Brooke Shields has a very diverse and unique family history! This was a very fun and engaging episode that no doubt left people wondering if there's a chance of finding similar stories and connections among their own family lines.
Brooke's father's line is comprised of Italian aristocracy and, as was revealed in the show, French Royalty. On her mother's side, Brooke comes from a long line of working class Americans. Compelling stories from both sides of Brooke's family were shared and in each of story there were key documents shown from around the world. What I would like to point out is the fact that while there are an overwhelming amount of records available on the Internet and at large genealogical libraries (such as the Family History Library), there are still many records that can only be accessed at more local archives and repositories. Hence, when conducting research, it is important to always look beyond the "net" and try contacting local libraries and archives for records that are only available onsite at their location.
Brooke's mother and her maternal grandmother were not close and Brooke grew up with an unpleasant image of her grandmother, Theresa Dollinger. During Brooke's genealogical journey, she learned more about her grandmother's early life and how she was faced with many tragic family loses. Uncovering these stories helped Brooke come to better understand why her grandmother may have been the way she was.
So many of our ancestors had hardships and dealt with tragic loses of spouses, children and parents. Often times these stories go undiscovered, or at the least the finer details do. However, when one steps beyond the basic census records into other historical documents, it is more likely that these details will surface. For example, Brooke learned that her grandmother had two brothers that were previously unknown to her. Theresa Dollinger was the oldest of four children. One brother, John Dollinger, died in infancy. However, another brother, Edward, was found to have died as a teenager.
Edward's death certificate was retrieved from the New Jersey State Archives and at present, this is the only place where New Jersey death certificates from 1900 to 1940 can be obtained. This record revealed that Edward had drowned. Further, a newspaper notice of this tragic event was later found in a 1927 Newark, New Jersey newspaper (also available at the New Jersey State Archives). This article provided many details about the tragic death of Brooke's great-uncle, Edward Dollinger. Had extra time not been spent in canvassing historic newspapers on microfilm, the record may never have been found and the history of the Dollinger family may never have been completely told.
The Torlonia family is a fascinating "rags to riches" story. Brooke knew that her grandmother, Marina Torlonia, was of Italian aristocracy. In the episode, she learned that the Torlonias were a wealthy banking family who were stewards of the Vatican finances. The Torlonia line extended back to one, Marino Torlonia, who was a cloth merchant.
Marino's son, Giovanni Torlonia, became a successful merchant and banker in Rome. The story of his rise in social stature, and his fluid "adoption" into the realms of Italian royalty and aristocracy is compelling and fascinating. Compare the humble beginnings of the Torlonia family (the image above, left) to the "summer home" of Giovanni Torlonia in Rome (the image on the right).
Brooke was very anxious to know where the Torlonias came from and what was hidden in history before Giovanni Torlonia. What pushed Giovanni to such success? How did he end up in Rome? What was his French father and mother like?
With the help of a very old marriage record, taken from the local Catholic Diocesan archives, it was learned that Marino's surname was originally Tourlonias and that he originated from a small town called Augerolles, France! So, not only did a poor, cloth merchant find his way into the wealthy and royal Italian society, but a French one at that! Marino's birth record is actually shown, in ancient French original records in this episode.