Posted by Ancestry Team on July 25, 2014 in Who Do You Think You Are?

CynthiaNixonFor the television show Who Do You Think You Are? our job is to tell stories we find in family trees. And a good story needs good characters, the more well-rounded and dynamic, the better. So when we research an episode for Who Do You Think You Are? we look to learn everything we can about each “character” in the episode. The story is always better when you understand details such as where each person comes from, their family relationships, their economic situation, their political leanings, and their motivations. Two important characters in Cynthia Nixon’s story were her 3x great-grandmother Martha Curnutt and Martha’s husband, Noah Casto.

Noah Casto was certainly a character—and he wasn’t one to stay in one place. Noah lived his adult life in the early 1800s and apparently embraced the idea of westward expansion because he always seemed to be moving on to the next opportunity. His habit of perpetual migration made picking up his trail complicated work, and we had to track his movements meticulously. We did this by using one of the family historian’s most basic and useful tools: a map.
Maps are often critical for piecing together a genealogical puzzle. They can help a researcher see whether various records fit a pattern of migration or suggest additional counties or states to investigate. As we were researching Noah Casto, maps helped us follow and understand his movements and provided evidence that we were on the right track.

Noah Casto’s name appeared in records scattered across multiple states. These included:

  • 1820 census, Greene County, Pennsylvania
  • 1830 tax list, Guernsey County, Ohio
  • 1835 and 1836 land records, Shelby County, Indiana
  • 1839 marriage to Martha Curnutt, Cole County, Missouri

Because of his uncommon name, it seemed possible that all these records were for the same guy, but would one man’s records really be spread across so many states over such a relatively short time?

We created a map detailing the movements in all the documents that mentioned a Noah Casto. If he was the same person, it turns out that his route closely follows the National Road established in the early 1800s, which stretched westward from Maryland through the southwest corner of Pennsylvania; onward to Guernsey County, Ohio; and through Indiana, north of Shelby County. Using this map, it is easy to see that Cole County, Missouri was connected to these eastern states by river, suggesting that Noah’s movements from Greene County, Pennsylvania all the way to Cole County, Missouri were very plausible. Additional research proved that almost all the records were about the right man.


With any family you’re researching—and especially for difficult research problems—it’s wise to study a map to see exactly where their county was situated and what counties or states were adjacent or nearby. Knowing what jurisdictions were within easy traveling distance can lead to records about people you are looking for. For example, we found several records naming Noah Casto in Ohio and Indiana, both of which border Kentucky. If we had ignored all Kentucky records, we would have missed an earlier marriage bond naming Noah Casto.


Maps can also inform you about a county’s physical environment, which can influence where you find records. For example, if a river separates a family from the county seat, a couple may have chosen to get a marriage license from a more convenient courthouse even if it was located in a different county. Taking time to create maps for the people in your family tree can be an invaluable tool to help direct your research—and it can also turn your own ancestors into characters in your family story.

Learn more about Cynthia’s journey or watch a clip from the episode on

Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Wednesdays 9|8c on TLC.

Other episodes this season:


And if you missed our live tweeting of the premiere episode, check out the Storify we put together with some of the key tweets and comments shared on Wednesday night.


  1. S A Rankin

    I watched the series online last year. Why isn’t that option available this year? I don’t have a television.

  2. Kristie Wells

    S.A.: Right now TLC is offering a clip of the episode, we are awaiting word if they will put the entire show online.

  3. B Richard

    So what happened to the first wife?
    I saw the episode, makes me now wonder if he did in the Kentucky wife?

  4. Deb Brunt

    I also would like to know when/if they will put the full episodes online, like they did last year. Don’t have TLC but love this show.

  5. Terri

    I love the map — do you have a special software that does your mapping or do you have a site where you can get maps across several states that include the county outlines?

  6. Laurie

    I was looking into Noah Casto on Ancestry last night and it seems like he may have had two wives before Martha Casto. Since she didn’t marry him until 1839 and she killed him two or three years later, it seems like some of the children that she later named “Curnutt” were actually the children of the first wife. On findagrave someone said she had his children before they were married but that doesn’t really make sense to me.

  7. Christine

    Extremely lame that they didn’t put up the full episode the next day (or ever apparently). I am not going to give those people any more traffic to their website until it is confirmed that they have full episodes.

  8. Kristie Wells

    For those inquiring about the map, it was created by David Vance during the research process. The underlying map comes from the Map Maker at, an official U.S. government site. He used Microsoft Paint to color in counties, and tools included with Microsoft Word to trace rivers, add text boxes and arrows, etc.

    It is amazing and we let him know you thought so!

  9. Susan Jenkins

    The episode is available on Amazon Prime.

    Regarding the marriages of Noah Casto, it appears from details on that excellent map that he married his first wife, Lydia Holmes, in Indiana in Jan. 1836, his second wife, Anna Stutirds, in Kentucky only one year later in Jan 1837, and then Martha Cornutt on Missouri in July 1839. Not to get too melodramatic or anything, but one wonders if these women both died in childbirth or from the rigors of frontier life, or if Noah, in fact, was some kind of frontier Bluebeard or serial killer, and was his threat to kill Martha all too likely to have come true if she had not acted in self defense?

    As it happens, I may have some relevant information about Noah Casto and his ancestors. Watching the show, my husband and I were amazed to hear the surname “Casto,” since that is one of the names in my maternal grandmother’ s line. So, we looked him up in our records and it appears that one of my direct ancestors was a first cousin of the horrible Noah Casto. The family’s geographical origins in America are on the South Jersey shore, an area known as Great Egg Harbor, in what is now Atlantic County, NJ, which was settled in the late 17th/early 18th century, but easily accessible to southeastern Pennsylvania and the path to the National Road. The Casto family had a business which shipped goods to the then-western frontier.

    My 4th great grandmother, Sarah (“Sallie”) Casto (b. 7/20/1800),was Noah’s first cousin. Sallie married Nathaniel Risley, Jr. (b. 1798) in the great Egg Harbor/Pleasantville area. Sallie and Noah were double cousins, since their fathers were brothers David and Andrew Casto, and their mothers were sisters Amy and Rachel Biggs.

    While we were surprised to hear the name “Casto” on the program, we are pretty sure that it is the same person, since it is an unusual name and we have found records listing his death as occurring in 1843. So, after the show ended, we went online. We did most of this research over 15 years ago, much of it in person at the library of the Atlantic County Historical Society, which has excellent records of the early families in the Great Egg Harbor area of coastal NJ, and some work from the DAR Library in Washington DC.

    Noah Casto was born in 1786 in the Great Egg Harbor/Pleasantville area. His parents were David Casto (1762 – 1817) and Amy Biggs. Amy’s parents were Jeremiah Biggs (b. 1754) and Abigail Smith (1758). Jeremiah’s parents were William Casto and Purthenia Purple (NOT kidding -this really is the name!). William’s father was William Henry Casto (b. 1690) and his mother was Elizabeth Abbott, whose parents were John Abbott and Elizabeth Nicholson. Purthenia’s parents were John Purple and Alice Peterson.

    An interesting early Casto family history has been posted online at I will try to post the link. has a lot of this information already on the Casto, Biggs, and Risley families. And the Risley Family Society maintains a huge family database and published genealogy. If Ms. Nixon wants to find out more about this branch, not all of whom were abusive monsters I hope, there is lots of information available.

  10. Ellen Bentleg

    The Cynthia Nixon episode is available on the WDYTYA US (notUK) YouTube channel. was not able to load link here

  11. Robin

    After watching this episode, it seems logical Sarah (the baby born while Martha was imprisoned) may be Judge B’s child. Judge B’s wife wanted nothing to do with the child and was cruel to Martha. also, if you listen closely, when Ms. Nixon places flowers at Martha headstone, you can hear what sounds like Martha’s spirit saying “thank you” through the bird’s in the air at that moment. Just amazing!

  12. Kathy

    Susan Jenkins – I am related to the Casto family also – Noah Casto’s father David was brother to William Casto, Jr. and I’m descended through William. So great to find out more about the family through this show and the information provided on Noah. I will check out the sites and sources you refer to above. Thanks!

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