The British, and original, version of the popular genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are? staged a video shoot at the Main Library’s New Jersey Room on Saturday, June 16, 2012, with an actress who just might be familiar with U.S. audiences: Samantha Womack.
Before you think, ‘Samantha who?’ think, EastEnders, a popular British drama shown on local PBS stations in the New York metropolitan area.
People come to the New Jersey Room, the special collection department at the Jersey City Free Public Library, when researching personal, and home, histories. Genealogy searches are done from phone calls throughout the world, as families who have settled here, have then moved on.
Originally from Brighton, England, Samantha Womack’s great-grandmother Jessie has ties to the United States, as it was revealed in the 1910 U.S. Census that she brought Samantha’s grandmother, Beatrice, to the United States at age 11. Beatrice had been placed in a local convent’s orphanage when Jessie left for the United States to perform in P.T. Barnum’s circus. Ship manifests indicated that Beatrice sailed alone on the Adriatic from Southhampton on September 6, 1907.
“Girls at 11 are complicated. They want to know who they are. How uncomfortable she would have felt with a mother she’d never know, and with two siblings. What a complicated spot. If it were me, I’d be furious. I’d be awkward in my skin,” said British actress Samantha Womack, as she perused the 1910 U.S. Census document online.
Samantha knew her father’s side, and that she came from a theatrical family. Through the BBC television program, Who Do You Think You Are? Samantha was exploring her maternal roots. Originally, she thought her grandmother Beatrice was born in 1897, making her 11, but the U.S. Census confirmed her birth year as 1894, which would have made Beatrice 13. “What would it be like to cross that journey to America? Seven to 10 days of not being able to get off…? That would’ve been a journey and a half.”
Samantha Womack’s great-grandmother Jessie, whose last name was first seen as ‘Tinkle’ (which elicited quite a chuckle from Samantha) but then was written as ‘Finkle’, was listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as “Mrs. Finkle (Jessie), daughter Annie Gertrude; Harry, 3; Beatrice and Helen (cousin).”
Cynthia Harris, manager of the New Jersey Room, had done research on Samantha’s great-grandmother prior to the video shoot. In an August 15, 1897 article in the Theater section of The New York Times, reference was made to her great-grandmother, by maiden name, “Miss Jessie Almer has been over to America before, as the clown in Barnum’s Circus, and by right of larger experience, she was much respected by the other members of the group. They met at the pier, however, by a representative of the Academy of Music, who took care that none of them should stray away. Once he lost his count.”
Samantha mused, “Surprised and happy to see family because I was angry at first, at my great-grandmother for leaving children behind to have a theatrical/circus career in the U.S.”
This actress also was pleased to see how the theater was truly in her blood, now established stemming from both bloodlines. Samantha had spent a lot of time with her maternal grandmother, a dancer, on cruise ships, such as the QE2, at the tender age of three. She knew of the particular “noises, sounds, and sea” of a cruise ship, which is how Samantha could empathize with her paternal grandmother’s journey to the United States so long ago.
The New Jersey Room, established from the Reference Department as a separate entity in 1964, is a collection of materials about New Jersey with an emphasis upon Jersey City and Hudson County. The collection includes both current and historical information and numbers about 20,000 volumes. While the New Jersey Room is the main resource of information on the history of Jersey City, many of its patrons come in search of information on local real estate, development, business information, and genealogy research.
STROLLING DOWN THE AVENUE – British actress Samantha Womack is seen walking on Jersey Avenue in Jersey City, on her way to the Main Library, where she is researching her family background for the British version of the popular television program, Who Do You Think You Are?
TO THE LIBRARY, ‘STRAIGHT AWAY’! – The video shoot for the BBC program began immediately, with Samantha Womack entering the Jersey City Free Public Library. The British version of this genealogy show is the original one. The popular program crossed the ‘pond’ (Atlantic Ocean) to the United States via NBC, with Friends’ alum, Lisa Kudrow, as executive producer.
CONTEMPLATING YOUR FAMILY BACKGROUND – Samantha Womack is seen completely engrossed in thinking of her paternal grandmother and great-grandmother, as part of the video shoot for the British version of Who Do You Think You Are? at the New Jersey Room on Saturday morning, June 16, 2012.
LOVING LIBRARIES – Instead of calling her an environmentalist ‘tree-hugger’, British actress Samantha Womack can be seen as a lover of libraries, which is why she hugged the old card catalog that is still in use in the New Jersey Room at Jersey City’s Main Library, at the end of the video shoot for the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?
I LOVE THE JCFPL! – British actress Samantha Womack continued her expression of library-love by happily holding up the Jersey City library card for Library Director Priscilla Gardner’s collection of famous people showing support of the Jersey City Free Public Library, and libraries everywhere.