April 08, 2011 07:31 PM by Shayla Perry
This week on the season finale of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Ashley Judd, actress and author of the shocking new memoir, “All That Is Bitter & Sweet,” searches for information on her ancestors and surprisingly finds a connection to the first American settlers.
Emmy award-winning actress and philanthropist Ashley Judd has made a lot of headlines this week with the shocking claims made about her mother, Naomi Judd, in her memoir “All That Is Bitter & Sweet.” But tonight on the season finale of Who Do You Think You Are?, the troubles of her childhood take a backseat, as Ashley seeks answers to questions about her father’s side of the family.
As a feminist social justice activist, actress Ashley Judd is looking for others in her family who have fought for those in need and had a strong connection to their faith, as she does, and starts by visiting her father, Michael Ciminella, in Kentucky for some basic information.
Her father tells Ashley what little he knows about his mother, Effie’s great grandfather, who supposedly fought in the Civil War, suffered a great injury, and ended up in prison.
Together, they search Ancestry.com’s Civil War records and profiles and find Effie’s great grandfather, Elijah Hensley.
At the Kentucky Archives, Ashley learns that Elijah joined the military at age 18, and was captured just 32 days later. A genealogist explains that many other soldiers were also caught that day, and it’s likely that he was held in Richmond, Virginia for approximately 5 months, then released, only to be captured again a few months later.
In the Battle of Saltville, Elijah is wounded and he’s later discharged due to injury. Oddly, his age is still listed as 18, which Ashley learns is likely because he lied about his age when enlisting, and was probably actually 15 at the time.
Still curious about Elijah Hensley’s injuries and what could have happened to him after he was wounded, Ashley Judd travels to Saltville, VA to meet with a Civil War expert who shows her records giving her the exact info she’s looking for.
She finds that Elijah was wounded on October 2 during battle, and as a life-saving measure, had his leg amputated right there on the battlefield, which put him at risk of being taken prisoner for a third time.
Back at her hotel room, Ashley Judd gets some more information from the genealogist, including a photo of Elijah Hensley. Along with the picture is a short summary of his life, which reveals that Elijah went on to become a farmer, who was very active with his church.
Now wanting to know where her family lived before settling in Kentucky, Ashley heads to Massachusetts, where her father said that his mother had spoken of before, and meets with another genealogist to learn more about Effie Copley’s husband, William Dalton, and his family.
There, the proud southerner learns that she is related to a very prominent New England surname — Brewster.
Ashley Judd is then present her with her own family tree, going back 12 generations. The first name in the tree is that of William Brewster, who she learns immigrated in 1620 and died in 1644 in Massachusetts. Recognizing the date, Ashley asks if William Brewster came to America on the Mayflower, and she’s told that it’s a possibility.
She’s then handed a document showing the Mayflower compound, which lists the names of the people who traveled on the ship, and indeed, of the 102 passengers, William Brewster was one of them.
So Ashley then travels to York, England to find out why William Brewster decided to travel to the “New World.” She meets with an historian, who tells her that William Brewster went to Cambridge University (though he did not graduate), and that he belonged to a radical group called the Borrownists, who openly criticized the views and morals of the Church of England. Brewster was eventually summoned by the court facing charges, which led him to flee to Boston, England, which would require the courts to have to draw up different papers, buying him some time.
In Boston, Ashley is shocked to find a prison cell with a plaque above it, honoring William Bradford and William Brewster as the “Pilgrim Fathers,” who were imprisoned for attempting to escape to religious freedom. Strangely, according to the date on the plaque, William Brewster was already in prison in Boston, while he was wanted in York.
Meeting with a pilgrim expert, Ashley Judd is presented with a document written by William Bradford, describing what their conditions were like at the time.
According to Bradford, a group of people had acquired a ship and planned to meet there to travel to the New World. But when they boarded the ship, they were betrayed, and arrested. Most of the people were released to the towns from whence they came, but 7 of the “chief conspirators” were kept in prison, including William Brewster.
After being released, Brewster went into hiding and somehow made it to Holland, where he stayed for 12 years. Instead of going to Holland to find out more about Brewster, Judd is able to travel to Cambridge, where she finds that William Brewster once disseminated a rather profound religious text to a large number of people, and it was this text that formed many people’s newfound religious beliefs.
In honor of her ancestor, Ashley Judd decides to meet with her father in Plymouth, where William Brewster set sail for America on the Mayflower. There, she tells him all about their family’s history of fighting for what’s right, proud of her truly American heritage.
Ashley Judd’s memoir, “All That Is Bitter & Sweet,” is in bookstores now.
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