In Friday’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Helen Hunt explored her father’s side of the family tree. I caught parts of it between severe weather updates, and finally yesterday I was able to see the whole thing on Hulu (shortly before watching “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.”).
Hunt’s family tree seemed full of distinguished ancestors. She starts with her great-grandmother Florence Rothenburg—a name later changed to Roberts, which a historian explains would’ve made life easier for the Jewish-American family—in New York City in 1900.
After her husband died, Florence took her four small children to Pasadena, Calif., a move that seemed strange for a newly widowed woman. But it turned out that California was home for Florence.
Florence’s father was one of the Scholle brothers, clothiers who started out in New York. Florence’s father (Hunt’s great-great-grandfather) William Scholle opened a branch in San Francisco to serve the Gold Rush pioneers.
He built the business to the point he was listed in a newspaper article about local millionaires. In 1890, he was an investor, along with Isaias Hellman, Levi Strauss and others, in the Nevada Bank (it merged with Wells Fargo in 1905).
That was Hunt’s dad’s mother’s family. Next, in Portland, Maine, she learns about the paternal side. Her great-great-grandmother was Augusta Hunt, a local leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
Hunt was almost reluctant to learn more—her impression of the WCTU was that of a group of teetotalers who wanted to restrict everyone else’s freedoms. But a historian explained the extent of alcohol abuse at the time and the suffering it caused, particularly for women and children.
As part of the WCTU, Augusta supported a variety of causes, including female suffrage—and she lived long enough to see the 19th amendment passed. An obituary stated she was the first woman in Portland to cast her vote.
I noticed Hunt’s voice-overs in this episode would say “I’m meeting so-and-so, whom I’ve asked to research my ancestor so-and-so.” Past episodes have been presented more as a collaboration between the celebrity and researcher (whether or not that was actually the case), with the celebrity doing more active searching. I wonder if this is a new approach?
I appreciated all the history in this episode and the lesson to learn historical context before making assumptions about your ancestors. Ironically, early on we learned that Hunt’s grandmother—Augusta’s daughter-in-law—was killed by a drunk driver when Hunt’s dad was 5 years old.
The scene in which Hunt goes home to share everything she learned with her dad didn’t make the final episode. For those who love this part of the show, here’s the deleted scene:
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