The Begatin’ Man

The movie Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized rendering of the Scopes Monkey trial held in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. In real life, John Thomas Scopes was a Dayton teacher charged with the crime of teaching evolution in the public schools. The trial was deliberately staged in order to create publicity and in that regard it was highly successful. Scopes was represented by Clarence Darrow, one of the most famous lawyers of his time, and the state of Tennessee by William Jennings Bryan, who also took the stand as an expert witness. I won’t spoil the show if you haven’t seen the movie, but my favorite part is when Darrow (played by Spencer Tracy) is examining Bryan (played by Frederic March) on the witness stand about the authority of biblical scripture. Trust me, there’s a whole lot of talk about begatting in the scene, and it’s a classic.

Anyway, William Jennings Bryan was also a very prominent American. Born in 1860, Bryan was the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, 1900, and 1908. He previously served two terms in the House of Representatives and later was Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state. It was Bryan who invented the type of campaign technique known as stumping, and he was the inspiration behind the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz.

More relevant for our purposes here, however, he was related to me through my great-great-grandmother Rhoda Lee Jennings on my Penrose side. Problem is, we just can’t figure out exactly how just yet.

That we are related is highly likely. There are a boatload of Jennings in the databases and my mother mentioned many times that one of her aunts was close enough to the Jennings Bryan family to inherit money out of Bryan’s estate, but just which aunt it was is not clear, and the data collected so far doesn’t lead to a conclusive answer.

This points out an important factor to consider when doing genealogy research, namely that one cannot sit in front of a computer and expect perfect, full, and complete answers. I am pretty certain there is a blood connection between Bryan and myself and I am determined to find it, but it may not be easy. 

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