1. Parenting
Send to a Friend via Email

Discuss in my forum

Kimberly Powell

Footprints of Jerome Bettis' Family Tree

By March 9, 2012

Follow me on:

From: Chronicling America, The Bogard Case, The Paducah Sun, col 6 page 1Tonight's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (U.S.) has me especially excited - I love genealogy (of course). I love African American genealogy. I'm a HUGE Pittsburgh Steelers fan! And I think former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerome "The Bus" Bettis is just a really great guy. I actually spent some time researching his family tree a few years ago - one of several Pittsburgh Steelers players whose ancestry I dug into just for the fun of it. But since the show tonight will likely dig much further into his background than I ever did, I thought I would again use a WDYTYA? celebrity as an example of just how many little footprints to someone's family tree you can find online. And, in this case, why online research all by itself is almost always not enough.

In the case of Jerome Bettis, most of the initial footprints to his family tree can be found in online newspapers -- both recent and historic. Of course, since he is a celebrity (and especially around the time of the Steelers 2006 Super Bowl win in Jerome's hometown of Detroit), his family has been discussed in the media. An article titled "The Last Bus Stop" by Fred Girard, which appeared in the 30 January 2006 edition of The Detroit News, provides plenty of great detail on the Bettis family tree -- "a family tree of solid oak that stretches back to a laughing miner who forgot to duck."

There were a lot of ways to get killed gouging iron ore out of Red Mountain just outside Bessemer, Ala. But 49-year-old Sam Sanders -- Jerome Bettis' great-great-grandfather -- might have found a new one June 23, 1916, when he started his shift at the Sloss Mines. "They were riding on a little thing going down into the mines like a little trolley car," his granddaughter, Ernestine Bettis, said. "You're supposed to duck your head. He was laughing so hard at something somebody had said he forgot to duck his head." As the tramcar passed beneath the low-slung adit, Sanders' head was crushed against the timbers.

There is plenty of additional family history information in that single news article, about the hardworking Sanders, Bettis, and Coates families from Detroit, and the paths that brought Jerome Bettis' father to Detroit. There  are some footprints to Jerome's maternal side as well, as the article states that Johnnie Bettis married Gladys Bougard, one of 12 children of Abram and Christine Bougard.

Following up on the footprints from that single article leads to additional family history clues. Several marriage index entries are available on FamilySearch for the marriage of Sam Sanders and Luella Mills on 27 October 1900 in Birmingham, Alabama. The death of Sam Sanders is recorded in death indexes online at both Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, both of which appear to corroborate the death date of 23 June 1916 from the news article. Another Ancestry.com index gives a death date of 23 May 1916, but appears to reference the same original source as the 23 June 1916 death from FamilySearch (FHL microfilm 1894130, volume 21, certificate 140). The 1910 census of Jefferson County, Alabama, lists Sam's occupation as "miner" in an "ore mine." Additional census records in Jefferson County also document the family.

Plenty of other footsteps can be found online to the paternal side of Jerome Bettis' paternal family tree in Alabama, but moving on to his Mom's side, another newspaper article provides a stepping off point. "Bettis: Family & Friends Share Spotlight" by Ron Cook in the 3 Feb 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But it was more than just the Bettis parents. We're talking about an extended family that is a very close-knit group. Sisters Gladys and Gloria Bougard married brothers Johnnie and Jimmy Bettis. Is it any wonder that Sunday dinner was mandatory at Grandma Ernestine Bettis' house?

Abram Bougard, father of Gladys and Gloria and 10 other children, died in Detroit in 1966. A Kentucky Birth Index entry from Ancestry.com, for a delayed birth registered in 1942, corroborates the birth date from his SSDI entry (10 June 1913) and also provides his mother's name (Ruby Terry). If I was researching this for myself or a client, I would immediately go about obtaining a copy of the original birth record -- but for now we can mark it down for further research and continue to follow the online footsteps of the Bougard family in McCracken County, Kentucky.

It is in McCracken County, however, where the footsteps began to get a bit muddled. The Bougard surname is spelled all sorts of interesting ways -- Bogard, Beaugard, Brougard, Boregard, Beauregard, Borngard, etc. All close enough spellings to be expected, but still different enough to make the search interesting. At any rate, the footprints lead through what looks like an interesting story as Abram Bougard's father, Burnett Bougard appears to have either divorced or left Abram's mother, Rubie, sometime after 1910 when he appears with Ruby and their children living in Paducah, McCracken, Kentucky, because Rubie is found still alive (and listed as married) with her children in the 1920 federal census of Paducah, and Burnett Bougard didn't die until 1931, according to his death certificate online at Ancestry.com. The marriage of one of Abram's sisters, Corine, in Pennsylvania (marriage online at FamilySearch), helps to corroborate the marriage of Burnett and Ruby, indicating that in 1939 Burnett is deceased, and that Ruby Terry is still living in Paducah, Kentucky.

From Chronicling America - In The Courts The Paducah Sun 18 Feb 1904 col. 3 page 8The footsteps then take us even further back to the great, great-grandfather of Jerome Bettis - Abe Bougard, born in 1848 to Jerry and Liza Bougard. Learning more about Abe -- his death record from 1925 online at Ancestry.com and his marriage to Amanda "Mandy" Gee  (the mother mentioned in several of his children's death records) -- takes us full circle back to newspapers; to an article in the 18 February 1904 Paducah Sun (online from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America historical newspapers) that hints of a strong black man willing in a dangerous time to stand up for what he believed in...

Abe Bogard, colored, who sued the I.C. for $2,000 damages for injuries sustained by being struck by an engine, got a verdict for $375

This little clue leads to quite a few reports of the case online through Google Books, such as the following account from the Kentucky Law Reporter, Volume 25, Part 1:

On the 7th of October, 1902, the appellant, Abe Bogard, brought suit against the Illinois Central R.R. Co. in the McCracken Circuit Court to recover damages alleged to have been suffered by him by reason of certain alleged acts of negligence of appelice in the operation of one of its engines and train of cars in McCracken county.

A summary of the petition is also included with the account, including:

...the defendant, without fault or negligence on the part of the plaintiff, carelessly, recklessly, and wrongfully, and by willful, reckless, and wrongful act, ran its engine and train upon and against plaintiff, and knocked him down, and greatly bruised and injured his legs, thighs, hips, back, spine, arms, chest, neck and head, and made plaintiff sick and sore for many days, and plaintiff's said injuries are permanent, and he will never recover from some of same...

Additional online reports and newspaper notices also indicate that Abe initially lost his case in the McCracken circuit court, but that the decision was later overturned by the Appellate Court and returned to McCracken Circuit Court for a new trial -- the new trial he eventually won. This is yet another footprint that begs for additional research in original records, beginning with the records of the McCracken Circuit Court.

At this point the online footprints of the Bougard family start to fade. Jerry and Abram were living together in Graves County, Kentucky in 1870, but before that there are only clues to be found in records such as the 1860 slave schedules that may help to identify potential slaveowners. That information would then, by necessity, lead to original records (and original records are much more fun anyway!) such as wills, probate inventories, deeds, etc. Records that, for now, are still not available online.

March 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm
(1) Jo Lane says:

Wow! All I can say is that I am sorry. I have watched “Who Do You Think You Are” twice. Travelling back through your lineage must take a great deal of strength; and as I watch through my eyes I will never understand, and I cry. Not for you but for those that believed that they had the right to “own” a person as if they were a piece of property. I do pray that you have found closure in your venture and find forgiveness in your heart.

Being of German and English decent I would never be forced to make the realization that my family was owned like a piece of property. On the other hand, I am afraid to search my own heritage, only to find out that my ancestors were owners of slaves themselves. This, I find in my heart would be much more difficult to live with than if I were a slave myself, or a descendant of one.

You should be very proud of your heritage, and remember that you are here, where you are, for a reason. The family you were born from is very strong, making you the person that you are. Thank you for sharing your family’s heritage. That in itself takes more courage than spending sixty minutes on a football field with a whole bunch of bruts that simply want to take you out so that they can win the game. You won!

By the way, I was born and raised in Baltimore so you know I am a big Raven’s fan. Don’t take that personal; I love people for who they are, not what they are. Damn Steelers!


March 10, 2012 at 9:43 am
(2) Genealogy Jan says:

Watched the show last night! As always, I LOVE watching Who Do you Think You Are. To Jo Lane, Love your take on the show and thank you for expressing your feelings. I felt every word of your comment.

March 10, 2012 at 10:34 am
(3) Gathering Leaves Genealogy Scrapbooks says:

Very interesting addional information on Jerome Bettis’ ancestry. The episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” was informative but your research adds another layer. Thank you. I am sharing your article…great work.

March 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm
(4) Celia Lewis says:

What a fascinating analysis – and I love all the newspaper stories to help guide research! I don’t have a TV (imagine!), and live in Canada so can’t watch the WDYTYA shows. Sounds like last night’s one was very interesting on many levels. Every time I read a record that lists a slave, I get cold inside. Can’t imagine how that feels to a researcher who’s African-American. Thanks for your post.

March 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm
(5) Sarah Moneer says:

What is a URL and how do I get one. In the show about Jerome Bettis they said people spelled the names wrong because they didn’t care if they were spelled right because they were 2nd class citizens. My ancesters came over from Switzerland and some of them didn’t know how to read or write so when they got on the ship the captain asked them to say their name and he was from England. So he wrote their names down they way it sounded to him when he heard them. They were 2nd class citizens as well because they worked for rich farmers and came to America to worship God and have freedom to worship Him they way that was right. They weren’t allowed to own land in Europe, they just worked the land. They were uneducated and very poor.

March 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm
(6) Melissa leahy says:

I, too, think it would have been worthwhile for the person who told Jerome Bettis that Bougard may have been misspelled on purpose, to tell him that millions of people who were not descendants of slaves also had their names misspelled. Even really easy names like Jones were misspelled or mistranscribed. I was born in 1956 and whoever transcribed my birth certificate spelled Melissa with 3 ‘s’ and no ‘a’. In the Bougard case it may be true that it was deliberate but I don’t think it’s assumable.
This reminds me of the brush arbor reference sometimes. Apparently almost all churches in the Carolinas started in a clearing in the woods. It is true that black people worshipped in brush arbors, but it’s not necessarily true that it was done as punishment. Sanctuaries were built as money became available and the membership grew.
My heart breaks every week for whoever is on WDYTYA . Slavery is the worst. How awful to know that your ancestor did not come here voluntarily and gave so much and got so little in return.

March 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm
(7) Ray Whidden says:

Thanks for a great article and warning it may be some time before everything is online.

An earlier researcher included info on the Whyddon/Whiddon family in her work about 1980 because Sir John Whyddon (ca1495-1575), lawyer, judge, military general from Chagford, Devonshire, England took his law apprenticeship at the Inner Temple, (law schools as they are now weren’t invented until later; students studied under other lawyers and attended court cases and later did “moots” before fellow students and practising lawyers or judges as practice towards becoming “serjeant-at-law” eventually being called to the bar). In the records of the Inner Temple where John Whyddon was resident until 1535, his name is often spelled three or four different ways on the same page, so it is not just the poor and uneducated who wrote as they wished but even educated people didn’t have the attitude towards uniformity of spelling that we have adopted.

Just a tidbit to put things in perspective. Society and attitudes change, sometimes for the better.

No known connection to Whyddon and Whidden, Whitten or Whiddon though we’re still hoping for some connection to England or elsewhere.

Cheers, Ray
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

March 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm
(8) Malcolm S Knox says:

Hello All:

Who Do You Think You Are is a great show. I learned something about the Slave Dour/Dower List from this show. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a Slave Dour/Dower List.

It was very interesting how Jerome Bettis was able to find the slave owners who owned his great great great grandparents. As a desendant of Slaves, I only have an idea of who the owners of my Ancestors were. Only one of my Ancestors is listed on a Slave List. Isham Shaw, my great great grandfather, was listed on the document of John Baptist Shaw, in Fayette County, Tennessee. Only five other Ancestors, I can assume the name of the slave owner, going by the ages of Slaves in the 1860 Slave Schedule. Also, at least two of my great great grandfathers were White Slaveowners, and several of my great great grandparents were mixed.

To Jo Lane:

Don’t be ashamed if your Ancestors owned Slaves. You had nothing to do with that. Trace your family tree, and learn who your Ancestors were. You’ll have fun learning all of the family stories, trials and tribulations, and successful Ancestors.

Malcolm S Knox

March 11, 2012 at 5:44 am
(9) Pearl Duncan, New York says:

Loved the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” Like the others, this one with Jerome Bettis was fascinating. I get concerned however, when I see archivists, historians and the stars handling very rare, irreplaceable documents and manuscripts with oily fingers, nail polish and rough hands in bright lights.

I did extensive genealogical research in rare book rooms, where I found documents dating to the 1690s in the American Colonies, in medieval Ghana in West Africa, and in early medieval England and Scotland, and each time I handled a document or manuscript, the librarian handed me the white gloves, pencil and plain paper, which I used to protect the documents and texts as I took notes in a dimly lit room, which protected the rare records. I noticed that when stars research in Europe, archivists, historians and librarians were more aware of how to protect their records than in the U.S.

“Who Do You Think You Are? was so popular in Britain, some said it would not do well in America. Let’s hope more stars have the courage to do the search, even if they find ancestors who were slaveowners. I am African American with ancestors in the Caribbean, Scotland, England and Africa, and I found ancestors who were slaves, free people, slaveowners, abolitionists in the same family, rebellions Maroons who fought military wars against slavery, and average people.

I found their records from several generations before the American Revolution, so many records in fact, I was granted a Scottish coat of arms, because one of them, an abolitionist, was a noble who left Scotland when his family fought the king for the throne, and the king slated his whole rebellious family for beheading. I speak to cousins in the House of Lords.

I know the names of my African ancestors and their descendants in Africa. I used DNA to confirm cousins in Ghana, descended from medieval farmers in the hills. One of them had a child with a Scottish noble in the Colonies.

April 3, 2012 at 1:12 am
(10) JC Bettis says:

I missed this program when it aired, but hopefully will be able to view it online.
This article doesn’t mention that much about Jerome’s BETTIS ancestors. Where can I read more about his BETTIS line?
I understand his BETTIS ancestors were in Bessmer AL also? I actually may be able to locate some information in regards to his family if I knew their names. My caucasian BETTIS ancestors were in the Mobile AL area starting in 1816.
JC Bettis

November 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm
(11) Jane Bogard McBride says:

I watched the show ” Who do you think you are, and was surprised to find the Bogard name. Joseph Bogard was my great great grandfather.

August 4, 2013 at 2:55 pm
(12) Todd Graff says:

Interestingly enough, my wife and I bought an antique desk and as I was cleaning it out, I came across the most interesting little cardboard card about 3″ by 2″ that states:

Abram Bougard
1191 Delaware
Detroit 6, Michigan

Looks like it might have been something that was put an envelope to let the person receiving mail what the return address was.

Kind of cool.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.