When the TLC program “Who Do You Think You Are?” approached actress Ginnifer Goodwin about tracing her ancestry, she said yes with enthusiasm. As the mom of a 1-year-old, “it was super important for me to give him his story,” she said on the July 26 episode.
Goodwin knew that her grandfather, John Barton Goodwin, born about 1905 had been estranged from his family at about age 11, but she went into the search willing to confront whatever she learned — a good attitude for any researcher.
Goodwin believed her great-grandparents to be John A. Goodwin, known as Al, and Nellie (Barton) Goodwin. During her search through Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana, the plot thickened almost beyond belief.
In 1910, John B. was a child in the household of John A., 29; and Nellie, 28, Goodwin in Arkansas, where he was born. But 4-year-old John B. also had an older sister, Pearl Williams, 8. It turned out Nellie had been married previously to a man she divorced on grounds of desertion.
But nowhere did she turn up with the maiden name of Barton. Rather, her maiden name was Nellie Haynes.
The next year, 1911, John A. “Al” Goodwin was sentenced to federal prison for selling whiskey without a license. Researchers helped Ginnifer Goodwin find numerous indictments of Al on these charges.
Even with all these difficulties, Ginnifer couldn’t imagine why Nellie would have been separated from her son by 1926, when he was about 11, and why the family estrangement eventually included Nellie as well as all three of her husbands.
Nellie’s third husband was Hugh Wylie, and he also did time in prison for distributing drugs. In addition, Nellie herself was sentenced to two years in prison for possession of morphine in 1934 in Louisiana.
That’s that, we might think, but there was more to the story. John A. Goodwin had syphilis and gave the venereal disease to wife Nellie more than 20 years before. There were no antibiotics to cure syphilis in those days, and not much treatment except morphine for pain in the early stages of the disease.
In 1923, Nellie entered a drug clinic for women in Shreveport, Louisiana, telling officials she had been a morphine addict for 11 years because of the syphilis her former husband gave her. The next year, the clinic closed.
Nellie died Jan. 10, 1963, at 82, and is buried next to her husband. Ginnifer went to the cemetery in Louisiana and visited their cemetery plot, leaving a small rock on the gravestone as is the custom in Jewish families — Ginnifer is Jewish.
There were many tears as Ginnifer learned this story, but, she said, “I forgive them.”
The brief appearance of her dad, Tim Goodwin, at the beginning of the episode gives the impression that despite this troubled branch of his ancestry, he is a good man who is close with his daughter and has helped raise her to be a person of mercy.
“Who Do You Think You Are?” airs at 9 p.m. Sundays on TLC.
For i nformation on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.