Celebrities trace their roots. Film star Ashley Judd investigates her father's side of the family, and investigates whether there is any truth behind two old family stories.
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Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated actress Ashley Judd
has over 20 film and Broadway credits to her name.
Ashley currently lives outside Nashville
with her husband, race car driver Dario Franchitti.
Her mother Naomi and sister Wynonna
are the legendary country music duo the Judds,
and Ashley can trace her mother's family back eight generations
in the state of Kentucky.
I grew up with such an emphasis on the Judd narrative.
I know so much about my mom's side of the family,
and I can rattle off all these last names,
and follow those family trees quite far back.
I would love to know more about my dad's side of the family.
And now that I have, for some years,
been working very actively as a feminist social justice activist
in human rights and public health,
I've started to become curious
about whether or not there was anyone else in my family
who agitated for reform,
who fought for the poor and the exploited and the disempowered.
Ashley is beginning by focusing on
her paternal grandmother's side of the family.
I had the amazing good fortune of spending every summer growing
up with my dad's folks - my mamaw, Mary Bernadine Dalton,
and my Papaw, Michael Lawrenson Ciminella,
as well as my mamaw's mother, Effie Copley, whom we called Granny.
I've got really good information about my papaw Ciminella
and that classic immigrant story of Sicilians in particular.
I know very little about my mamaw's side.
I have a lot of curiosity about how her people
came here, how they lived.
and a really good place to start would be, I think,
with my dad in Louisville, Kentucky.
-'So today I am seeing new treasures.
So this picture's really interesting to me, because this is mamaw...
-With her mother. So she's my great-grandmother.
-Did you call her Granny? What did you call her?
-I called her Granny, and her name was Effie.
What I remember about her is that she had, you know, those deep-set eyes.
One of the things that Mom talked about
was that there was a line that goes up into New England someplace,
and I don't know much about that.
One of the other myths that Mamaw talked about
was that her great-grandfather fought in the Civil War.
Great-great-great. My triple-great grandfather.
-He was Elijah Hensley. Fought for the Union.
Lost a limb, a leg, ended up in prison.
-Why was he in a prison?
-Cos he got caught.
The American Civil was fought between
the Union states of the north who wanted to end slavery,
and the Confederate states of the south who wanted to preserve it.
Between 1861 and 1865, fighting consumed much of the South,
and thousands of men from Kentucky volunteered for service.
Among them, Ashley's triple-great grandfather Elijah Hensley.
To search for Elijah Hensley's military records, Ashley is visiting
the state archives in the city of Frankfort, Kentucky.
That is amazing.
Elijah Hensley, company I,
39th Kentucky infantry. Wow.
"Joined for duty at the age of 18."
To piece together the stories
behind the military records, Ashley is meeting
historian Brian McKnight.
So my triple great-grandfather, Elijah Hensley,
he enlisted on 2 November,
and by this company muster roll,
he was captured "the fourth day of December, 1862,"
32 days later. What is that about?
Well, in the research I've done on the civil war in eastern Kentucky,
what you have is what is generally called a skirmish.
In this skirmish,
many Union soldiers were captured that day.
So where he most likely was
was in a prison in Richmond, Virginia.
OK. "May, June 1863. Present."
-He's present again, right?
-He's present again.
-He's made it back.
-How did he... Was he rescued, or turned loose?
As far as I can tell,
he was freed in a broad exchange of Kentucky prisoners
in the middle of May, 1863.
-So he was held...approximately five to six months.
The last muster roll gives his discharge date.
"June, '65, discharged by reason of disability,"
quite possibly from battle injury.
My dad told me that my great-grandmother told him
that he lost a leg. Now, maybe that's here.
'It appears he was hurt,
'so maybe that's where the story that my granny used to tell my dad'
about Elijah Hensley having lost a leg
in the Civil War factors in.
Ashley is travelling to Saltville, Virginia, where Elijah Hensley
was in battle, to find out more about the circumstances
of Elijah's injury
and what happened to him after the war.
She's meeting Civil War medical expert George Wunderlich.
Hi. I'm Ashley.
How are you today? Very pleased to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-Come right on in.
My triple great-grandfather Elijah Hensley
-came to Virginia to fight in Saltville.
He was injured, and there is a family story
that his injury either was or resulted in an amputated leg.
These records are going to give you the date of injury and a little more information.
So this says "Wounded October 2, 1864.
-That's here in Saltville.
Date of operation... Immediately after.
"Done on field near scene of action.
"Operation-amputation of right thigh."
Um...so that would have been a battlefield amputation?
It would have been a battlefield amputation.
His surgeon left him when the army had to pull out,
leaving the men behind, and then they fell into the care
of the Confederate army.
I think, um...
The part that touches me the most
is how psychologically strong and resilient he must have been.
To have survived being a prisoner of war once...
and while there's a battle going on around him he can hear,
having a leg amputated and coming to, knowing that...
his regiment has left,
and he's just waiting to be taken prisoner of war a second time.
Yeah. These were heroes.
That's a lot to think about.
'My triple great-grandfather,
'Elijah Hensley, was facing Confederate prison again,
'this time after a battlefield amputation.
'I know he survived, because I'm here.
'But he must have been so concerned about life
'after war and prison with only one leg.
'At 17 years old, to have been dealt
'such a life-changing injury must have been overwhelming.'
'I'm just flabbergasted at the strength and the resilience.
'I just don't even have words for it.'
Now Ashley is ready to research
another branch of her father's family.
When I started researching my dad's side of the family,
he mentioned that we might have some New England roots,
and so I'm going to try to pursue that family line.
I'm going to go poke around New England
and see what I can find.
To begin her search,
Ashley is visiting the New England Historic Genealogical Society
in Boston, Massachusetts.
-Are you Josh?
-I am Josh.
-Josh, it's so lovely to meet you.
-It's nice to meet you, Ashley.
And what I'm here today in particular to take a look at
is the family story
that we have some sort of a New England line...
-..through my grandmother, Mary Bernadine Dalton.
OK. And her mother was Effie Copley, correct?
-OK. So we're actually going to transfer over
-to Effie Copley's husband, who was William H Dalton.
So Bill Dalton. Uh-huh.
William Dalton was Ashley's great-grandfather.
William Dalton's father was Thomas Jefferson Dalton
and HIS mother was Rebecca Dalton.
And so I have a record for you to look at here.
-This is actually Rebecca's death record.
"Rebecca Dalton. Place of birth, Logan County, West Virginia.
"Name of her parents...
"E & E Bruster?"
This name means nothing to me.
OK. So Brewster is actually a huge New England name.
And when you see Brewster on a family tree,
you immediately think New England.
So I have a little surprise for you. I will let you undo it if you like.
Is this a family tree?
It possibly is a family tree.
You're in a genealogical society, after all.
God, this is gorgeous!
Oh, my gosh!
Thank you so much!
So here we... there's you, of course.
-and there's your grandmother.
-And there's Effie.
-And there's Bill Dalton.
-And so there's that Thomas Jefferson Dalton we spoke about,
-and there's Rebecca Bruster.
And so we head up the tree to William Brewster.
8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
-So 13, counting me.
12 generations back.
"William Brewster. Born 24 January, 1566/67 in England.
"He lived in Scrowbie, Nottingham,
"was a gentleman,
"bailiff to the Archbishop of York."
So he emigrated in 1620,
and he died in April of 1644
curiously... In Massachusetts?
So what does 1620 mean to you? I saw your eyes light up,
so you're familiar with it.
Um...well, I remember being in the third grade,
you know, and learning about a certain boat
loaded with some folk seeking religious freedom,
going to what was called "the new world".
And are you... are you telling me that my ancestor William Brewster
came over on the Mayflower?
The Mayflower came in 1620, which would mean
that if William Brewster was on the Mayflower,
he's actually going to be one of the first settlers in New England.
Te one thing that we can check is the Mayflower Compact.
When they got off the boat in November in 1620,
they signed a letter of agreement
that was basically kind of how they would govern themselves.
And so if someone signed the Mayflower Compact,
they were obviously part of the Mayflower.
So I actually have...
The original is lost, but I have a 1772 history of New England
that has a copy of it in it.
So we can check and see if William Brewster is there.
OK, this is completely blowing my mind.
You know, I call myself... A Sicilian hillbilly.
So now I'm going to have to potentially call myself
a Mayflower hillbilly Sicilian rabble-rouser.
I'll give you a pair of gloves so we can look at this.
Ha! This is amazing.
All right. So here we have the Mayflower Compact.
I'll actually let you sort of page through to the marker there.
And I will be looking for William Brewster.
"John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow...
You are kidding me!
Um, so there were 102 passengers on the Mayflower,
and only 60% survived that first year.
And so William Brewster, of course, is one of those who survived.
I can't wait to learn more about him, like why did he want to come over?
We know that some of the pilgrims were seeking religious freedom
in the colonies. And so that's certainly something that you could investigate.
Looking at the chart here, you know that he was a gentleman,
and he was a bailiff to the archbishop of York.
I'm going to recommend that you go to York, England
and see what you can find out about William Brewster and answer some of those questions.
I've learned some information that I think I can genuinely characterise as life-changing.
My people came over On the Mayflower.
On the Mayflower.
To follow the trail of her ancestor William Brewster, Ashley is
heading to England and the city of York.
I'm especially curious to find out
why William Brewster would have left his homeland
to sail on the Mayflower.
And how did he make the decision to travel on a very perilous journey
with no guarantee of anyone surviving?
That's a huge risk to take.
Whatever I can learn about him
I would love to learn.
-Hi, I'm Ashley.
-Hi, I'm Bill Sheils.
Pleased to meet you.
What I know is that William Brewster
-was a gentleman...
-And that he was bailiff to the Archbishop of York.
He's in Scrowbie in the 1590s and working for the archbishop.
Scrowbie is a part of the world
where there's always been
quite a bit of radical religion.
-OK, you like that.
-Yeah. Love the radicals.
-They're puritans, really.
And although he's the archbishop's bailiff,
Brewster is attracted to this,
especially for its emphasis on preaching and on the biblical message.
So it was quite disruptive socially and politically
as well as religiously.
So I have an ancestor who was disruptive socially and politically.
-This does not surprise me.
You do, you do.
He's a central figure in this group
of puritan radicals around the area.
-And that's when he begins
to get to the attention of the authorities.
By 1607, he's summoned to a court
headed up by the archbishop.
Here we are.
There's William Brewster.
Oh! OK. Um, this is pretty difficult to read.
I'm going to now look at the transcription.
"Office of the lord against William Brewster of Scrowbie, gent. Information is given
"that he is a...Borrownist?"
Yeah. Borrownist. A Brownist.
Brownists are separatists. These aren't just radicals.
These are people who think the Church of England
is irredeemable and not a church, and they want to separate completely from it.
The Church Of England Was founded in 1534
when Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church.
In the years that followed,
England was riven by religious discord.
By the early 1600s,
the Brownists, a separatist group, were gaining notoriety
by openly criticising the morals and ethics of the church of England.
William Brewster is summoned into court.
"But he did not appear.
"Then the Lords Commissioner aforesaid,
"on account of his manifest contempt,
-"further decreed an attachment or summons..." Ooh!
"Should be issued
"for the apprehension of the said William Brewster."
He is in trouble with the law.
He's in deep trouble. That's right.
This is really serious.
Two weeks later, the court reassembles
and they're anticipating...
William Brewster to face his charges.
Yeah. Alongside another of his associates.
So we've got here a court meeting here in York.
"An attachment was awarded to Mr Blanchard
"to apprehend them, but he certifieth that he cannot find them
"nor understand where they are."
-So they've gone into hiding.
-They've gone into hiding.
That's when the trail goes cold.
-Does William Brewster show up on any records back in Scrowbie ever again?
-No, he doesn't.
No, he doesn't. That's it.
That's all we know.
So he's like a religious refugee.
-He is - exactly what he is. He's a refugee.
But the obvious thing for Brewster to do
would be to leave the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York.
I think probably the other great centre
of radical religion in Lincolnshire is in Boston.
And I think probably that's your next port of call.
-Boston, Lincolnshire, yes.
The trail here in York
goes cold in 1607 for William Brewster.
I'd like to see if he was able to find refuge
in Boston, England.
I know he doesn't leave on the Mayflower until 1620,
so there's still a lot of story to track down for those years before William Brewster set sail.
Ashley is visiting the Guild Hall in Boston, Lincolnshire to see if she can discover any more
information about William Brewster's time there.
That is unbelievable.
"In these cells,
"William Bradford, William Brewster..."
"..Afterwards known as
"The Pilgrim Fathers,
"were imprisoned on the 23rd September 1607
"after attempting to escape to religious freedom."
So this is the jail cell
in which he would have been held. I don't even know what to say.
It's really interesting to try to figure all this out. Wow.
I don't know how long he was in jail.
I'm going to have to just keep digging and find out more information.
To help with her research Ashley has arranged to meet Pilgrim expert
author Nick Bunker.
I've obviously seen the prison cells downstairs.
But you probably don't know what the circumstances were in which he ended up in those cells.
-And that's why we have with us
another document which I think will help you
further down the path of understanding.
"The history of the Plimoth Plantation."
Written by William Bradford. Cellmate.
You just saw his name on the plaque downstairs.
This is a description of the events that led up to the incarceration of
William Brewster in the cells that you saw downstairs.
-"Being thus constrained to leave their native..."
"..and havens were..."
So in 1607, they were already seriously contemplating...
-Oh, yes, definitely.
-and they wanted to go...
Because that was when the Archbishop of York
made it very clear indeed
that he intended to crack down on separatism very hard
in their area.
So really, they had no option but to find some escape route.
And this was the best place they could find to come.
So ports and havens were shut against them.
Technically, you needed to have a licence from the government in London
if you were going to leave the country.
They wouldn't have been able to apply for a licence
because they were already effectively fugitives.
"There was a large company of them
"that hired a ship wholly to themselves
"and made agreement with the master to be ready
"at a certain day.
"But when he had them and their goods aboard,
"he betrayed them." Wow.
"They were presented to the magistrates.
"After a month's imprisonment,
"the greatest part were dismissed
"and sent to the places from whence they came.
"But seven of the principal
"were still kept in prison."
And so William Brewster was one of the seven principles.
-Oh, definitely, yes.
-So for about how long
-was he in prison in this building?
but it doesn't appear he was ever actually put on trial.
He was clearly released for whatever reason.
We're not entirely sure.
Do you have any idea where he went from here?
He went into hiding. That's clear.
Somehow or other, though,
he got over to Holland during the course of 1608.
In Holland, they could enjoy a degree of religious freedom
because the Dutch did not have an official state church.
So if he spent 12 years in Holland,
between 1608 and 1620 is a long period of time
before he sails on the Mayflower.
Where should I go next?
Well, you don't actually have to go to Holland.
What you can do is simply head southwards towards Cambridge,
specifically Trinity College, Cambridge,
where I think you'll find they have some material
that will, er, take you a little bit further.
'It seems as though William Brewster
'narrowly escaped death in multiple ways.'
Knowing that I had an ancestor who was incarcerated
for his faith is something that
I think it's going to take time
for me to truly...
Religious tolerance is, um, incredibly important to me.
And also that passion that William Brewster clearly had
even become, um...
a prisoner and possibly a martyr...
is something I really respect.
Each of these snippets of the story
are absolutely life-changing.
I think that it would be fitting
to go to Cambridge University,
where my ten-times great-grandfather was a student
and was probably exposed initially
to the ideas that radicalised his faith.
To try to account for the years before William Brewster's voyage on the Mayflower,
Ashley is meeting Professor Anthony Milton.
Well, I understand that you may have some answers
to a series of questions I have about William Brewster,
whom I know escaped to Holland.
So...what do you know
about his time in Holland?
Um, this is a collection of letters
from the English ambassador to the Netherlands,
to Dudley Carleton.
He's reporting back to the secretary of state
of King James,
and he's reporting
on events in the Netherlands in 1619.
describing an attempt to seize Brewster.
"In my last, I advertised your honour
"that Brewster was taken at Leyden,
"which proved an error
"in that the constable
"who was employed by the magistrates
"for his apprehension, being a dull drunken fellow,
"took one man for another."
Right. They seem to think for a second they'd caught Brewster, but they hadn't.
They'd caught his colleague Thomas Brewer.
But that is where the trail goes cold.
What we do know is that, while he's in London,
he is able to arrange transportation
royally approved by King James.
So the next time we hear of Brewster,
he's heading off from Plymouth to New England,
presumably a very relieved man.
It's a lot to take on board.
You know, part of what I was reflecting on...
the American idea inheres in his story.
Everything is implicated.
All of our basic freedoms that we...
you know, value, and in many instances
take for granted in America.
In here - freedom of speech,
freedom of religion...
..separation of church and state.
Thank you so much for your time.
'You know, when I initially found out
'that I was descended from folks who came over on the Mayflower,'
I thought, "I'm so American I'm English."
But I'm actually so English I'm American.
Ashley has come to the port of Plymouth
where her ancestor, William Brewster,
set sail for the New World.
She's here to meet her dad, Michael.
Welcome to Plymouth!
'I'm really thrilled my dad is joining me here
'on the last leg of my journey
'exploring his mother's genealogy.'
Oh, my goodness.
When granny was telling you as a little boy...
-..that we had
-a New England line...
..we actually are from the line that founded New England.
There was a very great family called the Brewsters.
And William Brewster was my ten-times great-grandfather,
your nine-times great-grandfather.
-And he was on a ship called the Mayflower.
Oh, that... that excites me!
I mean, the thread that you have followed
is the fabric of our country.
'What's interesting about knowing these stories'
is that they're so validating of my experience of myself.
Knowing that William and Mary Brewster
had such extraordinary faith, you know,
it is so psychologically imprinted in the narrative
of my family.
Our ancestors were made of pretty sturdy stuff.
Definitely. A very principled lot.
This is magnificent.
I am so thrilled that you have been able to do this.
Well, thanks for gettin' me started.
Oh, you're more than welcome.
Film star Ashley Judd can go back eight generations on her mother's side, but her father's ancestry is more of a mystery. Ashley sets out to find out if there is any truth to two family stories - first, that her great-great grandfather Elijah Hensely spent time in an infamous Confederate prison during the Civil War; and secondly, that the family has deep New England roots.
Ashley uncovers Elijah's service record from the Civil War and discovers not only that he was imprisoned - twice - but that he was badly wounded at Saltville and had to have his leg amputated on the battlefield. She then travels to Massachusetts, where she discovers a connection to the ultimate American story - the Mayflower.
Finally, Ashley travels through England - to York, Cambridge and the original Boston in Lincolnshire - as she tracks the dramatic story of her ancestor William Brewster, who was persecuted for his religious beliefs before seeking religious freedom in the New World.