Brooke Shields always felt her parents were from separate worlds, but when she dug into her family history on Who Do You Think You Are?, she realised how true this really was. Her mother was from a working-class New Jersey household, and her father’s family stemmed from European aristocracy. Researching the pair, however, gave Brooke better insight into the lives that influenced each of them and that ultimately made Brooke the person she is today.
Here’s the route she took to learn more:
- New Jersey State Archives, Newark, NJ - Growing up, Brooke had always felt her maternal grandmother, Theresa, has been “awful” to Brooke’s mother. But why? Returning to the town where Theresa grew up, Brooke discovers through a birth record that Theresa had two brothers whom Brooke had never heard about. But it’s in death certificates that she finds the reason: they both died young, one as an infant, the other at age 13.
- Ironbound neighborhood, Newark, NJ – Brooke sees a 1911 photo of the street her grandmother and sibling grew up on. However, she also learns that her grandmother’s mother died at age 38 and that Theresa’s 13-year-old brother, Edward, had drowned on a hot summer day. A newspaper article offers additional details and points Brooke to the spot where the tragedy happened. The events help Brooke understand more about her grandmother’s actions and the emotional wounds that likely never healed.
- New York Historical Society, New York City, NY – Switching gears, Brooke turns to her father’s family – did they really have royal roots? She reviews a scroll of her family tree and finds that she’s related to a former banker to the Vatican in Italy.
- Villa Torlonia near Rome, Italy – How did Brooke’s ancestor, Giovanni Torlonia, get so powerful? Brooke learns he bought his way into nobility. But a wedding certificate indicates that Giovanni Torlonia’s father, Marino, wasn’t actually from Italy. He was born in France.
- Augerolles, France - Ancestry.fr family historian, Careen Rabilloud, shows Brooke the birth record stating where Marino was born (rural France), and his original birth name: Marin. Careen notes that Marin was the servant of an abbot who had been accused of being a spy. Marin helped the abbot escape and eventually Marin had to escape himself. She visits the house where Marin likely grew up.
- The Louvre, Paris, France – Another branch of Brooke’s father’s family, however, intrigues Brooke – Christine Marie whose name is appended with “Madame Royal” could be the royal link Brooke has been hoping to find. A family tree at Ancestry.com indicates she was born in The Louvre, and a discussion with a genealogist helps Brooke better understand her connection to French royal lines.
- Saint-Denis Cathedral, Paris, France – Every family historian wishes to touch something their ancestor once held and Brooke is no exception. The prize she gets to touch, however, is no trinket: it’s Henry IV’s heart.
- Palace of Versailles, Versailles, France – Forget photos – Brooke’s royal family tree is commemorated in paintings and sculptures. It’s here Brooke learns how her ties to Henry IV connect her to other French royals, including Louis XIV and others, and gets a glimpse of what they looked like in real life and a better understanding of how connected she really is.
Brooke learned more about her family history than she could have ever hoped on Who Do You Think You Are? And the key to her rapid success on her royal lines was connecting to the work of other researchers.
This is why online family trees can be so valuable: they allow you to benefit from research performed by others. But, when you’re working with an online family tree, use it for guidance, not for fact. Always check the sources, prove connections, and keep your eyes open to any additional and new resources that the original researcher might have missed. You could discover your own family tree branches off in a completely different direction.
And if you want to catch something in the Brooke Shields episode again, you can watch it here.