Since starting my blog a few years back, I’ve always enjoyed finding genealogists and learning more about them. I love interviewing (thanks undergrad in journalism!) and learning what makes them tick. As well as their background in family history and why it is so important to them as individuals.
Today we have another one of those such interviews with Zoe Kranik of Hollywood Genes. Take a gander below at one of the fascinating genealogists in our field!
How did you get involved in genealogy?
I’m an only child and because of that I’ve always gravitated towards and been interested in big families, and family in general. My dad passed away when I was young, and I’ve used genealogy as a way to connect with him — even though he’s gone. Connecting with family drives me, it’s a longing I have.
What was the first time that you really knew family history was ‘your thing’?
When I was young I inherited a genealogy book from my Begert side of the family and was intrigued. Taped into the inside cover was an envelope and inside was a photograph of a castle in Switzerland. It turns out my 2nd-great grandmother lived there with her siblings and parents (at that point the castle was being used as an administrative building/jail and my 3x great grandfather was the Swiss equivalent of the sheriff so he and his family were able to live inside the castle), which seemed incredibly romantic and interesting and I had to learn more.
What is your field of study or area of interest?
I’m especially interested in Italian history, the late 1800s – early 1900s immigration to the USA, the Filles du Roi, royal succession, and old Hollywood (1900s-1940s, early film, and the pre-code era mostly).
What is your current project?
I am currently working to find out the identities of my great grandmother’s two sisters who remained in Italy and what happened to them and their families. I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall, but I am ever hopeful that someday I’ll be able to breakthrough!
Why is history important to you?
History is important because it shapes everything we do and are able to do today. People and their complexities are infinitely amazing and interesting. I think it’s important to remember where we all came from and appreciate these people who allowed us to be us.
Share a story!
One of my family’s most told stories of my childhood was this one: I was a baby, not even two years old yet, and my dad took me to the store with him one winter day. After shopping, he secured me back in my car seat and was loading the groceries into the car with the help of a bag boy. The bag boy accidentally shut the car door, not realizing the door was set up to lock when it was closed, and I was locked inside. My dad panicked and they ended up calling the fire department to see if they could help get me out
Meanwhile, I’m sitting there calmly in my seat, sucking my thumb and watching the grown-ups running around outside of the car. The firemen were debating whether or not they should break a window to get in but were worried that I would get hurt. Finally, one fireman leaned close to the window and asked me: “Little Girl, can you unlock the door?” My dad and everyone else thought this was nuts. In response, I popped my thumb out of my mouth, unbuckled my seat belt, crawled over to the door, and unlocked it to the amazement of all of the adults watching.
I also sunbathed topless in Antibes once, so there’s that…I won’t be sharing photos. XD
Why Hollywood history?
I remember watching Turner Classic Movies when I was a kid and just found it magical and comforting. My parents taped (remember VHS?) some of the movies off of TV and I would watch them over and over. I’ve been a film buff ever since.
I’m constantly in awe of film in that it’s a fairly “new” thing, historically speaking, not that much over 100 years old, and yet it’s grown drastically in that short time and changed our lives, the way we see the world, and the way history is recorded in the process.
The people who created Hollywood as we know it was as many pioneers as the Mayflower passengers and the Filles du Roi. They were going into unknown territory, they were making their own rules, they were doing their own stunts, they were thinking outside of the box. I also love how it was an avenue for women to become empowered by giving them a chance to earn an independent living. Actress Mary Pickford (as seen below), for instance, made more money than most of her male contemporaries and co-founded the film studio United Artists…all before women even had the right to vote.
The gift they ultimately gave us is something we use and take for granted daily. I think, like these oral stories that bounce around in our families, many classic Hollywood films and stars are fading from the public’s eye and interest and are in danger of being forgotten. When a kid doesn’t even know who Audrey Hepburn, one of the most iconic faces of old Hollywood, is then you know you have a problem (this happened to me recently). The thought breaks my heart and I feel an obligation to help keep them alive.
Want to nominate someone or be interviewed here at The Hipster Historian. Email me at thehipsterhistorian(at)gmail(dot)com to get started!