WDYTYA – 3×05 – Jerome Bettis – The Nitpicker’s Version

I missed this episode live on TV, but when the next week had a rerun, it gave me a chance to watch a catch up.

Jerome Bettis, like the previous two episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?, already knew about his father’s side of the family but didn’t know his mother’s side. He also knew that with the research, he’d probably run into a family history of slavery. So what was on his father’s side?

Meet The Whole Family

The episode started with Jerome hanging out with his kids and his wife, but then he went to Detroit to meet up with his mother Gladys, and uncle Abram “Butch” Bougard. They started out by quickly presenting a mystery person who disappeared from the family. Switching to the family chart, it suddenly had photos in it. I don’t recall seeing that before, and it looked nice.

Right To Ancestry, As Usual

My first instinct for records search for a US family is to try the census. So why did he go right for death records and why in Kentucky? Sure he lived there, but if he disappeared, why would they assume he died in the same state? Paducah is close to the borders of a couple other states. And it’s not as if Ancestry has that many death certificates, certainly not for the locations I usually search. They might have an index, but not the records. However, Jerome found a Kentucky death certificate for his great-grandfather, Burnett Bougard, or as it was spelled, Burnell Beaugard. And they were also surprised to find he was still in Paducah… but they were searching specifically in Kentucky.

They were not sure it was for the right person because of the spelling, so that was good, but there was no later comment about if they could verify it. They also made no comment about the fact that he was listed as married. Were they assuming he just ran off? I’ll come back to this later in the episode.

If the record was for the correct person, they showed that his father as Abe and mother as Amanda Gee. It looked like all three were born in Mississippi, but I couldn’t tell for sure for the mother. Back to the family chart, they showed Burnett’s father but ignored his mother from the certificate.

Jerome said, “Since the trail went cold with Burnett’s death…” I really don’t know what to say about this. The trail went cold? What kind of trail do you follow after someone dies? The only thing left is burial or cremation. Did he mean they couldn’t find anything before his death? Well, not everything is online and definitely not everything is on Ancestry. Was that what they meant?

Paducah, McCracken County, Kentucky

Jerome started by meeting Dr. Gerald Smith at the McCracken County Courthouse. Jerome’s voiceover included “where he’s already started doing some research for me”, instead of implying that the person was just waiting for him to show up to begin. That is always my preference. It takes the same amount of time to introduce the expert and state that they’ve been working on the research as it does to imply otherwise.

Gerald had a divorce record for Burnett and Ruby from 26 August 1921. It was interesting that not only did the family surname keep changing spelling, but that Burnett and Ruby were each spelled differently on the same document, as Beaurgard and Beargard. Gerald explained that they focused more on the sound of the name, but if he just abandoned her, then why were the two names spelled differently since they were both probably spoken by her? Then he explained that census takers would deliberately misspell names. I hadn’t heard that before, but how does it even relate to this? We haven’t seen a census record, and we’re not looking at one. In this case, I think maybe one was a typo, since they should have been the same in this case, even if spelled differently than a later generation.

When Jerome read from the divorce petition, it sounded like the marriage was in 1919, but it was just worded awkwardly to me as I soon discovered. A quick flash of the petition and I could see where it said 1906. When they next showed the second page, it was clear that they were married in Illinois in 1906 (though it said “about 10 years ago”; someone’s math was off) and separated in spring of 1919 in Paducah.

Married Or Not?

Another part they missed was that he was listed as married on his death certificate. Was that a mistake or did he remarry? It takes until the very end of the episode to learn that his death was in 1925. It wasn’t much time, but certainly enough for him to remarry. Maybe that was why he abandoned her? They don’t pursue this part of his story. They didn’t look for the marriage record either.

An alternative might have been that she wasn’t granted the divorce, thus he was still married. They never did reveal that. We were looking at a petition, which doesn’t mean the divorce was finalized.

Jerome asked about if there was more to find about the family story of Burnett being a rebel rouser. Gerald had already looked in court records and not found anything, suggesting that Jerome check the newspapers.

As he was leaving, Jerome grabbed his notebook as if he was going to write something. I didn’t mention it before, but he had that in the scene with his mother too. Again, it’s always good to see the celebrity taking enough interest to take their own notes.

Strange Newspaper Source

The next stop was at the McCracken County Public Library where historian Berry Craig was waiting. Accessing the Kentucky newspapers from the Library of Congress, Jerome tried various spellings to find an article in 1897. Though he was only shown trying two spellings, it may take more. This a lesson some people resist: spelling doesn’t matter, especially the older the records. This particular episode showed multiple spellings of the same surname across different sources, which is not so uncommon.

With the search result, the article appeared right on the screen with part of it highlighted, so why did he have to get the microfilm to read it? It’s like they’re deliberately avoiding showing that other web sites have information that Ancestry doesn’t. They don’t want people to know that there are other good sources online? I think that might be going a bit overboard. I really don’t think they’ll lose the business they would otherwise get by helping people know that other sources exist also. This time at least they admitted what web site they searched. The Library of Congress isn’t in competition with them, I suppose. The previous episode search of GenealogyBank was obscured and never named. Also, after reading from the microfilm, they showed a much cleared image of the article. Did that come from the Library of Congress scan?

The article mentioned that Burnett swore a warrant against his boss, a gutsy thing for a black man to do in 1897, but checking a few days forward, they found that the case was dismissed.

Hop, Skip, And A Jump

Jerome immediately wanted to find more about Burnett’s father, Abe. It seemed like an odd jump, but there was probably a lot cut from the episode that actually happened during the scene. Maybe Berry had to suggest that avenue of research. Finding a 1902 article, they jumped ahead to find where Abe sued the railroad. Again, they showed the article on screen different than what the microfilm looked like. They also didn’t show how many searches it took to find him with the spelling Bogard.

At the State Archives in Frankfurt, librarian Jennifer Frazier had some more information. Jerome was shocked to find his great-great-grandfather couldn’t sign his own name. But really, 100 years ago, literacy wasn’t that common among non-slaves either. They discussed some details of the case and read bits of the documents.

I knew a commercial was coming before Jerome read the verdict. Do they really need to do commercial cliffhangers to keep people watching? If you’re already watching the episode, aren’t you interested in the rest of the story anyhow? Maybe I’m just opposed to cliffhangers at all. If I like a show, I’ll watch without it.

After reading that Abe won the case, albeit at a smaller amount than he was asking, Jennifer then sent Jerome back to Paducah to learn even more about it.

Back to Paducah

At the Paducah Railroad Museum, he met historian John E.L. Robertson who knew people who remembered the case and passed on the story. We didn’t really hear much more about it in the episode, but I like to assume that if he went all the way back across the state, there were more details that didn’t make the episode’s final cut.

After seeing a steam engine, the kind of train Abe was hit by, Jerome was still concerned with his signature and wanting to find if Abe was born a slave. Again, he searched on Ancestry for Abe’s death certificate. Wasn’t he just at the State Archive where they would have had that?

After finding the 1925 death certificate, Jerome assumed that the unknown birth date meant he was a slave, but does it really? While it was likely true he was born into slavery, no birth date just meant that the informant didn’t know the date, not that Abe didn’t know because he was born a slave and they didn’t keep records. But it did have the given names of his parents, Jerry and Liza.

But Jerome still wanted to confirm that they were slaves. Didn’t the other episodes with black families check the census to lead them to that place? Why did they consistently ignore such an obvious document? They are certainly in a time period to check the 1900-1930 censuses, and then skip back to the 1800s.

Searching For Slaves

In Murray, Kentucky, he met with Dr. John Hardin for more proof. At this point, Jerome stated that no last names suggested Abe’s parents were born without surnames, but that’s not true either. There are far too many death certificates that don’t list the parents’ surnames and sometimes their given names. It’s not about whether the person knew when he was born or what his parents’ names were, it was whether someone who outlived him knew. Jerome was making the wrong assumptions, regardless of the reasons and the fact that he turned out to be correct that they were born slaves.

John stated that slaves typically took the names of their owners, so he went to look for the will of Joseph Bogard. John actually called him Beauregard, which apparently Jerome’s ancestors used for a time, but it was not the correct name.

The will book was something we hadn’t seen before, with every page either laminated or within sheet protectors. Old records should be protected that way. Or scanned. Jerome read the will wrong, where he read “my negro boy” when it actually said “my three negro boys”, but it listed Joseph leaving Jerry and Eliza to his wife, Mary. Also, they made the jump from his mother being Liza to assuming it was this Eliza. It’s a reasonable jump and there’s probably not a lot or maybe not any documentation to prove or disprove it, but it’s still an assumption. They just kind of skipped over mentioning it. The will was from 1841, before Abe was born, thus, he wasn’t listed.

Jerome stated that the people being treated as property was despicable. But he already knew his Bettis side. Did that family not go back in American history far enough to be slaves? Yes, it was despicable, but he seems almost surprised to find it.

In the slave dower list, which listed all of the slaves owned by Mary, it listed Jerry, Eliza, and Abram. John said they were listed until 1860 in the dower list but not after, and Mary had died by then. Another court record revealed they were all sold, Jerry and Eliza together, and Abram to someone else at about ten years old. If they were sold, why weren’t they listed as someone else’s slaves? It sounded like a Bogard relative bought Jerry and Eliza. They had the names of who bought them and couldn’t find a record of it in the dower list? Again, no explanation. Seems they should have been able to find them in the same records, just with different owners.

Jerome had trouble imagining being split from his parents at ten years old. He must have stumbled the sentence of imagining being split from his children because half of that sentence was clearly added as a voiceover later.

They Have To Go See Some Land

They drove out to the land where the family had lived before being sold in 1860. Emancipation was five years later, so Jerome wondered if Abram was reunited with his parents, which was a great question. The preview for the next section kind of gave away the answer. Then the voiceover, “it’s a question Dr. Hardin came prepared to answer”. I’m so glad they’re stating things that way now.

Then they finally looked at a census at the end of the episode. I thought one of Ancestry’s biggest draws was supposed to be their census collection? But in this episode, they avoided it for as long as possible.

In 1870, they found Jerry 53, Mary 24, Abram 22, Frances 7, and Elizabeth 1. Where was Eliza? Did he question what happened to her? Did they skip it because they didn’t find it? Also of interest was that Jerry was black and the others listed as mulatto, another detail they skipped over. Relationships were not listed. Was Mary his wife by that time? Frances seemed a little old to be her daughter in modern times, but probably more likely back then. Was Abram listed as mulatto because the others all were even though he was black? Or if they could find more, would they discover that Eliza was mulatto? Again, questions they didn’t answer. They seemed to uncover a lot of new questions at the end here that they didn’t pursue in the episode.

Back To Detroit

While recounting the story to his mother and uncle, we finally learned that Burnett died in 1925. So he and his father both died in the same year? Or did Jerome get those confused. Jerome also stated that there was no disappearance, but instead it was a divorce. But we didn’t learn that. He abandoned Ruby and she divorced him. Was he there to participate in the divorce? Did he abandon her and she knew where he was? Did she just not want him back? I think discounting a disappearance, unless there was a lot more research done that we didn’t see in the episode, was wrong.


I was almost expecting a repeat, since all of the episodes about blacks ends up going back to slavery and often has DNA testing to place their ancestral home in Africa. This time, they skipped the DNA. It worked out for some of the others we’ve seen, did Jerome just not match anyone or did they entirely skip it this time?

They certainly raised a lot more questions than they seemed to answer. Genealogy tends to do that, but they left so much unanswered that I can only wonder about. And write about on this blog.

This is the fifth article in the Who Do You Think You Are? Nitpicker’s Version for Season 3.

  1. Martin Sheen
  2. Marisa Tomei
  3. Blair Underwood
  4. Reba McEntire

The URL for this article is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2012/03/18/wdytya-3×05-nitpickers/.

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