March 6, 2010

Answers to Genealogists' Questions about Episode 1 of Who Do You Think You Are

This informative email just in from Ancestry.com is NBC's official partner on the series Who Do You Think You Are and is a recommended website for genealogists.

An hour doesn’t offer much time to delve into the research processes that genealogists used as they traced the family history of actress Sarah Jessica Parker for this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? We sat down with the research team who worked on Sarah Jessica’s family tree to talk about what it took to find her elusive gold miner ancestor. I’ve recapped that conversation here:

First Steps First
Similar to Sarah Jessica Parker’s own assumptions at the beginning of the show, research on the tree began with vague ideas that her family was comprised of recent immigrants. The team first developed a skeleton of Sarah Jessica’s family history. “We documented every connection and every life event for her ancestors,” says Natalie Cottrill of ProGenealogists, who appeared with Sarah Jessica in the episode, “finding information about Sarah Jessica’s family in court records, newspaper articles, books, and personal letters published in books.” And that’s how they found John S. Hodge.

The First Nugget
The first clue about John S. Hodge’s life came from his son’s obituary, which stated that John S. Hodge died in 1849 on his way to California from Ohio. Since the death date came from an obituary written decades after John S. Hodge died, the team looked for primary sources recorded during or around the anticipated lifespan for John S. Hodge. For starters, the team wanted to determine why the ancestral John S. Hodge was going to California, as the son’s obituary stated. Considering the time period – 1849 – it seemed probable that John S. Hodge could have been heading to the California gold fields.

The Right John?
The search led to a John Hodge, who was the right age to be Sarah Jessica’s ancestor, listed as a miner in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for El Dorado County, California. This record shifted research to determining whether the California John Hodge was the ancestral John S. Hodge, and the researchers turned to records associated with the 49ers. “We found a letter written by someone in Ohio to John S. Hodge, which had been published in a book,” says Natalie. “One of my colleagues tracked down the original set of letters, which provided more details, including information about John S. Hodge’s 1950 [sic. Read "1850"] death.” Estate and other documents further confirmed that the ancestral John S. Hodge and the California miner John Hodge was the same individual.

If you missed the Sarah Jessica Parker episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, you can watch full episodes online at NBC.com. And you won't want to miss former NFL football player Emmitt Smith set out to discover his slavery roots this Friday, March 12, at 8/7c on NBC. Lisa Kudrow said his episode is the most compelling of the seven (and, personally, I have to agree). Check out the teaser to the episode featuring Emmitt.

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