Allison Janney: Connecting to Famous Family One Step at a Time
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How do you get from Allison Janney to the Mayflower in one hour?


Things might happen fast on television, but behind the scenes, it took months to research Allison’s tree. Only the records that were essential steppingstones could be included in her story, and a few important steps we took along the way didn’t make the final cut. But even though these steps aren’t included in a television episode, it is essential that we painstakingly build her tree to verify all the connections. 


For example, we gathered information from Allison and her family that led us back to Allison’s great-grandmother on her Brooks line: Frances Annette Brooks. Frances was born in 1874 in Philadelphia and lived a lot of her life in New York. We found her in all applicable federal and state census records and all the vital records we could find. (We found lots of other records for Francis as well, including her passport application, correspondence, and newspaper articles.) 


As we continued to dig into the Brooks line, it was becoming clear that Allison was going to have deep American roots so we pushed back on the Philadelphia lines to see how far we could go. Verifying each and every generation along the way, we realized we were probably going to have stories about American patriots but what kind of luck would we have going farther? 


We thought a Mayflower ancestor was looking promising, so we tapped into published genealogies. There are many excellent sources that document Mayflower passengers and five or six generations of their descendants. So, we had good information to start with, we just need to bridge the gap between the recent generations and the documented Mayflower descendants.  


Outlining which records we needed to find for each generation gave us a clear checklist which we followed as we verified all the steps along the way. 


Tracing these deep American roots put us on the trail that would lead us back to Allison’s famous grandfather, Stephen Hopkins. Once we were there, it was just a matter of filling in the historical context to paint the picture of his vibrant life. 


To watch Allison Janney’s entire journey and discover more celebrities uncovering their family history, watch full episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays at 7/6c on NBC or stream on Peacock.



Tips from AncestryProGenealogists®

While it is tempting to skip ahead and try to prove that family legend about your connection to Abraham Lincoln or Betsy Ross or King Edward III, it is important to verify each and every generation along the way. 


  • Create a detailed research plan: A research plan will help you organize your research and focus on the steps to move your research along with in an organized fashion. our research plan should also include sources that are available in the area where your ancestors lived. 
  • Identify records that show relationships: Use birth, marriage, and death records, wills, probate files, censuses, obituaries, pensions, and newspaper articles all which often provide vital relationship information. Other items that provide documentation may include county histories, land, tax, church, or civil records. You may also include records that your family generated like a family Bible or tombstone pictures. Always look for records that are rich in details about family relationships.
  • Document other close relatives such as siblings, aunts, uncles, grandchildren, or affiliated family: Using the sources mentioned above you can follow the same pattern of documenting your family. Identifying key documents such as a marriage record may lead to information about your ancestor. Census records are helpful in proving relationships between siblings and help you build a picture of the entire family. If you can prove a sibling’s connection to a parent, then this provides evidence of the relationship.
  • Document migration patterns: Some families migrated in groups across the country or immigrated to America with their parents. Some religious groups migrated as a community. Clusters of immigrants can be found over generations living near each other.