The Sex & The City star was the first curious celebrity to feature in new show Who Do You Think You Are? when the programme debuted in America on Friday night (05Mar10) – and she had no idea her family’s past would be so interesting.
Parker returned to her native Ohio and discovered her mother’s ancestors weren’t German, as she had always thought – but were settlers from England, and her third great-grandfather, John S. Hodge, may have been part of the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800s.
With the help of ancestry experts, Parker also discovered Hodge may have faked his own death in 1849 and then showed up in a 1950 California census, and formed a gold-mining partnership in Eldorado, California. But her trail appeared to have ended when she read a letter confirming her ancestor’s death in 1850.
She said, “I’m kind of heartbroken. It’s so sad… He gets to go to his unmarked grave.”
Fired up by her findings, the actress jetted to Massachusetts to see if her family was connected to the New England Hodges.
There, she discovered an ancestral link to the Elwell family, dating back to the 1630s, and thanks to local genealogist Josh Taylor, Parker learned she was related to Robert Elwell, who was among the first English immigrants.
The actress shrieked and then questioned the historian, asking, “You are sure this person is related to me?”
But then her trail turned dark when Parker realised her ancestors, who settled in Salem, were part of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in the late 1600s – her 10th great-grandmother Esther Elwell was arrested for committing “sundry acts of witchcraft” and choking a neighbour to death.
Parker said, “When you read these charges, it’s so absolutely crazy… It’s madness… I can’t imagine (what) it would take to be accused, what it was like to have everybody around you pointing at you… I just want to go on record as saying I find this really actually physically upsetting. It’s really horrible.”
In Salem, the actress discovered Esther’s case never went to court and she escaped with her life. In fact, the accusation ended the Salem Witch Trials.
She added, “Who knows what would have happened to our family if the Witch Hunt had continued. This has been such a moving experience for me… It has changed everything about who I thought I was.”
Parker’s husband Matthew Broderick, moviemaker Spike Lee and Lisa Kudrow have traced their family trees for the TV series.