What “Succession” Can teach you about Genealogy

When I’m not researching history and genealogy, I’m pursuing a career in TV writing. But it doesn’t take a TV writer to tell you that this week’s episode of SUCCESSION was a banger. (Don’t watch SUCCESSION? First of all, do that! Second of all, bear with me.)

The main character and monster presiding over the family in SUCCESSION is Logan Roy, a Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul who we learn throughout the show has committed crimes like covering up murder and sexual assault. 

As the show winds down, it becomes clear that one of Logan’s more insidious crimes is the physical and emotional abuse of his children. Kendall, Roman, Shiv and Connor are literal walking wrecks of human beings whose relationships with their father have left them all profoundly damaged. 

But in this week’s episodes (which is the show’s penultimate), we finally learn more about what made Logan Roy the way he is. 

Succession Season 3, Episode 9 spoilers ahead!

In his eulogy, Logan’s brother Ewan explains that Logan always thought he carried the polio that killed their baby sister Rose. It’s a powerful, humanizing moment for someone we have until then generally only seen as a larger than life world-dominator of a human.

In the very last episode, I actually felt sorry for this character who we have seen commit atrocities. 

What does Succession have to do with genealogy? 

I mean, the show is called SUCCESSION. It’s all genealogy, baybee!

But seriously, the story of Rose reminded me of a family I’ve been working on.

A reader left a comment a while back wondering if I had found any information about her ancestor Roscoe West. Born in Georgia in 1886, he’d left his wife and child in Oklahoma in the 1910s (or possibly 20s) and never returned.

As I did all the usual for a man born in the 1880s – look for him in censuses and tax rolls.  

…Then I noticed on his 1918 World War I Draft Registration that he currently lived in “the bloodiest 47 acres in America” AKA the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri. 

Uh oh.

As it turns out, he’d been sentenced to two years for “false pretenses.” This crime is basically what we’d think of as fraud. Considering Roscoe’s job was listed as a “salesman,” I’m hypothesizing these two things are related. 

I was able to send off to the Missouri State Archives and get his Bertillon Measurements (yep, with blue eyes and fair hair, he sure sounds like a West) but to find out more about the crime I’ll need to visit the archives in Missouri. Which I am, of course, now dying to do.

For now, Roscoe seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. His sentence was commuted by the governor with “113 days merit time” and he was released from prison on 26 July 1919. But nobody seems to know where he was after that. His wife and child are living with her father and stepmother in McIntosh County, Oklahoma in the 1920 Census. In 1924 his wife had to advertise in the paper to divorce him, citing “abandonment.” (Basically, the newspaper advertisement was his sign to come back and tell his side of the story or deal with the consequences. It looks like he dealt with the consequences.) 

Now what does THIS have to do with Succession?

Upon researching the rest of Roscoe’s life, I found this:

From The Cherokee Advance (Cherokee County, Georgia) 5 Apr 1895 

This was (potentially – I’m still researching them) Roscoe’s littlest brother. I imagine he was trying to get an egg for his mama when this horrible accident occurred. Roscoe would likely have been at home for this. He would have been 9-years-old.

Roscoe’s father had died of “lung trouble” just two years earlier. In fact, though their death dates and circumstances are unknown, at least three more of Roscoe’s siblings (two sisters and a brother) had died by 1900. A fifth sister died (perhaps in childbirth) in around 1903. 

In 1900 he was living at age 14 away from his mom and surviving siblings with another family as a farm laborer.

At first I was joking around about my “criminal” relative. And yes, the crimes of the historical Roscoe West don’t sound like they held a candle to those of the fictional Logan Roy. 

But the latest episode of SUCCESSION reminded me that people are who they are because of the context of their lives. 

Yes, I still imagine Roscoe out there in Missouri selling snake oil or conning people out of their oil rights, but now I can also perhaps understand some of the factors that spurred him on.

Do you have any ancestral criminals? (Or hey, do you want to go to the Missouri Archives and look up mine?!) Let me know in the comments!


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