Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are (epidodes 3-4) – Lisa Kudrow and Matthew Broderick

I didn’t post after the Lisa Kudrow episode, so I will recount her story and Mathew’s story from last night.

Every episode has been really good and interesting, but I have to admit that Lisa Kudrow’s story was the hardest to watch so far. There really is no way to hear about the holocaust without wanting to turn the channel. But there was a happy ending to her story, too, which made up for the ugliness – sort of.

Lisa starts the episode by visiting her father, a sweet man who is often emotional as he recalls the past. He tells her how he heard about his grandmother’s murder, which occurred in the village of Ilya in Belarus. His Polish cousin, Yuri, visited him after her murder and told him what happened, and then Yuri himself died – or so he thought.

We next see Lisa going to Belarus to learn about her great-grandmother. There she is able to see archived records that list the victims of the Ilya massacre. The record for her g-grandmother said she was killed and then burned. Lisa takes that information and goes to visit where her great-grandmother lived, a peaceful looking place that had once seen great horrors. The hardest part of the show to watch was her finding an old woman who remembered her great-grandmother and what happened that night. The pain in that woman’s expression and her words as she told the story of that horrible time was hard to watch, especially when she recounts how she had tried to hide a small girl who was found and thrown into the fire. But it is the truth, and a truth of despicable humanity that cannot be silenced lest we forget.

Later, we see Lisa walk the path her great-grandmother did to her burial – a mass burial of 900. Now there is a memorial at the location, and after paying her respects, she pushes forward with searching for her father’s cousin Yuri. She knows from her father what naval ship Yuri served on, and she finds his name on records online and that he is from from Gdynia, Poland. Next stop for Lisa? Poland.

In Poland, she searches the phone book and discovers to her surprise, not his descendant, but his name (which is actually Boleslaw). Is he alive? She calls the number and speaks to his son, and, yes, he is still alive! Lisa goes to Yuri’s home and shares stories and photos with the family, and they discuss the meeting years ago between him and her father. He also tells how he escaped death himself at a young age of 15 by taking enormous risks.

This was a heart-wrenching episode, but what was clear for Jews doing genealogy is that there are records to be found! So don’t give up. Lisa Kudrow’s epidose can be watched here.

Switch to Matthew Broderick’s story from last night. What a sweetheart of a guy!

Last night’s episode starts with Matthew recalling his father who died when Matthew was twenty – a time when he didn’t think to ask many questions about his history. He also tells us his father was a quiet person. Later, with his sister, they discuss his father’s father, who was also quiet and was known for having a bit of a difficult personality. His sister thinks she heard he may have been gassed during WWI. And this provides the first clue of where to find information – military records.

Matthew starts his search in New York City at the National Archives where he learns his grandfather served in France in the medical department. So off to France Matthew goes – Meuse-Argonne, France, to be exact. There he meets an historian on the old battlefield where his grandfather served. The historian has records that show Matthew’s grandfather was a medic and took care of the wounded. His job was among the most dangerous because he would have constantly had to put himself into the line of fire as soon as a soldier went down and needed medical help. In fact, Matthew learns that his grandfather earned a purple heart that day. He is overwhelmed by the knowledge and the pride he feels. He had never known any of it! While they visit the graves of fallen soldiers nearby, including those his grandfather served with, he learns that his grandfather also received a service cross, the second highest award given. It was given for putting his life on the line to save those who had fallen. Matthew’s grandfather was a military hero.

The show switches over to Matthew’s grandmother and her line. To learn about her, he goes to Connecticut and the archives there. He learns that his grandmother grew up in a home for children and that she was orphaned when her father died in a logging accident. They conitnue to pursue the history farther back and finds his great-grandfather living with his mother and siblings in the 1870 census, but there is no record of his great-great grandfather. He does, however, find him in the 1850 census with his wife and Matthew’s great-grandfather as a child. The family is missing in the 1860 census, however, and this makes Matthew think about the Civil War. Was his great-great grandfather involved? Of course, the historian helping him has already found a bunch of civil war records and produces one showing the Union enlistment of his gg-grandfather. He also finds records to show he had served in Gettysburg – a battle he survived. I have to say, I was quite amazed at how well-kept those civil war records looked. It is wonderful what records can be found!

A final battle for his great-great grandfather is discovered, however, and it is in Atlanta, Georgia. Matthew travels to the location of the battle where he learns from another historian that his gg-grandfather took a musket ball to the head. He also sees where his ancestor had been temporarily buried (now a rail yard). The soldiers were later moved to a national cemetery down the road.

At the cemetery he learns of an unknown soldier’s grave. Through detailed rosters and accounting of known headstones, the historian was now able to discover that the lone unknown soldier’s headstone was actually that of Matthew’s gg-grandfather. So Matthew’s search helped the historian solve this mystery. They visit the grave, and Matthew is assured that an appropriate headstone will now be placed there. They were lucky the bodies and headstones had been so well documented, although somehow the link between his gg-grandfather and the unknown soldier had not been made before. It is a special moment when Matthew realizes the history his ancestors participated in that affect us all today because of their service.

If you missed this episode, you can watch it here.

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