running commentary.  She hits the Black Republican at 424 E. Pecan and thinks that sounds like a great name, then notices that the owner is Hugh Hancock.  (No comment is made about the "(c)" following his name, indicating he is "colored.")

Tyler seems to think it's pretty cool that her ancestor owned a saloon and wonders if Black Elephant could have been a reference to the Republican Party.  Sismondo says that the elephant was established as the symbol of the party in about 1875, so it's a good possibility.  She adds that a lot of politics happened in saloons:  talking about it, organizing, rallies, and sometimes being used as polling stations.  Tyler comments that Old John was against blacks being able to vote, so Hugh naming the saloon the Black Elephant could have been a grand act of defiance against his father.

Sismondo brings up the fact that saloons were important in the black community because blacks were not able to meet in a town hall.  Instead they got together at church and in saloons.  Tyler wonders if maybe Hugh had come back to Texas to help advance black rights.  Sismondo goes on to say that saloons like this became targets for white supremacists and were shut down repeatedly, because whites did not want blacks to move up to the middle class.

All of this led Tyler to question whether Hugh was active in politics.  Sismondo says she doesn't know about Texas politics but that she has a colleague who can help.  She adds that she has something else interesting about the Black Elephant but needs to know if Tyler has time for a field trip.  (C'mon, say no!)  They go to a building for which carefully chosen camera angles guarantee no identifying information is shown on screen.  It was the location of the Black Elephant saloon, it's the original building — and it's still a bar.  Tyler is thrilled and says, "It's just about the coolest thing I've ever seen."

(The bar is called Buckshot.  The address is the same, but the street was renamed East 6th.  Buckshot has a Facebook page but doesn't appear to have its own Web site.  It is listed with the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, though.)

Coming out of this segment, Tyler has still been thinking about why Hugh Hancock came back to Texas.  Now she wonders if one reason he did so because he felt it was his right to live freely and openly in the state he ws born in, to take his personal freedoms and control them himself.

The next segment had to be the following day, because Tyler talks about how yesterday she visited the bar.  Bars were places for people to gather and where they could talk about politics.  Maybe Hancock had helped organize politics.  Had he been involved in politics himself?  Or maybe been a conduit for others to organize?

Sismondo had said that she had a colleague who could help Tyler look into possible political aspects of Hancock's life.  That colleague turns out to be Tyina (somehow pronounced "too-WAN-na") Steptoe, a historian at the University of Arizona, who meets Tyler at the George Washington Carver Museum's Genealogy Center (not credited on screen, but I'm pretty good at reading tiny writing).  Tyler tells Steptoe she wants to know what kind of person Hancock was.  Was he involved in politics?  Was he a Republican?  Is that why he called his saloon the Black Elephant?

Steptoe hands Tyler a rolled-up piece of paper, which turns out to be an oversized copy of a newspaper page.  The New York Tribune of March 29, 1896 published an article about the Republican Party national convention in St. Louis, which included a list of the delegates from around the country.  And yes, Hugh B. Hancock is on that list (near the bottom of the image below).  The women note that Hancock is listed as colored but not that he voted for a losing candidate.  (This newspaper is actually on, but I guess they figured that the oversized copy was more dramatic.)

New York (Daily) Tribune, March 29, 1896, page 3

In 1896 Hancock was about 41 years old.  He probably had family, because Tyler's grandmother, Hugh Ella, was born about 1896.  (And if the research had included a full census survey of the family, they'd probably know more about that.)

Tyler asks how involved blacks were in Republican politics at this point.  Steptoe explains that by the 1890's the Republican Party had stepped back somewhat from its platform of rights for blacks.  She says it was rare to see blacks play a major part in party politics at this time and that many Southern states had been "disfranchising" (actually disenfranchising) black voters.  It is significant that Hancock was a delegate in 1896, which made him one of the last black men active in party politics for a while.

Tyler wants to know if there's anything after 1896, and Steptoe says she has one more document.  This is a copy of Hancock's obituary from the Pocatello (Idaho) Tribune.  The date is not shown, but Steptoe says it's from 1910.  (Unfortunately, Idaho didn't start recording deaths at the state level until July 1911.)  This is another paper I can't find anywhere online, so I've transcribed the text for everyone.

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Funeral Tomorrow.—Mrs. H. B. Hancock and Miss B. M. Hancock, wife and daughter of H. B. Hancock, who died here recently at the Pocatello hospital, arrived in the Gate City to take charge of the remains.  Mrs. Hancock has charge of the department of domestic science in one of the state institutions of Texas.  The body will be buried here temporarily.  The funeral will take place at 2 p. m. Thursday, from Lindquist's chapel.  All friends are invited.  Mr. Hancock was a man who at one time was held in the highest esteem by the people of Austin, Tex.  He was born there in June, 1855, and graduated with honor at Oberlin, Ohio.  After leaving there he returned to Austin and taught school, finally embarking in business and in the zenith of his power, financial and political, he was elected a member of the board of aldermen, and chairman of the congressional district, a position which he filled with credit and distinction for ten years.  He married Miss Susie James, a reputable and estimable lady of Austin, November, 1879.  She survives him and four children, the issue of a happy marriage.

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Tyler realizes Hancock was only 55 years old when he died.  She also notes that his wife and daughter came to get him and remembered the family information that he and Susie had separated after many years.  (Nothing is said about the reference to Hancock graduating with honors from Oberlin, which the previous research indicates is incorrect.  But almost everyone's life improves in an obituary.)  She says, "Every time I learn something I want to learn more," but Steptoe has no more documents for her.  What she does have is an address — 1717 West Avenue — which she says will be of interest to Tyler.

As she drives to West Avenue Tyler thinks about what she has learned regarding Hugh Hancock.  He was successful, enterprising, brave, and pioneering, qualities which may have trickled down to her.

At the address Steptoe gave her is a house, in front of which is a marker from the Texas Historical Commission.  It is the Hugh B. Hancock House!

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Texas Historical Commission
Official Historic Marker

Hugh B. Hancock House
Built in 1886, this house was originally located on 7th Street in the Robertson Hill area of East Austin.  It was constructed for Hugh B. Hancock, a successful black businessman of the city.  In 1904 it was sold to German native Charles Frederick Mann, a local railroad engineer, and it remained in his family until 1959.  Built in the Victorian style with classical ornamentation, the residence was moved to this location in 1979.
Record Texas Historic Landmark — 1981

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Tyler appears less excited about the house, which she calls a lovely discovery, than she was about the bar.  She says it's cool to be at his house and nice to know that Austin remembers him.  She looks at the house and walks around the outside a little, but that was it.

Tyler enjoyed finding out about Hancock, a man who refused to be held back.  She herself has lived a relatively unfettered life; if she has wanted to do something, she has gone out and done it.  It's nice to know she descends from someone with the same attitude.  She feels very lucky.

I was a little surprised that the program did not visit inside either Hancock's old bar or his former house, both of which would probably have been interesting for Tyler.  We've certainly seen people do something similar for previous episodes, such as with Angie Harmon and Melissa Etheridge.  I wonder if they were not pursued by the producers, or if the current owners didn't want to participate.  It could be that neither building's interior had anything left that was relevant to Hancock's history with it.  The celebrity and the historic person being black, and the location being Texas, however, I'm a little more inclined toward the owners not wanting to be involved.  That was also in my mind as far as identifying Hugh's mother was concerned.  Since Old John Hancock was such a prominent individual, and he apparently funded Hugh at different times in his life, I would expect that he probably kept good records of his financial transactions.  If the story about Hugh arriving in Oberlin with his supposed mother and brother were true, then a slave who suddenly disappeared from Old John's taxable lists in Texas at that time would be a good candidate for the mother, wouldn't she?  But maybe the family has that information and didn't want to share?  I remember feeling something like that was the case with the brick wall on Emmitt Smith's research the very first season of WDYTYA.

The political story the program chose to highlight was when Hugh was a delegate to the national convention, but nothing was shown about when he ran for an office himself.  In 1882 he ran for the position of hide inspector in Travis County, as reported in the Austin Statesman of November 9 and 16.  An article from September 14 said that the contest was between Hugh and the incumbent, Richard Warren, but they both lost to someone named Sheehan.

I was happy to see that Ancestry has retired its commercial showing the wrong draft registration, but now everything's pushing its DNA testing.  When will people learn that it's just not that reliable for a lot of information (or, as Judy Russell says, it's only "cocktail party conversation")?  On the other hand, TLC's other programming is just so awful, the Ancestry DNA commercials shine in comparison.

It's starting to look as though TLC has a formula of sorts for its mix of celebrities, although it isn't consistent.  The first two seasons everyone was white, but since then we've had one person of color each time (Julie Chen, Alfre Woodard, and Aisha Tyler).  The first three seasons had an LGBT celeb (Jim Parsons, Cynthia Nixon, and Melissa Etheridge) but none in season 4 or 5.  Every season except 2 has had at least one celebrity who has known Jewish ancestry (Chelsea Handler, Tony Goldwyn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Katey Sagal, and Lea Michele).  I realize a lot is dependent on what they find, whether a celebrity wants to follow through, etc., but it's interesting to see what kinds of bases the program is trying to cover.


  1. Great Review as always! I've noticed that genealogy shows tend to find celebrities that have something or someone in common. The show, ' Finding Your Roots' tends to do that more consistently. Of course they will always highlight the great things about an ancestor- just like families do! hahahha
    Ah, by the way, I found a good episode about Jewish ancestry on the UK version that you can watch on Youtube. Search for June Brown.
    Oh and another thing. I had my DNA tested for fun as a Christmas present to myself last year. I really didn't expect to learn anything about my ancestry that I didn't already know but I was curious :D I began to cast doubt about the processing and accuracy when Ancestry asked me to update my tree as quickly as possible while they processed my DNA. Red-flag? I think so. I felt as though they really only viewed my tree to determine my ancestry. I enjoyed reading the accompanying historical information but I really hope that the DNA information will become more accurate as the pool of submissions increases.

    1. It's interesting that you mentioned "Finding Your Roots." I've commented before about whether the show deliberately looks for celebrities that fit a theme or if they choose the themes based on how research turns out. I don't think they'll volunteer that information.

      Thanks for the pointer to June Brown. I haven't heard of her before so probably wouldn't have looked for her program.

      As easy as it is to cast aspersion on Ancestry, I don't think they looked at your tree to come up with your ancestral background. I don't have a tree online, and they managed to come up with a background for me. As for the ethnic backgrounds becoming more accurate, you should read Judy Russell's comments and those from other respected DNA genealogists. The fact is that we can't come close to statistically significant, reliable estimates based on the algorithms currently being used.

    2. I did read the Legal Genealogist's blog and found the information very helpful and interesting. Thanks for sharing that link!
      The June Brown episode is really amazing. I'm going to watch it one more time and take notes. I prefer to watch for pleasure first and then go back and construct notes about their research methods.

    3. That sounds like the way I watch WDYTYA before posting on my blog: watch once, and then go back and rewatch (multiple times!) trying to take note of everything!


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