Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Genealogy by IMDb

We may find ourselves going back to the usual websites for our never-ending quest to "finish" our family tree, but every once in a while, an unexpected resource becomes just the tool to glean more about our history. That was what happened this past week when I worked on my mother's Tison line from Georgia and Florida and stumbled upon an unexpected connection.

The root of this line was a colonial American man from Pitt County, North Carolina, by the name of Job Tison. His wife Sidnah, daughter of Revolutionary war patriot West Sheffield, settled with him in Glynn County, Georgia. My mother descends from their oldest daughter, named after her mother, who married a man who moved further south to Florida. The line I was working on this past weekend, though, was that of the younger Sidney's older brother, Aaron Tison.

Aaron married and moved to northern Florida, as well. He and his wife, Louisa Jane Dell, had a daughter whom he named after his mother. Her line eventually led to a granddaughter named Henrietta. What I didn't know about this Henrietta was that she apparently had a beautiful singing voice. What I did learn about Henrietta was that she married a cotton broker named Joe Canova who, after having at least six children, unfortunately contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of fifty two.

That was in 1926. Then came the Depression. Perhaps, realizing that some of her children inherited her vocal abilities, the widow Henrietta encouraged her children to try their luck and see whether their talents would make room for them. Or at least give them a chance to sing for their dinner.

Whatever the incentive, Henrietta's son Leon and daughter Anne joined with the baby of the family, Juliette, and took their family vaudeville act up to the Big Apple. They got their big break when band leader Rudy Vallée gave them a guest spot on his radio show in 1931. An offer from Warner Brothers redirected them from New York to California, where the family remained for decades.

It was actually a newspaper article about Henrietta's passing that alerted me to this hidden story about these Tison descendants. Though a Florida native, Henrietta died in California, not her home state. Her Find A Grave memorial includes a copy of that 1950 news article, headlined, "Judy Canova's Mother Dies."

Of course, that got me wondering, "Who is Judy Canova?" I had never heard of her. A quick perusal of an entry about Judy Canova at Wikipedia led me to her listing at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which included credits for her decades of work in film and radio. Though a singer—a yodeler, even—Judy Canova was listed as a comedienne. One biographical entry billed Judy Canova's radio program as "the forerunner to television series such as "The Beverly Hillbillies." One blogger, rediscovering her work just a decade ago, gave her "hillbilly humor" some serious accolades:
there's a quality to Judy Canova...that can be seen in the performances of comediennes who followed after her in the 1940s, '50s and beyond, from Minnie Pearl and Dorothy Shay, to Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. 

That is entertainment, but I'm about genealogy. If this was a relative—a fourth cousin to my mother, though that aspiring actress never knew it—I wanted to get all the details correctly listed in my family tree. IMDb turned out to be quite helpful in the process, by listing not only the names of all four of the former Juliette Canova's husbands, but identifying her two daughters, as well. Now, my family tree includes the likes of actresses "Tweeny" Canova and her younger half-sister, Diana Canova. Who would have thought a resource like the Internet Movie Database would become my go-to source for genealogical information for my family tree?!       


  1. What fun! I thought that one of the names sounded familiar. We have been watching reruns of "Soap" on Sunday nights on one of those retro channels. Your cousin was a star on the show! So much better than the other "surprises" we can find in our trees.

    1. Oh, Miss Merry, I love all the "surprises" I find on my family tree wanderings! Yes, "Soap" would be one place where Judy's daughter became known.

  2. This might the most interesting cousin-discovery story I have ever seen. Fantastic. Judy Canova, the forerunner of Minnie Pearl - what a great find!

    1. Lisa, you never know what you will find when you go wandering through the branches on that extended family tree!

  3. Replies
    1. Grant! You're back! I just followed your link to your more recent blog. Very interesting. I know someone who might be interested in what you did with that latest blog. Please keep in touch!


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