She's a classic beauty who would be in the Top Five of a "Family Feud" poll about Beautiful American Models. But on TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are," Midwestern girl Cindy Crawford is a self-proclaimed "American mutt"... who happens to have big roots overseas.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. First, we see lots of pictures of young Cindy. She was always pretty, and her family was close-knit with strong genes. When she was born, she had four great-grandmothers and two great-grandfathers still alive. "We're like Midwestern, potato-eating people," she says.
The DeKalb, Illinois native-turned-Malibu mom wants to help her daughter with her middle school family-tree project. (Talk about a hands-on mom!) A quick online trek to Ancestory.com reveals that Cindy's great-great-great-grandfather Frank Hemingway was a New Hampshire native. "As far as I knew," she says, "everybody on my father's side was from Minnesota."
Watch a clip from Cindy Crawford's "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode right here:
So it's off to the New England Genealogy Society in Boston. At this point, you're probably wondering if that's "Hemingway," as in Ernest Hemingway. Cindy says it's always been a "family rumor" and that she fantasized about being related to him. And as it turns out...
Yes! "That's really cool!" she smiles upon learning that she is a very distant cousin of the renowned author of "The Old Man and the Sea" and "The Sun Also Rises." And she learns about a less famous but equally fascinating ancestor named Thomas Trowbridge, her ten times great-grandfather who was born in Taunton, England in 1600. And as luck would have it, there's a whole book about the renegade Puritan.
Trowbridge and his family moved to the U.S. during "the Great Migration," a period that followed the Mayflower journey in 1620. Trowbridge wanted a fresh start and an escape from religious persecution. And he eventually left the religious upheaval in Boston to found "a utopia for Puritans" in Connecticut.
Cindy finds it "incredible" that religious passion has "trickled down" to her own family. She is stunned to learn that Trowbridge was deep in debt and hadn't been paying his taxes for some time, to the extent that the government was about to intervene. In April 1644, his entire estate and his children were seized. He disappeared from his family. "Wow," she says. You can say that again.
He never appeared in New Haven again, and the historians uncover a document that shows that he married again in 1641. So basically, he "ditched his kids," as Cindy says, and went back to England to find a wife. Cindy decides to venture to England to find out if he was a "deadbeat dad." She is perplexed: "He came to New Haven and moved his whole family there. That doesn't seem like a thing you do if you intend to abandon them."
At the Somerset Heritage Center in Taunton, England, Cindy learns that Trowbridge was one of many who returned. He remarried and served under Colonel Robert Blake in the parliamentary army during the English Civil War. "It still seems a little strange that you could just leave your children in the New World," says Cindy. But she doesn't judge him; it was a brutal period. "I'll give him a break," she says.
At Taunton Castle, Cindy learns that Taunton was under siege in 1644, targeted by King Charles. Trowbridge was responsible for protecting people for seven months. They were almost out of food, things were dire, and the commanders had to choose. Surrender the castle, and you live. Fight, and you die. Again, Cindy exclaims, "Wow."
Well, they held out. Trowbridge and company were described as "giants among men" for their defense of Taunton, and Cindy likes the sound of that. The war ended in 1646, and Trowbridge, who stayed in Taunton, had to start life all over again. He was also busy petitioning for pensions for his solders. "That's innate in all of us," says Cindy. "We want to help people."
Next stop: London, where Cindy to learns that her family tree goes back over twelve centuries and she's distantly related to a king of Italy. "Not bad for a girl from the Midwest," she jokes. But there's more: She's also descended from Charlemagne, aka the father of Europe. Cindy gasps (again) that she is "farm people" from the Midwest and just can't believe it. "This is incredible," she says.
Now she learns more about Charlemagne, that he had twenty children from different women. According to a biography, he was "large and strong," his eyes "very large and animated," and "his face laughing and merry." Cindy is visibly amazed at "getting to know the man, not this historical figure." Looking around Charlemagne's chapel, she smiles: "I feel now that there is a connection to a person who was Charlemagne. I can't wait to share this with my children and my family."
"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs Tuesdays at 9 PM on TLC.
- Cindy Crawford