Who Do You Think You Are? was back again last night, with actress Jessica Biel appearing on the show wanting to get to the bottom of some longstanding family mysteries. The Biels, according to family tradition, hailed from Germany, making the journey to the USA in the late 19th century. Beyond that, Jessica knew relatively little about the history of the Biel side of her family.
A visit to a genealogist is made, in which Biel discovers that family lore was wrong all along. The genealogist shows Biel her family in the 1910 US census, useful as it shows country of birth, as well as country of birth of both parents, and so can be vital in taking immigrant research further. In the 1910 census, the Biel family was found in Chicago:
View this record here
Morris Biel, the head of the household, is Jessica's great-great-great-grandfather. In country of birth, a surprise is waiting:
The Biels weren't German at all. In fact, they came to the US from Austria-Hungary. The surprises didn't end here, however. Biel discovers another relative a couple of lines above Morris. A Julius Biel, head of his household and another son of Morris, also hailing from Austria-Hungary. The biggest shock of the episode for Biel comes in the information the census holds regarding Julius' wife Ella.
Ella wasn't born in Austria-Hungary, her birth place is listed as Maryland. Her parents, however:
Ella's parents were Jewish, born in Russia. The genealogist tells Biel that in this period, it would be unlikely that people married outside of their religion. This means that it's incredibly likely that the Biel family was Jewish. For Jessica Biel, this is a bolt from the blue, as this Jewish heritage is something completely unknown in her family today. 'Wow, I've never heard of this before in my family,' Biel exclaims. 'That's kind of a big things not to know about. This changes everything!'
Following the story of another great-great-great grandfather, Francis Brazier, Biel wanted to get to the bottom of just what role he played in the Civil War. Meeting with a Civil War historian, Biel discovered that Brazier signed an oath of allegiance to the Union, possibly under duress. Brazier then went on to join the Confederate army, fight in one battle and then desert, spending most of the war, according to the expert 'trying to avoid the Union home guard'.
We can't wait for more next week!