Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Sean Hayes On WDYTYA?

Last Sunday night, episode four of the sixth season of Who Do You Think You Are? featured actor Sean Hayes. For the last few months it was common knowledge online that Sean's Hayes line went back to the Ballylongford area of Co. Kerry. Nonetheless, seeing the genealogical journey unfold is just as important as finding out where in Ireland his ancestors came from.

The first steps to take when descendants of Irish emigrants begin genealogy research is to see what can be gleaned from family members and then conduct research in the country of immigration. After getting a few bits of information from his brother, Sean travels to Chicago. Here he is shown his grandfather's death certificate along with interesting documents that show his admission to hospital before he died. It is on these documents that Sean learns the name of his great-grandfather, Patrick, along with very sad information about his grandfather's final months. After finding Patrick and his family in the 1930 census, Sean is able to get Patrick's naturalization records. As the declaration of intention to naturalize dates from after 26 September 1906—in the case of this document, 11 February 1918—it asks where the applicant was born. This is the document that provides the connection to Ballylongford (to read more about the value to Irish genealogy research of the online index for these Cook County Illinois records, click here to read my post from July 2014).

Research is conducted in Ireland for the rest of the show and the information from U.S. documentation fits together beautifully with that found in Irish records. A great example of this is Patrick Hayes' height as begin 6' 1'' on both his Chicago declaration of intention to naturalize document and Irish prison records. Many of the documents from Ireland shown on the show in the large dusty ledgers are from the Petty Session Court Registers and Prison Registers, both of which are available on (here and here). Indexes for the Prison Registers are available to search for free on Familysearch.

A couple of good genealogy tips and lessons are highlighted. Sean first goes to the Card Catalog section before selecting a federal census database while doing one piece of research on the website of show sponsor The Card Catalog is a great place to start your research as it allows you to see what record databases are available to consult. A 1901 census document from Ireland is also shown and since Patrick Hayes was in prison at the time, he is shown by his initials 'P H' on the document, as those in institutions when the census was taken only had their initials recorded. Click here to view the original document (inmate number 12).

One very mild criticism is that the University of Limerick historian who is guiding Sean through the Irish records indicates that "this is the end of the road" when Sean asks if any more information can be found about a particular ancestor. While information about that person might not be available, it might have been nice to show some entries from parish registers that would have brought the story back a little further. The Petty Session Court records mention the family as living in the townland of Kilcolgan Lower. Church records for this part of Kerry are free to search on and begin in 1823 for the Ballylongford Catholic parish.[1] However, it is understandable that further information such as this would not fit with the theme of the episode.

Throughout the show we see the tragic cycle of generational alcoholism and dysfunction. In his Irish Times column this week, John Grenham discusses the healing and closure that can occur through genealogy research. What makes this one of the better WDYTYA? episodes is that by following the genealogy records, Sean Hayes gets to find out the cause of the despair for his great-great grandfather, which is sadly repeated in his family down the next three generations to his own father.

[1] The townland of Kilcolgan Lower is not actually in the Catholic parish of Ballylongford but finding ancestors listed as living in a townland that is not strictly within the borders of a parish is very common.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for your review of the Sean Hayes episode of WDYTYA, Joe.

    I very much enjoyed the show's focus on Irish heritage, although it portrayed a sad generations-old pattern of family heartbreak. I liked the way that the episode highlighted many of the records I am familiar with thanks to my own search for Irish roots.

    I, too, was disappointed in the historian's comment that "this is the end of the road". Though it was probably intended to mean that "this is the end of the road for this WDYTYA episode's search" for Sean Hayes' paternal line, it may have been misleading to some viewers.

    Thanks again for this review and for all that you do for Irish genealogy!