UNITED STATES—Reality could be a live action show or a true story documentary. To me, they both feature “reality” and sometimes it seems like the scripted documentaries have more REAL than any of those ‘there can only be one winner’ reality TV shows.

Do YOU have a Million Dollar American Princess in your family tree? An English Pauper?

Thanks to the Smithsonian channel ON DEMAND, I found a way to scratch my genealogy itch, in a big comfortable chair instead of on a computer rifling through electronic census records at ancestry.com.

Season one of Million Dollar American Princesses features only 3 episodes, but they are must see if you have traced your early American roots back to any historical people of England and France!

My own 12th Great-Grandparents are Thomas Wentworth and Margaret Fortescue: daughter of Adrian the Martyr. Tracing hundred of years has shown me many historical names flossed in and out of my tree, like Stonor, Boleyn, Day, Stebbins, Ely, Hoo. I was hoping to see some of my beautiful ancestors profiled, but not yet…

This series is one to BINGE ON anyway, whether you are related to these Princesses or if you just like learning the backstory to some of history’s famous names, places, and REAL characters!

The very first episode: Cash for Class, uncovers the true historical stories behind the American Princesses that brought their American dollars to Europe in exchange for titles and is hosted by Elizabeth McGovern.

The first of the American Princesses is Brooklyn-born Jennie, daughter of Leonard Jerome, a friend of Wild Bill Cody, and part owner of The New York Times.

Leonard was the father of 3 beautiful daughters in New York where the ‘old money’ Knickerbocker family would not allow them be accepted, possibly because they were of ‘new money’ or maybe because of the rumor that her mother was a white settler that had been raped by an Iroquois man. Her father allowed her mother to relocate the family to Europe and debut Jennie and her sisters in France, where she becomes friends with Consuelo Yznaga.

After war breaks out, the wealthy families head to England where Jennie and Consuelo meet men like clothing designer Charles Worth, writer Oscar Wilde, and even Albert, the Prince of Wales. Jennie Jerome catches the eye of Lord Randolph Churchill, and together they become the parents of the famed Winston Churchill.

Jennie is a very interesting character to further read about. Her father was promiscuous and so was her husband, who they say died of “general paralysis of the insane” or what may have been syphilis. It is rumored that the “highly sexed” Jennie Churchill herself had more than 200 lovers, although unproven.

Meanwhile Jennie’s beautiful friend Consuelo Yznaga was also being denied the life of a socialite by the New York Knickerbockers. Her parentage included a Cuban diplomat father with family-owned plantations in both America and Cuba, and her mother’s family: wealthy plantation Clements family.

With longstanding plantations in both families, it may be safe to say that her not being welcomed by the elite may likely be due to her Cuban heritage. That all changed when she was found by the Duke of Manchester “Kim” Montagu as he wandered around America looking for an heiress to marry and save his dwindling kingdom.

Consuelo’s story did not have a happy ending. First her husband died in 1892, then her beautiful twin daughters died within years of one another. Consuelo died in 1909, leaving one son that would go on to produce the Montagu’s that still hold the title Duke of Manchester.

The last princess introduced in this episode is named Frances Work, daughter of a rich stockbroker who thought it should be a crime that foreign men were coming to marry rich American Princesses.  Of course Frances, or “Fanny,” disappointed her father when she fell in love with James Roche, the second son of a Baron that had no land, no house and no estate.

Fannie and James Roche’s marriage lasted until her father stopped supporting them after 7 years and not only did they divorce, but Grandfather Work incredibly “bought” his grandchildren, Fanny’s sons, from their father for the price of paying off his debt.

Frank Work then instructed that his will dictate his grandsons must denounce the Roche name and never go back to their father’s country, but they did. Maurice Roche fathered a daughter named Frances that would give birth to Diana, Princess of Wales.

John Travolta and Princess Diana. Phot courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
John Travolta and Princess Diana Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

That means the legacy he never wanted overseas still runs strong!

You can catch new episodes on the Smithsonian channel on Sunday night!