Posted by Crista Cowan on March 10, 2018 in Entertainment, Women in History

Here at Ancestry, the Research and Editorial Team (of which I am a part) loves the TV show, Timeless.  It makes sense.  The show centers around a group of time travelers.  And, what family historian do you know that doesn’t wish they could travel back in time to the places their ancestors lived?

(If you haven’t watched Season 1 yet, you might want to binge watch it while working on your own family tree this weekend.  Come to think of it, I may do that, too.  Even though I’ve already seen every episode.  Don’t judge me.)

Season 2 of Timeless premiers Sunday evening on NBC.  The teaser reveals that Lucy finds herself on the French battlefront during World War I where she is trying to save an American solider who turns out to be her great-grandfather.  She enlists none other than Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie to assist her in her daring rescue.

Being the curious genealogists we are, the Research Team couldn’t let the opportunity pass to dig into the Ancestry collections to see what records we have for Madame Curie that give us a little more insight into the life of one of the world’s greatest scientists.

In 1921, 53 year old, Marie, traveled from Paris to New York with her two daughters, Irene, age 23, and Eve, age 16 at the invitation of a group of American women who had formed the Marie Curie Committee.

These American women had heard how Madame Curie had been forced to abandon her research into radium and its ability to treat cancer because she had given her entire supply to the war effort.  The fundraising efforts of this committee raised nearly $200,000.  That money purchased one gram of radium that was presented to her at the White House.

Touching stories of the women who helped raise those funds, and insights into how Marie Curie accepted that gift and dedicated its use, were told in newspapers across the country for much of the next decade.  Here is one example from the Syracuse (New York) Herald on 27 Nov 1927.

Of course, these events in Marie’s life transpired years after the WWI timeline to be portrayed on Timeless this week.  So, while we were at it, the Research Team also took the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the family history of Abigail Spencer (who plays Lucy).  It turns out that Abigail’s great-grandfather, Yancey Bailey Spencer Sr, served in France during World War I.  I wonder if he was one of the estimated one million wounded soldiers treated through the humanitarian efforts of Marie Curie and her team.

According to his WWI Draft Registration Card, Yancey was born in Milton, North Carolina in 1891.  He was 5’8″ with blonde hair and blue eyes.  He worked as a plasterer both before and after his service in the war.

Abigail’s great-grandfather served in France during WWI.  Lucy’s great-grandfather served in France during WWI.  I’m excited to watch Timeless on Sunday night to see what other similarities might pop up.  Come find me on Twitter and we can live tweet the episode together.

Crista Cowan

Crista has been doing genealogy since she was a child. She has been employed at since 2004. Around here she's known as The Barefoot Genealogist. Twitter


  1. Paula

    A quick couple of corrections. Her title is “Madame,” not “Madam.” “Madame” is the French version of “Mrs.” Also, it’s the Nobel Prize, not “Noble.” Otherwise, a nice article.

  2. Janice Hall

    My husband and I watch Timeless also and always check the “facts” they put forward in the story line. And me being the genealogist in the family enjoy seeing the different times and relating it to my family histories. Thanks for the heads up and the information on Madame Curie and the actor that plays Lucy.

  3. Jane Killeen

    Crista ~ What a wonderful story of the dedication & generosity of American women in helping Mme. Curie continue her cancer research! I didn’t even realize the word ‘cancer’ was known back in the 1920’s. I would have loved to have been the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ when they presented the radium & other research materials to Marie ~ it must have been very moving! I remember watching some of your on-line Genealogy sessions years ago ~ always very helpful & interesting (are you still doing those for I thoroughly enjoy the tv series WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? and FINDING YOUR ROOTS. Now, you’ve whetted my appetite for the show TIMELESS ~ I’m off to try to locate which station carries it. Great article ~ thanks!

    • Kathy

      Jane, I just this week found an ancestor from the 1840s with a death certificate that listed “cancer” as the cause of death. I was surprised to see the term used so early too.

  4. Jane Killeen

    p.s. Also, so interesting that both of the actor’s & character’s Grt-Grandfathers served in France in WWI!

  5. Richard Crowther

    Your discussions about people involved with WWI made me think of my great aunt who served as a nurse in France during the war. I have always wondered if there were any available records concerning the service of these nurses.

    • Crista Cowan

      Richard, Do you know if she was in a branch of the military or did she work for the Red Cross or some other organization?

      • Richard Crowther

        All of the info that I have came from a letter that she wrote to her sister and the Application for Headstone or Marker. The application states that she served in the Army, her rank was A. N. C. (Army Nurse Corps) with Base Hospital #57 Med. Dept. Her letter dated Dec. 1, 1918 from Paris, France also referenced Base Hospital 57, American E. F.

        • Crista Cowan

          You should contact the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis to see what information they might have about her. But, keep in mind, they had a fire back in 1973 and 80% of the Army records for personnel discharged between 1 Nov 1912 and 1 Jan 1960 were destroyed.

  6. Lois Soefje-Brisco

    I submitted my saliva 8 or more weeks ago and have heard nothing about my ethnicity. Can I expect to hear something soon?
    Since I do not know my parents actual birthdates nor even the names of my grandparents, I suppose it is impossible to trace my ancestry. Is that correct? My mother died when I was a child of 7 years . Any records and photographs were destroyed in a house fire a few years later.My father, who was much older than my mother died when I was 21; I understood from him that he was 71 at that time but nothing was ever completely clear. Thank you in advance for your response.

    • Crista Cowan

      Lois – When you log in to the Ancestry account where you activated your AncestryDNA kit, and click on DNA, what does it say is the status of your kit?

      Also, one of the reasons people take the AncestryDNA test is to connect with living family members. Besides your ethnicity estimate you will also get a list of people in the AncestryDNA network that you share DNA with. We can tell, based on how much DNA you share, how closely you are related. So, for example, if you get a 1st cousin match, then you likely share a set of grandparents. You may not know who your grandparents are, but contact that match and they just might.

  7. Dan

    After watching the show tonight, I’m struck by the fact that Lucy, a highly “addictive” historian, doesn’t even know her great-grandfather’s name. That was the big reveal at show end. The man whose life they went back to save in the episode was Lucy’s mother’s grandfather – Lucy’s great-grandfather. I guess just file this under the heading of another of the cloying inconsistencies in writing that detractors of the show are always crabbing about. Despite those flaws, I LOVE this show!

    • Crista Cowan

      Interestingly enough, I know plenty of professional historians who don’t know a thing about their own family history. Many of them have expressed that focusing on family history is a vanity play or an ineffective way to view history. They are so very focused on the macro events and the lives of “notables” that they miss the interplay of generations. Of course, as genealogists, we know better. The real stories of history are told through the lives of the ordinary people. And where better to find those than in our own family trees.

  8. Claire

    Dear (Lois) After doing my DNA, I found out at 62 that I was 49% Jewish! Which I never knew! There was no one to answer who my father was, but through Ancestry I found 3, (1st- 2nd Cousins) plus with over 2,000 more relatives. They have all confirmed I could only belong to One Family line. It has become an exciting adventure of a lifetime! I dream about these people of my {History Story} and how hard they worked just to make mine this much easier!

  9. Michael Jerry Brock here from Ancestry. Not sure where my ancestors came from. I have found a Brock on my dad’s side of the family and a Shipes on my mother’s side of the family in country btw 1700-1800. David Shipes was born abt 1745 in Barnwell County, SC. George Brock was born abt 1760 in NC. That is the farthest back that I can find. Any help will be greatly, greatly appreciated. God bless, Jerry Brock

  10. June Lenore Semmel Horowitz

    I just found this blog. My paternal grandmother’s twin brother fought in Europe in WWI. I don’t know which country. He survived the war and was on a ship coming home when he died from pneumonia on ship and was buried at sea. Sad time for his family. His mother was still alive.

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