Episode PremiereApril 27, 2012
Show Period2010 - 2012
Production CompanyIs or Isn't Entertainment, Wall to Wall Production
With a career spanning more than 30 years, actor Rob Lowe is revered as one of Hollywood's leading men. His breakout performance in "The Outsiders" launched a flourishing career in both film and television. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Sam Seaborn on the Emmy winning series "The West Wing" and currently plays the enthusiastic Chris Traeger on the sitcom "Parks and Recreation." He lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife Cheryl and two sons John Owen and Mathew.
"I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and I always wanted to be an actor," Rob says as he explains how he ended up in Malibu, California during his teenage years. Due to his parents' divorce, family history never played a big part in his upbringing, but now that he's older, he's excited to find out more about his ancestry. "Why am I interested in what I'm interested in?" Rob hopes to discover this; it's one of his primary motivations for delving into his past. Rob has decided to follow his maternal side of the family tree because his mother passed away, and he has always wished he could have asked her more about that side of the family; "she was really the last member of that wing of our family."
Rob meets with his brother Chad to go over what they already know about their mother's side of the family. Chad shows their mother's scrapbook and discovers old photos of their mother and her family. "I have no idea who these people are," Rob says as they reach several black and white photos taken pre-1960s. They find out from the book that their great-grandparents are Oran Hepler and Bessie May East from Ohio. They go to Ancestry.com and look up John Christopher East, a name mentioned in the scrapbook. Ancestry.com mentions that John Christopher might have played a part in the American Revolutionary War and might be associated with the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Rob heads to the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters in Washington, D.C. to find out more about John Christopher East. "That's my dream, is to have some connection to real American heroes," Rob says as he arrives in the nation's capital. He meets Dr. Taylor who tells him that in order to be a member of the DAR you need to be a documented decedent of a patriot, and they'll look at the DAR online database to find out if Rob is. They review the info and discover the DAR already has a completed family tree for the entire East lineage from John Christopher in the mid-1700s to Bessie May East in the early 1900s.
Taylor gives Rob bad news that the DAR denied the East family entrance into their organization because they never found definitive proof that he fought in the revolution. "But when one door closes, another one opens," Taylor says as he sends Rob to the Library of Congress to search their archives. Scott Stephenson, a Revolutionary War historian, meets Rob at the library and shows him a document that lists imprisoned soldiers, and surprisingly Rob's ancestor is on that list. Stephenson explains that the next step is to check the original letters of George Washington, where Rob's ancestor's regiment is mentioned.
In June of 1775, George Washington took command of the continental army in an effort to organize rebelling colonists. Washington knew he was on the forefront of treason against Great Britain and was careful to document his every move. Today, his letter is an evaluable resource for understanding the Revolutionary War, including what they revel about Rob's ancestor's regiment.
Rob reads a letter written by George Washington from the 27th of December 1776, which describes John Christopher East's regiment as "the enemy lying in Trenton." Turns out Rob's 5x great-grandfather was a German Hessian soldier that was hired by Great Britain to fight against the Americans during the Revolutionary War. "You mean to tell me my 5x great-grandfather was trying to stick it to George Washington?" Rob asks in complete disbelief. "That also explains why he's not in the Daughters of the American Revolution."
Rob knows that Christopher East fought against Washington at the Battle of Trenton, where the famous act of George Washington crossing the Delaware occurred, but he does not know the details of the battle. So Rob heads to Trenton to find out more about this famous battle in American history. "I've always so identified with this country, now I'm learning I need to spend some time thinking about the people that fought against this country," Rob says as he tours the Trenton Old Barracks Museum.
Rob meets with Hessian prisoner expert Dr. Krebs to find out more about East's participation in the Battle of Trenton. In the summer of 1776, 18,000 Hessian troops landed at Stanton Island and began fighting the American Continental Army. The fierce and disciplined German soldiers provided the British manpower to drive Washington's Army out of New York. East's regiment set up camp in Trenton preparing to attack Philadelphia and overtake the capital in hope of ending the revolution. However, Washington made a Hail Mary by making a stealth attack by crossing the icy Delaware River on Christmas night and surprising the Hessian regiment to defeat.
One new question Rob has is how does someone come to a strange land to fight and end up wanting to stay? Rob reads that when East was taken prisoner after the battle, he was ridiculed and threatened by the Americans for trying to take away their freedom, but then Washington made a decree that "the states will accept all foreigners that choose to become part of these states and are willing to leave the army of his British majesty in America. One can imagine a foreigner prefers land, freedom, security, the benefit of good laws and mild government in a country where many of their friends and relatives have already settled..."
Rob heads to Germany to find out more about Christopher's life before he came to America and discover his German roots. At the village of Furstenhagen, Rob looks at the record of the local parish and discovers that this is the church and village of all his great ancestors. He finds baptism and wedding records of his family going back for generations; "wow, so this is where it all began for me," Rob says with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
Back at the hotel, Rob receives a letter from the DAR saying that with the newly found evidence he discovered, they are now accepting John Christopher East as a patriot and contributor of the DAR. "I'm glad I came on this journey," Rob says, "because John Christopher East became more than a name on a newspaper clipping... so much of what I'm about... I can't help but think that some of his dreams and aspirations were passed down, and I feel them."