Season 8, Episode 4

Zachary Levi

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From witchcraft to the Civil War, follow Zachary Levi’s pursuit of understanding his family’s past in order to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

Actor Zachary Levi was born in Louisiana but grew up in a quintessential suburban southern California neighborhood in Ventura with his mom and two sisters. He wasn’t as close to his father’s side of the family, who lived in Indiana, so naturally he feels more connected to his maternal side of the family. However, his maternal side is weighted with generational psychological abuse and trauma, which both his grandmother, Pat, and his mother, Susan, were at the center of. Zac is curious to learn more about how trauma is passed down and has become an avid advocate for mental health. Knowing that he wants to start a family of his own, Zac is on a quest to understand his past better in order to break the chain of his family’s intergenerational trauma.

Old Soldiers Home for Civil War Veterans


Old Soldiers Home for Civil War Veterans

With so many veterans left disabled by the American Civil War, Old Soldiers Homes were established across the North to help aging servicemen live their golden years in comfort.

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Discover how land and property records helped fill in missing details about Zachary’s family history.

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Zac sits with his sister Shekinah, the family historian, as they go through family photos. They find a “family tree” that their great-grandmother Juliet Jones handwrote, which names their 2nd great-grandparents, Henry Schenck and Minnie Kuehl. Zac then discovers an article from 1890 entitled “Ruined and Deserted” on that reveals a scandalous story about Henry Schenck, who left a 15-year-old girl to marry Minnie then got arrested for the crime of seduction, and something about “questionable medicine.” Zac is overwhelmed with the news packed into this tiny newspaper article. He and his sister speculate but ultimately decide he needs to go to St. Louis to get his questions answered and discover more about his 2nd great-grandparents.

Historian Nick Syrett greets Zac as he enters the History and Genealogy room at the St. Louis Public Library. They sit and discuss the intricacies of the “Ruined and Deserted” article from Turns out, in addition to what Zac could understand on his own, Henry Schenck had impregnated the 15-year-old girl, tried to get her to end the pregnancy with the questionable medicine, and ran off to marry Minnie instead. Zac reacts to the shocking truth uncovered about his family. This only prompts him to want to learn more. Nick is able to provide more documents to feed his curiosity, the first of which is another newspaper article, this time on microfilm. Reveling in the process of using the antiquated technology, Zac finds an article dated 1912 laying out that Henry Schenck is filing for divorce from Minnie—here’s another seemingly broken marriage in his family lineage. Henry claims that his wife pressured him to join the army and fight in the Spanish-American War and goes on to make more claims about Minnie’s bad character and how she did not love him and wanted to get rid of him.

Zac reflects on another scandalous story! What more can he learn about his 2nd great-grandparents? Did they end up divorcing? Nick hands him two more documents: death records for Minnie and Henry, respectively. Zac determines from these that Henry & Minnie did in fact split up. Minnie’s death record says that she was divorced and the informant on it was Minnie’s daughter, Juliet Jones, Zac’s great-grandmother. Henry’s death certificate lists his wife’s name at his time of death as Grace. This solidifies it: Henry started a new life with another woman after splitting with Minnie. Zac also notices the names of Henry’s parents are listed on the certificate—Henry Schenck Sr. and Elizabeth LeBell. These would be his 3rd great-grandparents.

Nick hands Zac a census from 1910 that shows Henry Sr. was living at a National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas at the time. No sign of his wife Elizabeth. Could this be another generation of dysfunction? Nick explains that based on the year and the fact it’s a veteran’s home, Henry Sr. likely served in the Civil War, and Zac may be able to find out more if he goes to NARA in Washington, D.C. where all the Civil War pension files are stored.

Zac arrives at the National Archives and Records Administration where historian Donna Schuele has pulled a handful of pension documents for him. Zac sees an application for a pension, in which Zac confirms that Henry Sr. served in the Civil War, was disabled, and was now requesting a pension. The next pension document shows Henry’ Sr.’s wife Elizabeth, Zac’s 3rd great-grandmother, is applying for half the pension. Curious, Donna explains that normally a man would generally use the bulk of his pension to provide for his family’s benefit, but since Elizabeth is legally asking for half, perhaps there is strife in this marriage too. Looking at the next document, Zac gets more insight; it’s a notarized letter from Henry Sr. painting a very outrageous and again, scandalous, image of his 3rd great-grandmother. Henry Sr. says Elizabeth was guilty of orgies, drunkenness, befriending prostitutes, and more…it is almost too much to unpack. Are these accusations true? What could possibly come next? Zac gains clarity from affidavits submitted by a midwife/neighbor and Henry Sr. and Elizabeth’s own children. Henry Sr.’s story is not corroborated, in fact, he is damned with an account from his children, claiming he physically abused their mother and was an alcoholic. The he-said-she-said, the trauma and abuse—it’s a lot to take in. Zac is left wondering if Elizabeth ever got her portion of the pension. Donna shows him one last document and at the bottom there is small red text that says “Admission--Pensioner an inmate of a branch of the National Home and his lawful wife being a woman of good moral character and in necessitous circumstances.” Elizabeth got her $6 a month, half of Henry Sr.’s pension, after years of abuse and fighting for her right to it. Zac sits with this information, processing the deep trauma that traveled from his 3rd great-grandparents down.



Explore newspaper obituaries published in the United States from the early 1800’s until now.

Explore newspaper obituaries published in the United States from the early 1800’s until now.

Curious to know more about his father’s side of the family, Zac continues his journey by meeting with genealogist Joseph Shumway from Ancestry® at a cafe in DC. Joseph presents a family tree for Zac’s paternal side of the family. The tree traces back to Zac’s 10th great-grandparents, Stephen Clawson & Elizabeth Periment. Zac is curious to learn more about them and Joseph explains that they have vital records that show Stephen and Elizabeth lived in religiously strict and puritanical Stamford, CT in the 1650s, when their son Jonathan was born. Zac decides he’ll need to head to Connecticut to uncover more about them.

In Connecticut, Zac meets with historian Ann Little at the Fairfield Museum & History Center. He’s hoping to learn more about his 10th great-grandparents, Stephen & Elizabeth Clawson. They sit down in the library room, walls lined with books and sliding ladders, as they look at copies of documents from 1692. From two separate documents, copies from the Samuel Wyllys papers held at the CT State Library, Zac learns that his 10th great-grandmother Elizabeth Clawson was accused of witchcraft by a young woman named Catherine Branch. In shock, Zac asks Ann more about this accusation. Ann emphasizes that witchcraft was taken seriously in this time period so Elizabeth was in real danger. If found guilty she faced execution. They discuss the accuser and the social context of the time, and Zac wants to know—what ultimately happened to Elizabeth? Ann presents the next document: a testimony of the “ducking” of Elizabeth Clawson—a process by which she was bound and thrown in a pond in order to determine her guilt or innocence. Not only are the words shocking to read, but Ann shows him a woodcut image that illustrates the process. Ann then points out the window of the library room and explains that the grounds outside are in fact where the ducking pond once was. With this new information, Zac heads outside and walks around the area behind the Museum, contemplating all that he has just learned and the hardships that Elizabeth Clawson endured. He reads the placard aloud to himself, feeling the story sink in deeper while he literally walks in the footsteps of his ancestor. Zac and Ann agree to meet the next day in Stamford to look at more documents related to Elizabeth’s trial.

Zac meets Ann Little in Stamford to learn what happened to his 10th great-grandmother. Ann presents a community petition from 1692, and as Zac reads it, he realizes that it is a petition that Stephen, his 10th great-grandfather, circulated amongst the community. He was able to ultimately obtain 76 signatures testifying to Elizabeth’s excellent character and stating that no one believed Elizabeth to be a witch. Finally, an example of a good husband. But did it work? Ann presents the next document, an acquittal—Elizabeth lived! Her husband, Stephen, put his neck on the line for his wife, and they both survived. Zac rejoices, finally, in a happy ending.