I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I’m a total sucker for the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a show where celebrities trace their genealogy to uncover some fabulous stories about their past relatives.
Wait. The celebrities don’t actually do the genealogy. That would never happen. The show clearly does all the research beforehand and uses historians, archivists, and librarians (yay!) to help the celebrities comprehend what they’re reading in census records, old letters, court documents, military documents, etc.
My favorite show so far this season has been Zooey Deschanel uncovering a story about her ancestor Sarah (Henderson) Pownall who was an abolitionist who risked her life to help escaped slaves. Deschanel was surprised, shocked, and honored to uncover this story, but who wouldn’t be honored to hear about heroic acts of an ancestor? It’s fascinating to watch the celebrities get all verklempt, and, yes, this show makes me cry every damn episode. I really am turning into my mother.
But this show also makes me think about my ancestors.
In the past, I did a little bit of research on both sides of my family, but I uncovered an interesting story on the Suchy side.
The Suchys are pretty new to America. We came from Prussia, effectively Germany, in the late 1800s. In 1868, when he was 28 years old, my great, great grandpa Hillary came here from Marienwerder, West Prussia, but he had some problems along the way. In a short paragraph about him in the book The History of Millerville, Douglas County, Minnesota: 1866 to 1930 by Karl Matthias Klein, I found that the money Hillary saved up to buy a ticket to the new world was stolen. Luckily he was able to borrow money from a man already here in Minnesota in exchange for working for the man for three years to pay off the debt. Basically he came over here to be an indentured servant for three years, but for reasons unknown, after nine months he was released from the three-year sentence.
Here’s a picture of the tiny paragraph about him in the book (click to make it larger):
I want to know more about this robbery, but of course, nothing exists for my little, old, farmer great, great grandfather. At least nothing about the robbery exists in the U.S.
The interesting thing about “Who Do You Think You Are?” is that they send celebrities overseas to uncover more family history. For me to try to figure out more about this robbery, I’d most likely have to have great contacts in Germany to try to track this down or travel to Germany, which is quite a trip for a non-celebrity. I also most likely wouldn’t find a thing. Did great, great grandpa Hillary even report this crime? If so, do the records still exist? The likelihood of either of these scenarios is slim to none.
I really didn’t do a lot of research into my past, so maybe I could uncover more about good ol’ Hillary. “Who Do You Think You Are?” has me interested to keep trying, but it also gives false hope. The television network has a lot of money to hire historians and travel all over the world to uncover family histories. The rest of us don’t have that luxury. So maybe I should take what I uncovered and just be fascinated by it, or maybe I will finally take that trip to Germany that I keep talking about and actually try to track something down.