Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Ancestry.com Site, Who Do You Think You Are?

WDYTYA_ChrisODonnell

 

Actor Chris O’Donnell sees Who Do You Think You Are? as a chance to both honor and learn about his beloved late father, William O’Donnell, “the quintessential family man,” and his side of the family. He turns to his niece Tory, an amateur genealogist, to get started.

Chris’ grandmother Sarah Regina McCabe’s baptism certificate provides them with a name they haven’t heard in family lore: Sarah’s mother, Mary McEnnis. A search on Ancestry.com gives them their next clue: Mary with her parents, Michael and Eliza of St. Louis, in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census.

Tory also uncovers a reference on the Missouri History Museum website to a memoir Michael McEnnis wrote about a devastating cholera epidemic in St. Louis in 1849.

Chris follows this exciting lead to St. Louis, where he reads Michael’s heartbreaking account. Michael explains how he had volunteered to fight in the Mexican-American War, but his family’s own tragic circumstances during the epidemic caused him to request a discharge to go home and “take charge.” Chris is amazed to see a photograph of his great-great-grandfather included with the account.

Curious about Michael’s service in the war, Chris heads to Washington, D.C., where he finds his ancestor’s muster rolls and learns that Michael went “absent on furlough” a few months after his enrollment. Intrigued, Chris searches Fold3.com and sees Michael’s actual discharge letter.

But there’s even more incredible proof of Michael’s service: his actual army sabre, donated to the Smithsonian, and an article from 1911 describing the family’s “fighting stock,” including a man named George McNeir, Chris’ 4x great-grandfather. George is mentioned as a 9th generation American who fought in the War of 1812 as a lieutenant in the Sea Fencibles at the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

This clue takes Chris to the National Archives and then to Maryland to learn more about George McNeir. In military documents, the 1810 census on Ancestry.com, court documents and a city directory, Chris finds another ancestor striking a balance between the duty to country and family.

After seeing his tailoring business suffer after the war started, George joined the local naval militia, the Sea Fencibles. By the fall of 1814, George’s pressing family needs led to his own request for a discharge — but only after he stood by a cannon at Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore. There, on the morning of September 14, after enduring twenty-five hours of shelling, he would have seen the fort raise the huge flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became the “Star Spangled Banner.”

In his father’s fathers, Chris recognizes a trait he saw in his dad and that has guided his own life through the glitz of Hollywood and fame: family first.

 

“Who wouldn’t be so proud to hear this about your family? They’re amazing stories.”

 

What can you discover about your own family legacy in records? City directories can tie your story to a location. And military collections on Ancestry.com and Fold3 can give you more insight on those who were called to duty.

Learn more about Chris’ journey by watching the full episode on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Tuesdays 9|8c on TLC.

 

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Research Notes from our ProGenealogists team:

Given his very Irish surname, Chris O’Donnell was sure that most of his paternal ancestors were pretty recent immigrants from Ireland. He was surprised to learn that he has American roots that go back 13 generations. One ancestor was even an eyewitness to an iconic American event.

WDYTYA_McEnnisCensusChris’ journey started in St. Louis where we found the McEnnis family in census records. Chris’ great-great grandfather, Michael Joseph McEnnis, was a grocer who was born in Maryland. He was living with his wife Eliza and their four children in St Louis in 1860.

Armed with this information, we searched for other sources to give us a more detailed picture of the McEnnis family and found Michael McEnnis mentioned in a compiled history entitled McNair, McNear, and McNeir Genealogies at Ancestry.com. From this book published in 1923, we learned that Michael was a veteran of the Mexican War which led us to search for his military service records.

WDYTYA_McNeirThe compiled history also listed Michael’s parents and grandparents along with his extended family. Many of the men in the family served in the military. Michael’s grandfather, George McNeir served during the War of 1812 “taking part in the defense of Fort McHenry.”

George was there during the bombardment of the fort and was a personal witness the next morning to find that the Star Spangled Banner was still there flying over “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Compiled histories can hold a wealth of information and clues. Check out the Stories, Memories, and Histories at Ancestry.com to discover more about your own family.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Episodes from Season 4:

 

 

About Kristie Wells

Kristie is Ancestry's Head of Global Social Media and Customer Engagement and is responsible for developing and managing the company's social media and social business offerings worldwide. She works with a team of community managers, genealogists and social content developers to help educate Ancestry's existing customers, inspire new family historians and expand awareness into new social audiences and communities. She has a deep love of family history and is currently trying to break through the brick wall of her Christophier line (that we all know is really the 'Christopher' surname) and to one day prove - or disprove - the baron line of the Wells family. It shall be done.

10 Comments

Chris O’Donnell Searches For His Father’s Lineage – Finds History of Courage, Patriotism and Devotion - Ancestry Maven 

[...] via Chris O’Donnell Searches For His Father’s Lineage – Finds History of Courage, Patriotism and D…. [...]

August 21, 2013 at 1:43 pm
Kathy Merchant 

Would love to watch this episode but I don’t have cable tv. Have tried numerous times on TLC.com to watch the new season but their website seems to be having major problems. Loyal fans posting comments on TCL.com but whatever TLC is doing to fix the issues isn’t working cause the same problems trying to watch shows came back with Zooey’s show. I have better luck looking for the episodes on YouTube. Then by the time I actually can see the show, the “contest” is closed. I think Ancestry’s partnership with WDYTYA is suffering and fans & Ancestry users are being alienated.

August 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm
observer 

Kathy, I watched this episode this a.m., 8/22 with no problem at all on the TLC.com website. Perhaps there were a great number of people trying to watch yesterday, Wednesday. Try again for sure. It streamed just fine and is well worth it. It will be up for a while (the other ones are still there) and I think you should try again.

August 22, 2013 at 1:55 am
BEE 

I’ve watched every single episode of WDYTYA, and really like the program.
We haven’t been to a movie in years, so I don’t know much about some of these people who are featured, but I still find their life stories interesting.
I really enjoyed meeting this nice young man and his family, and hear his story. However, as I watched the scenes with his niece, I had to wonder how she determined this particular Mary McEnnis was their ancestor.
Because it’s happened to me in my research a number of times, just because they found a Mary McEnnis with the name spelled exactly as it was written on the Baptismal, that doesn’t mean it was the right person.
There were another Mary with the surname spelled differently as often happened no matter the census year, so that certainly wouldn’t have rule them out.
I have to assume someone followed up on this other “Mary Maginnes” born abt 1850 in Ireland. Perhaps they knew that their Mary was born in Missouri?
I still wonder if anyone ever rechecked the information on one of the shows last year where they found a fellow’s grandfather living in CT with another wife and children, when in fact, it was a different man, with the same name, which I believe was easily verified by checking the previous census {as I yelled out to the TV as I was watching the episode unfold!}.

August 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm
Liz 

I have enjoyed these shows and think this one with Chris O’Donnelll was the best yet. I loved how it took him to the battle that produced our national anthem. Amazing! I have been working on my family genealogy for a few years now and I am excited with each new event I find. Ancestry.com has shown me my family in a new light.

August 25, 2013 at 11:28 am
Alvie L Davidson CG 

While working for a client of mine to secure her membership in the Colonial Dames of the 17th Century my client’s path crossed with Chris O’Donnell by both being descendent from Michael McEnnis and George McNeir.

August 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm
Jane Alexander 

I looked at the Chris O’Donnell line and it continues back to early Virginia and qualifies him and his descendants for Jamestowne Society.

John Chew – was a VA Burgess from York Co VA 1642
Samuel Chew and Ann Ayres
Edward Burgess and Sarah Chew
John Burgess and Jane Mackelfresh
William Burgess and Sarah (unknown last name)
Thomas McNeir and Ann / Nancy Burgess
George McNeir and Charlotte Little
John McEnnis and Elizabeth McNeir
Michael J McEnnis and Eliza Dunn
Henry McCabe and Mary McEnnis
John Joseph O’Donnell and Sarah Regina McCabe
William Charles O’Donnell Sr and Julie Ann Rohs von Brecht
Christopher Eugene “Chris” O’Donnell and Caroline Fentress

August 31, 2013 at 4:30 pm
Alvie L Davidson CG 

I saw this about the Jamestowne Society but I was not able to gather the sufficient proof at the time to get my client a membership. Also it would have cost my client more fees and I was not sure if she wanted to go that far.

September 2, 2013 at 4:08 am
September 8, 2013 at 12:03 am
BONITA JOYCE GOEHL 

JUST THINKING HOW INTERESTING IT WOULD BE IF I COULD FIND MY GRANDMOTHER LAURA STEWART? JONES? BEGEMAN? WHO DIED 1910 WAS AN ORPHAN WHEN MY GRANDFATHER MARRIED HER .WE HAVE TRACKED EVERYONE ELSE BUT CANNOT GET THROUGH THE LINES ON HER GERMAN PEOPLE DON’T TALK ABOUT THEIR FAMILIES WHO DIED AT THAT TIME . SHE WAS ONLY 25 , MY FATHER WAS ONLY FIVE AND HE JUST DIDN’T REMEMBER MUCH ABOUT HER.NO ONE DID . I AM BEGINNING TO BELIEVE SHE IS MARGOT BEGEMAN FROM HOLLAND WHO HAD AN AFFAIR WITH VAN GOGH ,
AND HER FAMILY SENT LAURA TO THE US TO BE WITH FREINDS OR RELATIVES… I CAN’T FIND OTHERWISE. MAYBE I AM, ALONG WITH A LOT OF OTHER RELATIVES , THE GREATGRANDAUGHTER OF VAN GOGH..

October 2, 2013 at 11:27 am