WDYTYA – 3×06 – Helen Hunt – The Nitpicker’s Version

I fell farther behind than I thought in these blog posts about Who Do You Think You Are? but I am determined to catch up. Helen Hunt began the show scrapbooking for her daughter, to preserve their history. She wanted to know more about her father’s side of the family, where she heard they had European Jewish roots.

Online, some people were discussing how we were back to an episode where she wasn’t doing the research herself and she wasn’t showing much enthusiasm. Just before watching this episode, I saw a TED Talk about introversion, so I immediately connected the two. It’s probably unusual for a celebrity to be an introvert, but that was the impression I got because of the proximity of the two videos. As for not appearing to do the research herself, if everyone wanted to or could do the research, then the show wouldn’t exist because there wouldn’t be professionals to do the work for them. As much as I like seeing the celebrities doing some of the research themselves, we know that it was done before they got there anyway. Not all will have the desire or the ability to do their own research, and I’m OK with that.

Looking for Family Clues

Helen started by visiting her father, Gordon Hunt, where they looked at photos. They knew the family surname that had been changed but didn’t know when or why it happened. They also wanted to know where the family got its money, knowing that they lived in a hotel in Pasadena. Helen started her search in Pasadena where her great-grandmother had lived.

Marc Dollinger met her at the former Green Hotel. They began with the 1900 census on Ancestry, searching for Florence Rothenberg, her great-grandmother, finding that she had four children and four servants. Knowing the name was changed to Roberts later, it was curious that they didn’t note in the episode that the family listed after them had the name Roberts. Maybe that neighbor influenced their choice of surname later?

Marc also had the death certificate for Gustav, Florence’s husband as listed in the census, from December 1900. She wondered when Florence moved to Pasadena, and did a search in 1910 in Pasadena, again finding Florence and the four children. There was no mention of the missing list of servants.

Moving forward to 1920, they did not find her in Pasadena. Helen suspected that the name had been changed in that decade, searched for it, and found the family again with the name Roberts. I like that they went one census after another logically like they should, but why didn’t they continue to 1930? Maybe it didn’t make the episode cut.

Another document shown was the death certificate of Florence in 1949, which had her father’s name, William Scholle. There was no mention of the fact that her mother was listed as unknown.

With more research, they found an 1845 passenger ship list for him, listed as Wolf Scholy. In 1853, a New York business directory listed William and Abraham Scholle with a clothing business on Bowery Street, but it showed William in San Francisco. Marc pointed out that Abraham was William’s older brother. There was evidence of half of this right on the page, showing the listing for Abraham, then William, then Scholle & Brother clothing at the same address as the first two. We have to assume they did more research to determine that Abraham was the older brother.

Northward to San Francisco

Finding William in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, Helen went north to learn more about how he was involved.

At the San Francisco Public Library, she met historian Stephen Aron. Stephen had the 1852 census for California listing William. A newspaper excerpt from 1855 listed Scholle Brothers receiving a significant amount of cargo. Another page listed brothers Jacob and William. They did not specify whether Jacob was older, but he was listed first.

In the 1870 census, William Scholle was listed as a grain merchant, which they didn’t mention. So he went from clothing to grain? He was listed with his wife Rose, five children, and three domestic servants. He also had a series of photographs of the family, but never explained where they came from.

One last newspaper page from 1874, bound in a large book, had a list of millionaires living in San Francisco, which listed both William and Jacob Scholle.

Helen next met with author Frances Dinkelspiel at the old San Francisco Mint. Frances had researched her own family, finding that her ancestor was business partners with William, and that together they invested in the failing Nevada Bank, which eventually merged with and became Wells Fargo.

No Ocean Crossing

Helen had an unusually early Jewish history in America. The majority of Jewish immigration came through Ellis Island and those years, whereas her ancestor arrived more than 50 years before the largest wave of Jewish immigration. It was interesting to see that kind of “alternative” history to what’s usual, but they didn’t go any further into it. Most Jewish American research quickly jumps the pond and looks for the origins in Europe. I think I was hoping for or expecting that. Instead, Helen switched to the other side of the Hunt family. Or possibly, they found nothing more TV-worthy, or found nothing more on that family in Europe.

Changing Directions

Knowing her great-great-grandfather George Hunt was from Portland, Maine, Helen went there to investigate. She met with historian Herb Adams at a pub. George was a sugar importer and lumber exporter. Herb found an article with a biography of George and information about his business, then he shared an obituary with a lot of family information. He then moved the research direction to George’s wife, Augusta, who was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, among other things.

At the Neal Dow House, the headquarters for the Maine branch of the WCTU, Helen met historian Carol Mattingly. More information about the organization and the history was revealed and more photos of the family were produced. Helen also pointed out, mentioned early in the episode, that her grandmother was killed by a drunk driver; the wife of Augusta’s grandson.

At the Maine Historical Society, historian Dr. Shannon M. Risk began by sharing a biography about Augusta. Helen read that under Augusta’s leadership the WCTU offered day care, free kindergarten, brought female guards to coed prisons, got women elected to school boards, and gave women equal guardianship of their children with the father, all before women were even allowed to vote. While women’s suffrage did not pass in Maine in 1917, the 19th amendment did pass in 1920. After all her struggle she lived to see real change.

“Did she live to vote?” Helen asked, to which Shannon brought out the voter registration book from 1920. Helen began to look and didn’t find Augusta, asking if she was looking in the right place. This was the only time in the episode that she searched in the records herself. After a commercial break and finally finding the right district, the listing for Augusta M. Hunt was found. Two other Hunts were listed, Ella and Sarah E., but they were not mentioned.

One last newspaper article about Augusta celebrating her 90th birthday also mentioned that she was the first woman in the area to vote.

Out at the cemetery, Helen did a rubbing of the gravestone for George and Augusta, his death in 1896 and hers in 1932.

Conclusions

I didn’t comment on each voiceover in this episode as I sometimes do, but again they adjusted the truth with Helen saying that she asked several of the experts to do research for her. I guess in a way she had, as she agreed to do the episode, thus asking for them to research. Many voiceovers included a comment that the previous person suggested the next expert that she should speak to, which I believe.

As usual, a lot of genealogy documents were not shown in the episode. With Augusta living until 1932, she should have been searched for in the census right up to 1930, but the census was never consulted for that family. Back to the first half and the Scholle family, they specified which was the older brother of William and Abraham, but never mentioned where Jacob fit in. Had they found these men in the census together at any time? Did they find them each individually and compare ages to determine who was oldest? Did they find any information that took them back another generation to their parents and do more research on them? Especially because that family was Jewish, and earlier immigrants, that would have been of more interest to me.

They found a lot of pictures of Helen’s ancestors in this episode without ever giving a hint where they were found. Where does anyone find pictures if other family members don’t have them? Besides in newspaper articles, I have never found my own family photos outside of the possession of other family members. Can they give us a clue how to do some of this?

I read recently online that the first season of WDYTYA? in Britain was only 50 minutes long followed by 10 minutes explaining the research. I haven’t checked the NBC site in a while. They don’t have that, do they? I know they have deleted scenes, which I enjoy. And we have had some incite a few times with an online discussion or a blog post from one of the researchers. But I wonder, if enough of us blog about this, can get them to do a bonus video about the research process? Sometimes it seems like they’re listening to those of us online and improving with each season. Can we all rally for a behind the scenes of the research process?

This is the sixth 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
  5. Jerome Bettis

The URL for this article is http://idogenealogy.com/blog/2012/04/27/wdytya-3×06-nitpickers/.

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