In this episode, former Pittsburgh Steelers player Jerome Bettis visits Kentucky to learn about his moms roots. He didnt trace as many generations as in some other episodes, but I liked the attention spent on each person.
Bettis, an African-American, turned to newspapers for details not documented in official records. He found references to court cases for his great-grandfather being struck by his boss, and in a separate incident, his great-great-grandfather being hit by a train.
The deck was stacked against each man in his case, but Bettis discovered in court records that his great-great-grandfather Abe Bogard won his complaint against the Illinois Central Railroad. Bettis actually got to talk to someone who remembered hearing about the case from men employed by the railroad at the time.
One of my favorite aspects of this episode was the way a Western Kentucky University history professor showed Bettis how to trace his family into slavery. Presuming that the name Bogard was taken from a former owner, Bettis found a white Bogard family in the area and checked will records and slave dower lists (reports of slaves women had inherited).
They found a Jerry and Eliza, with a son Abe. I cant imagine the feeling that would hit you when you see a record showing that your family members were owned by other people, and monetary values placed on their heads.
The owner, Joseph Bogard, willed Bettis ancestors to his wife. After she died, Abe and his parents were sold off to separate owners. The good news is that the 1870 census, the first US census to name former slaves, showed the family was reunited.
Update: For those of you wondering why Burnett Bogard, Jerome’s great-grandfather, abandoned his family, part of the answer is in this deleted scene about a rift in the family’s church: