Sarah Jessica Parker on "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Natalie Cottrill

Working with Ancestry.com and Wall to Wall Productions in the quest for Sarah Jessica Parker's ancestry was truly an incredible experience. Sarah is a remarkable individual. I was surprised that going into the show she really didn't think that any of her ancestry was remarkable at all. Of course, I think everyone’s ancestry is incredible … that’s why I do this for a career. But, like most Americans, Sarah Jessica Parker was curious to find out more. She had a chance to learn more about her ancestry on the new Television Series, Who Do You Think You Are?, which airs Fridays, beginning 5 March at 8/7c.

Starting Out

If you’re starting out and you just watched the show, you might be mystified about how to get started on your family tree. Well, you can start out just like Sarah Jessica did. Meet with family members! Start with your family and interview your parents and grandparents if they are still living. Sarah Jessica Parker interviewed her mother at the start of the show. That's what every beginning genealogist needs to do! Interview your relatives (sample questions) and take copious notes.
 
When Sarah Jessica Parker interviewed her mother, she learned some tantalizing clues about her great-grandmother. Sarah Jessica learned her great-grandmother's first and last name, Lillian Hodge, and the name of Lillian’s father, Elva. She even picked up some amazing photos, too, of her “Hodgian,” ancestor, Elva Hodge. Didn’t you love his moustache? (You can view the episode on Hulu.com if you haven't already). So, do you know the names of your great-grandmother and great-grandfather? Who can you interview to find out more?

Ok, once you learn the names of your grandparents or great-grandparents see if you can find out during your interview the year they were born, or the year that they died. Maybe your living relatives will know this information. The more information that you can get from your living relatives, the easier the next step will be for you.

Digging In!

Maybe you have already been dabbling in your family tree just a little over the years, and you have already interviewed family members. That’s great! Still, knowing what work you’ve already put into your family tree, you might feel a little baffled or bummed by how easily Sarah Jessica’s family tree apparently goes back 12 or so generations in just an hour. Don’t be. Condensing amazing feats into an hour long show is the magic of television!

A unified team of genealogists worked to bring to light the stories in Sarah Jessica Parker's family tree. Genealogists worked feverishly on some quick deadlines. Fortunately, there were excellent sources on Ancestry.com, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, New England Historic Genealogical Society and the various other archives and museums (some were mentioned on the show). How many people do you know, who know that there are original old witch trial documents still preserved in Massachusetts, or that there’s a gold mine museum dedicated to 49ers in California!

So, the next thing to do on your journey, is set aside any thoughts that “this is going to be easy and I’ll be done in an hour or two,” and get ready to do some long term digging. Refer back to your family’s interview notes. Do you have any birth, marriage, or death records for your most recent ancestors? If not, that’s your next step.

Search for and obtain copies, in particular, of the death records for your deceased ancestors. Presuming they died after 1900, you have a really good chance of finding death records for them. Death records are pretty cool because they are the last official government (civil) record that will be made about your ancestor … an ancestor who could have been born 60-100 years previous … long before there were birth records in some areas. If the informant for the death record was knowledgeable, it could include important items like parents’ names! Recall that Sarah Jessica Parker was able to hold in her hands the death certificate of her ancestor, Elva Hodge. It stated that his father was John Hodge, born Ohio, and Mary Stewart, born Ohio. This one document added TWO ancestors to her family tree! It also told researchers where to look for those ancestors. This type of progress and reward can be yours, too!

Details, Details

So, lots of people have said they want “more details,” about how the research was undertaken. Unfortunately, describing all of the steps that is took to unearth Sarah Jessica Parker’s family tree would probably take an entire book!

So, what we’ve decided to do with each of the episodes is to take one of the documents that helped make a breakthrough in the tree and discuss it in detail. You requested details, so, here they are. When we researched Sarah Jessica Parker’s genealogy, the death record of her ancestor, Elva D. Hodge, gave us a veritable wealth of information. With that information, we were then able to find Elva with his parents, John and Mary (Stewart) Hodge in census records, which eventually led to us finding John Hodge’s parentage.

We’re going to dissect an Ohio death certificate from the 1908-1954 time period. We’ll pull it apart like a professional genealogist does. Then you can start learning how to critique documents like a pro! Continue reading about death records ...

If you'd like help with your Ohio, Mid-West, or New England ancestry, contact us for a free estimate!

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