All of that notwithstanding, the first episode of the double header was Chris Noth, who at least is roughly my generation even if I hadn't heard of him previously. The teaser told us that Noth would trace his father's family back to a devastating catastrophe. He would find an Irish ancestor who suffered severe oppression before going to fight in Spain in one of the fiercest battles of all time and then becoming a war hero.
The introduction to the episode tells us that Chris Noth has enjoyed a long, distinguished career in television, film, and stage. His first major role was as Mike Logan on Law & Order (which I used to watch, but only for Jerry Orbach), and he portrayed Mr. Big (that's a character name?) on Sex and the City (which I've still never seen, but at least I recognized Kim Cattrall's name). He currently stars on the CBS show The Good Wife. (I think the definition of "distinguished" is being stretched a little here.) In 2012 he married his long-time girlfriend, Tara Wilson, and they are raising their son in Los Angeles (Noth's Wikipedia page says that Orion was born in 2008, before the marriage).
Noth's first comments are about his son. He has come to fatherhood late but it's great. He is always learning something new through Orion's eyes.
Thinking about his own childhood, Noth says he was born November 13, 1954 in Madison, Wisconsin to Jeanne Parr and Charles James Noth. His father was a military man and was in the Navy in World War II, which is where he met Parr. He served during the entire Korean War on the carrier Antietam and earned medals for his bravery. After his military service he and Jeanne worked on raising a family.
Noth is the youngest of three boys. His father worked for an insurance company. He didn't love the job but did it for his family. His mother had a successful career in broadcasting and was a popular news correspondent for CBS. His parents separated when he was about 9–10 years old, and his father died in a car accident in 1966.
Noth wishes his father would have lived so he could have known and talked to him as an adult. Because of his father's early death, it was like a complete separation from his father's side of the family, and he has few details on his paternal grandparents. His grandmother was Nonna Mae, and his grandfather George was apparently a millionaire who belonged to a country club. George died before Noth was born, but he has dim memories of Nonna Mae, whom he liked. He saw her for two weeks once in Chicago on a family trip. He thinks her maiden name might have been McGuire, which might make her Irish.
Noth wants to do his family history now before it's too late for himself and his son. It's a great thing to know your roots, and it's better to learn at a young age, instead of having gaps as Noth does.
With no family members to talk to beforehand, Noth starts by going directly to Chicago, where his father's family lived. He says he is meeting genealogist Kyle Betit (one of the stalwarts of Ancestry.com's ProGenealogists arm) at the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD), which therefore means he must be at Northeastern Illinois University. They start by looking for information about Noth's father. Betit suggests they might be able to find his birth certificate on the Cook County Genealogy site (wow! how much did that product placement cost? no comment about it being a pay site, however). Noth thinks his father was born about 1924–1925, but somehow they manage to find him, even though he was born January 16, 1922 in the Presbyterian Hospital. (It's nice that Charles Noth was findable in the index. That index has tons of problems, and I often have to write to Cook County for records because I can't find someone on the site.) Charles Noth's parents were George Joseph Noth and Mary McGuire. Noth figures Mae easily could have come from Mary. The birth certificate also says that George was born in Davenport, Iowa; Mary was born in Chicago; and they were living at 200 South Ellwood Avenue, Oak Park.
Emboldened by this easy success, Noth asks what else they can find. Betit disingenuously suggests that since George was supposed to have been a prominent person, they can try looking at newspapers for a marriage announcement. (Seriously? This is what you propose as a logical next step?) And then he suggests they go to an Ancestry site, Newspapers.com. Noth searches for "George J. Noth" (gee, Betit doesn't know something's there, does he?), and of course finds an article, "The Whirl of Society." They do not state the date or the name of the newspaper (Chicago Inter Ocean, September 21, 1910), but we are told that Mae was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. C. J. McGuire and the marriage took place in the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows", about which Noth says, "What a name for a church." (Not mentioned was that Mae's brother had died recently.)
|"The Whirl of Society", Chicago Inter Ocean, September 21, 1910, page 9 (edited image)|
|United Staters 1900 Federal Census, West Town, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois,|
June 5, 1900, Enumeration District 345, page 5A, lines 18–28
Noth wants to know if they can go back further, and just how far they can go. Betit says (incorrectly) that the 1890 census was completely destroyed (most of it was destroyed, but more than 6,000 names survived, and at least some of those 6,000+ individuals must be related to people living today, so don't discount that census so readily!), so they can jump back 20 years and look at 1880. This time he has Noth search on the 1880 census page (much better). Noth finds Charles, who is only 25 years old, in Chicago, living with his sister Agnes and brother John. Noth asks why the three are living alone without their parents and says, "I have a bad feeling about those kids," in a tone heavy with foreboding before the cut to a commercial. When the program returns, the two men look at some of the details on the census: Charles was working as a teamster, and the "street" given for the homes on that census page is "Scattered houses on Prairie", which Betit has no explanation for; he's never seen an address like that. (I don't see what the problem is here. The enumeration district, 118, is given on the census page. The description of that enumeration district, per Ancestry.com, is "North by the south side of Barry Point road, Van Buren sts, and Jackson, East by West side of Western Avenue, south by the north side of 12th Street, west by the east side of Crawford Ave (City limits)." It specifically says the ED was within the city limits. There was a Prairie Avenue in Chicago in 1880. Couldn't the notation simply mean not many houses were on that street? But maybe he was told to feign ignorance because it wasn't his job in the episode to talk about why there weren't many houses on the street.)
|United States 1880 Federal Census, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois,|
June 16, 1880, Enumeration District 118, page 57 (written)/236A (printed), lines 6–8
|United States 1870 Federal Census, 20th Ward, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois,|
June 28, 1870, page 101 (written)/376 (printed), lines 16–22
Before he leaves, Noth asks, "Can I ask you something?" Of course Betit says yes, and Noth follows up with, "Do you think we can find out who the original McGuire was from Ireland?" Betit says he'll do some more digging and let him know if he finds anything. Even though Noth really did ask this, I'm surprised it wasn't edited out, because we had just seen in the 1870 census that Dennis McGuire was born in Ireland. Doesn't that make him the original McGuire Noth is asking about? It could be that what Noth meant was if they could find from where he came in Ireland, but that's not the question he asked, or maybe that question was edited out.
On his way toward the Chicago History Museum, Noth says he feels like something dramatic happened to the family between 1870 and 1880. He really wants to solve the mystery. At the museum, John Russick, the museum's Vice President of Interpretation and Education, is waiting to greet him. He says he has pulled some relevant material and begins by showing Noth an image of Chicago as a bustling city from an 1871 issue of Harper's Weekly (to be specific, pages 984–985 in the October 21, 1871 issue). A search in Chicago city directories had shown that the McGuire family lived on North La Salle Street in the 20th Ward, which lay along the north side of the main branch of the Chicago River in a residential area, and Russick indicates the approximate area on the image (on the right side of the river in the illustration; the perspective is from the east). It makes sense that the McGuires would have lived there, as Dennis might have worked nearby at a warehouse, offloading items from boats.
|Harper's Weekly, Volume 15, October 21, 1871, pages 984–985|
Russick has Noth look at page 1008 in the book he is holding, which depicts the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (this was from the Harper's Weekly of October 28, 1871). It affected the entire city, much of which was burnt to the ground. The center of the city was gone. And the 20th Ward was right in the middle of it. La Salle Street was utterly destroyed. (The program cut to a commercial after this, and when it returned, we got to see a lovely shot of the La Salle Street Bridge.)
|Harper's Weekly, Volume 15, October 28, 1871, pages 1008–1009|
|Harper's Weekly, Volume 15, October 28, 1871, page 1004|
|Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, March 14, 1892, page 7|
As he leaves the museum, Noth focuses first on the fact that they don't know what happened to Dennis. He also didn't learn why Ann split off. This is a haunting side of his family. He didn't have conversations about family history growing up (maybe this history is part of the reason why?). Before he gets too depressed about it, though, he receives an e-mail message from Betit, who has "just discovered" that Dennis' father, John McGuire (Noth's 3x-great-grandfather), was Irish but served in the British army.
I continued researching your McGuire family's Irish roots and found that the McGuires left Ireland for Canada in 1847, —— [I am missing a few words, which did not appear on screen] Dennis and Ann moving on to Chicago around 1864. Like so many other Irish immigrants, the McGuires likely left Ireland to escape the Potato Famine. Their immigration story is very typical of Irish families of the time.
During my search, I was also able to identify Dennis' father — your 3x great-grandfather — John McGuire in combing through Canadian records. I located an 1880 record from the Ottawa area that may be helpful to you.
|[John McGuire death record, page 393, Schedule C, County of Carleton, Division of Cloucester,|
Registrations of Deaths, 1869-1938; Archives of Ontario (edited image)]
To learn more about your 3x great-grandfather, John McGuire, you should go to the National Archives in London, to delve into the original British pension records. Because the British government keeps detailed records, there's a good possibility you can find out quite a bit about the McGuire family. This is a rare opportunity given the patchy records one usually encounters when researching Irish immigrants!
The information about McGuire's death is shown only briefly on screen, and Noth does not read any of it aloud. Noth is happy to read about McGuire being a soldier, because that makes him military like his father. Then he says it runs in the family, which is stretching it a little (ok, a lot, with more than 150 years between their service). Since Betit says that to learn more he should visit The National Archives (yes, the Brits really do insist on that capital "T"; Betit didn't type it correctly according to their preferences) in London, that's where Noth goes next.
London is the only location where Noth does not drive himself around. (I drove a car in London; it wasn't that bad.) Heading to his meeting, Noth says he wants to know what John did in the army — whether he was a common soldier, where he lived, any wars he fought in. He heads to a basement archive at TNA (in Kew, a suburban district of London), where Captain Graham Bandy, a military historian and genealogist, greets him. Bandy has a book of pension records ready for Noth to look at. He comments that, notwithstanding the proverb about an army marching on its stomach, "the British Army marches on paperwork." Noth looks at a pension document for Private John McGuire, who was a foot soldier. Noth is surprised that he is handling the actual original documents. McGuire was born in County Cavan and enlisted in County Limerick. His enlisted first in the 96th Infantry, on May 1, 1808, and finished with that unit on December 9, 1818. He then went to the 44th Infantry, enlisting on December 10, 1818 and leaving on September 24, 1822. He served for more than 14 years; the image is not shown in its entirety, but I saw "14 years one hundred." (According to timeanddate.com, it was 14 years, 147 days.) From this small amount of information, Noth decides that McGuire must have been a tough SOB (except he didn't use the initials).
|first page of John McGuire's pension|
The narrator explains that in 1799 Napoleon seized power in France and set out on a series of military conquests to gain control over continental Europe. Due to the strength of the British naval forces, Napoleon didn't think he could invade the British Isles. Instead he decided to hurt the British economy by trying to block trade through controlling access to the Mediterranean and to ports in Spain and Portugal. In 1870 he invaded Portugal, thus beginning the Peninsular War. To protect its allies and its economy, Britain sent thousands of troops, including McGuire, to fight.
Bandy now has an old book which turns out to be quarterly pay lists. (Sometime around this point the producers of the program decided that Bandy was unintelligible and needed to be subtitled for the American viewing public to understand him. That seems to say worlds about what the producers think of their audience. I had no trouble understanding him.) Noth has to use a magnifying glass to read the handwriting (the reading glasses he has been using off and on when looking at computer screens apparently were not up to the task). A page titled "Infantry Abroad" indicates that McGuire was in the 97th Queen's Own, 10th Company, which Bandy says would have been a "light" company, with skirmishers and marksmen. Bandy adds that the 97th and the 96th were really the same unit, the 96th having been renumbered. McGuire was in a "camp near Elvas", in eastern Portugal, from March 25 to June 24, 1811. Noth wants to know if there was a battle there and whether McGuire was involved in fighting. Bandy tells him that to find out more, he should go to Portugal, where he can meet a military historian. In one of those rare totally honest comments we sometimes hear on the program, Noth grins and says cheerfully, "I don't mind going to Portugal!"
As he departs TNA, Noth says McGuire was quite a soldier, spending 14 years in the army. (Ha! In the Sellers line, one man was in the U.S. Army 40 years, and his son was in the Navy even longer.) In Portugal he'll find out what kind of soldier McGuire was.
Driving to meet his new expert, Noth muses that if someone had told him he would be going to Portugal to find out about his ancestry, he would have said, "You're nuts!" Looking around at the scenery, he wonders if the olive trees were part of what McGuire saw. Being in the army would have carried a certain amount of excitement but also included hardships. It has become clear to Noth that if John McGuire had not survived, Noth would not be there. He says that Peninsula War expert Mark Crathorne has looked up information on McGuire and has set up a meeting with him at La Albuera, a town about 25 miles from Elvas, just over the Spanish border.
In the middle of an open field, Noth meets military historian Crathorne of the British Historical Society of Portugal. (Crathorne was also at one point the British Consul in Lisbon.) Crathorne explains that where the two men are standing was where the Battle of Albuera, known as Bloody Albuera, took place. He talks Noth through the battle sequence. The British army here, which included McGuire, was ready to chase the French out of the Iberian Peninsula. Everyone was involved in the battle.
The narrator pops in again, this time to say that Albuera was one of the bloodiest battles of the Peninsula War. It involved 34,000 European allies versus 24,000 French troops An early French assault was devastating and caused a lot of bloodshed. Two full French regiments conducted a sneak attack and butchered a brigade of British soldiers. After several hours the British brought in one last division, which included McGuire's company.
So McGuire was in the action, and the battle was not going well. To the right of where Noth and Crathorne are standing, from across the crest of the hill, 200 French dragoons were coming at a full gallop. Noth asks what a French dragoon is, and Crathorne obligingly tells him they were soldiers with heavy sabers riding on horses. They would have been coming straight toward McGuire and his company. Noth says that the men probably shot and ran to a different position, but Crathorne corrects him — they would have held their positions, near their companions, shoulder to shoulder, with their muskets primed and their bayonets fixed and ready.
As if that weren't bad enough, worse was to come. Crathorne describes the sounds of battle in detail. As the two sides moved toward each other, the question was who could fire more often. The British could fire three volleys per minute, while the French could only manage two to two and a half in a minute. The British had the advantage.
Crathorne says the two sides were only 20 yards away, and Noth calls out, "Hold on," and runs about that distance to get a better understanding of how close that really was. The British lines would have been firing and moving backward, while the French fired and advanced toward them. He feels it was almost Medieval, to see the faces of the men you were killing. This particular engagement was the turning point of the battle. If McGuire's division had not stood firm, the battle would have gone the other way. But they did, and the French retreated. The British had won, but at a cost — 10,000 men were dead. Death was everywhere, with blood on the fields and the groans of the dying. The Battle of Albuera was the beginning of the end for Napoleon's troops. Noth feels this is sacred ground and takes some small stones for his son.
|Map of the Battle of Albuera, from|
In County Cavan Noth goes to the Johnston Central Library, where he meets military historian David Murphy of Maynooth University. (Murphy is subtitled for all of his dialog. I again had no trouble understanding him. Maybe the producers were the ones who had problems.) Murphy has the Cavan Regiment of Militia Adjutant's Roll to April 24, 1809. The militia was somewhat similar to the U.S. National Guard. It was a unit raised from local men. Its main purpose was to protect against French invasion and rebellion (somehow I suspect they were more worried about the latter than the former). Ireland did not have a national police force, so the militia also took care of things such as civil unrest. Murphy says that McGuire joined the Cavan militia in November 1807. Then he signed up for the Cavan regiment in the regular army and headed to Spain. (But earlier we saw McGuire's pension form, which showed that he enlisted on May 1, 1808. I don't know why there is a discrepancy in the dates.) When the army needed manpower, recruiters would come to town and sell young men on enlisting; not much has changed during the past 200 years.
Looking down the list of men on the Adjutant's roll, Noth says, "I'm pretty good at finding his name, usually," and then does find McGuire. His occupation had been linen weaver, which Murphy explains would have been weaving flax into linen, probably to make garments and blankets. The work would not have been in a factory but was a small operation, likely a workshop with two or three men. When England and Belfast started building big mills, in the early years of industrialization, small operators would have been squeezed out. Then McGuire's options would have been few. As a Catholic, he was not eligible for government jobs because of the Penal Laws. These regulations also prevented Catholics (and Protestant dissenters) from owning land (they could only lease), going to university — such as Protestant-owned Trinity University in Dublin (from which Murphy received his Ph.D.) — and working as doctors and lawyers. At first Catholics were banned from the army, but when the Crown needed soldiers, suddenly recruiters fell all over them.
Noth is Catholic (even if he's never heard of Our Lady of Sorrows) and is disturbed to hear about the laws. He asks if McGuire would at least have had a church to go to, but no, that was restricted also. (What Murphy doesn't say is that existing Catholic churches were taken over by the Church of Ireland, the Irish equivalent of the Church of England.) Noth is very upset: "They can't even have a church to go to — it makes me mad."
So McGuire went from unbelievable oppression to fighting for the British, who were the oppressors. Murphy admits it's complicated. He explains it was probably the first proper clothes and boots McGuire had owned. This was the reality of the time; the only choice was to work with the status quo. When he returned from his service in the army, things would still have been tough. But in the 1840's McGuire left for Canada, probably influenced at least in part by the potato famine. He had a military pension, which gave him more flexibility than most. It also was an opportunity for him to get his family and children out of Ireland.
The researchers were unable to find any information about McGuire's parents. There are no surviving records, and it's impossible to learn more. (This is not uncommon with Irish research.) Murphy tells Noth that McGuire was from just down the road in Knockbride, a "subarea" of the county of Cavan. Noth asks if there's a graveyard, and Murphy replies that it has only one. Noth wonders if maybe there's a McGuire in it, but Murphy says there are no markers. Many of the ones there have worn away and are now just rocks. It's possible that McGuire's parents and grandparents are buried in the graveyard, as it has been serving Knockbride since the 1400's. Tombstones or not, Noth will go to the cemetery: "That local graveyard, I think I'm gonna wanna see that."
Leaving the library, Noth says his only disappointment is that he was hoping for more personal details about John McGuire's family. (Unfortunately, the Canadian death record didn't include parents' names. Apparently they didn't find anything in the Drouin records? McGuire was Catholic, after all.) McGuire's circumstances were pretty rough; he was repressed by the political situation of the time and did what he had to do.
Noth calls the cemetery a "quintessential, quiet graveyard." There is moss on the stones, most of which are really nothing but rock at this point. McGuire knew this place and possibly buried his grandparents and parents here. There's a primitive but strong bond between the people and the place; the place defined them.
|Noth looked at these old tombstones in Knockbride Cemetery.|
Image ©Eric Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.
While I was rewatching this episode I thought about logistics from the perspective of the celebrity. I'm guessing they're told to have an approximate number of days open. They're probably asked to make sure their passports are up-to-date, even though the occasional celeb doesn't travel outside the U.S., such as Lea Michele. Are they told that all the research has been done beforehand? Or do they figure it out? Does someone believe it when a researcher, such as Betit on this episode, says he'll continue to research and let Noth know if he finds anything else? Is that just part of the acting? I've done enough movie and TV gigs to know that not every shot can be accomplished in one take, so I'm sure that occasionally they have to redo a scene; that's one of the circumstances where acting will come into play, as the celebrity still pretends to be surprised/amazed/horrified/whatever emotion is appropriate. I don't think that the celebrity is told everything up front and then just acts through the entire episode, though.