Weekend at Brewstie’s

Sometimes curiosity can take you down a rabbit hole. The other week, while joking about the 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie’s, I decided to see if the actor who played the dead “Bernie” had anything of interest in his ancestry. Terry Kiser, who is not dead, has been an actor for more than fifty years, but his role as a moving corpse in both this film and its sequel (Weekend at Bernie’s II) appears to be his most memorable.

I found Terry Kay Kiser on the 1940 census in Elmhurst, DuPage County, Illinois at nine months old, with his parents Garth and Irene. While his Wikipedia entry (currently) claims he was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the family did not move there for several years. Garth Martin Kiser also appears on a 1940 World War II Draft card, listing his wife Irene Helen Kiser, living in Elmhurst. Garth M. Kiser is listed in a local paper as moving from Elmhurst to Sioux Falls, South Dakota in 1951.[1] Garth died in 1961 and is buried in Omaha. His widow remarried William Chambers, moved to Cincinnati, and died in 1988.[2]

Irene’s 1912 Chicago birth certificate identifies her parents as Kay and Margaret (Hearne) Jennings. In addition to Illinois vital records and federal census returns, I found Irene and her parents in the 1944 publication Jennings, Davidson and allied families. Irene’s father Kay Seward Jennings (1886–1968) was the son of George Alexander and Mary Frances (Seward) Jennings; grandson of Israel and Anne McClure (Davidson) Jennings; and great-grandson of Israel and Mary (Waters) Jennings. This last Israel Jennings (1776–1860) moved from Connecticut (via Kentucky) to Illinois in the early nineteenth century.

While now I had a connection back to New England, this last couple gave me a case of déjà vu.

While now I had a connection back to New England, this last couple gave me a case of déjà vu. I had definitely worked on them before (as well as in this 1944 book), but I could not remember why. I looked in my own genealogy database for Israel Jennings and could not find anything. Searching my own e-mail, I found an article my colleague Gary Boyd Roberts had written eight years ago for Mayflower Descendant. This was the first issue published under my predecessor Caleb H. Johnson, where Gary and I began a series on “Notable Mayflower Descendants,” and I had published an article in this issue on the Mayflower ancestry of hatter John B. Stetson. While the Jennings article was authored by Gary, both he and I had aided each other on our respective articles. This series continues in Mayflower Descendant with many recent articles by Gary, Julie Helen Otto, and Richard Hall.

Israel and Mary (Waters) Jennings were the great-grandparents of fellow Illinois native William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), three-time Democratic presidential candidate (1896, 1900, and 1908) and U.S. Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.[3] The article had worked out his ancestry back to Mayflower passenger William Brewster. (Bryan’s daughter Grace had joined the Mayflower Society in Nebraska in 1933.) William Jennings Bryan and Terry Kay Kiser are double second cousins, twice removed (see chart below). This saved me from needing to document the earlier eight generations back to Brewster!

Will there be a sequel to this post? Weekend at Brewstie’s II? It could actually be a trilogy, as this article had also worked out two other Mayflower families behind Israel Jennings, back to Samuel Fuller and John Howland (which makes it four families, including John Tilley)!

Click on image to expand it.


[1] “New Residents in Sioux Falls,” The Daily Argus-Leader [Sioux Falls, S.D.], 5 September 1951, 22.

[2] “Chambers, Irene (nee Jennings),” The Cincinnati Inquirer, 5 December 1988, 38.

[3] Gary Boyd Roberts, “Notable Mayflower Descendants, William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), Politician,” Mayflower Descendant 60 [2011]: 61-66.

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

9 thoughts on “Weekend at Brewstie’s

  1. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who randomly puts together a family tree for a non-relative who didn’t even ask for it!

    I have found “distant cousinship” to some colleagues this way, though!

    1. I had an acquaintance, the friend of a friend, of Greek descent. A recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, dealt with Greek genealogy, so I thought that I’d give it a crack. I didn’t find much, However, I did find that her paternal grandmother was of Pennsylvania German descent and following that line, I discovered that we were second cousins, twice removed. We were amazed.

  2. Thanks for uncovering my distant cousin. As a descendant of William Brewster and probably John Tilley (still working on proving that connection), it’s always fun to find new relatives, especially when someone else does the hard work!

  3. Very interesting article Christopher! I loved that movie. Very big fan of andrew Mcarthey. One of the most underrated actors of the 1980s. He did a movie called “heaven help us” that all Catholic school kids have reference that one time

  4. Ha! What fun! This post strikes me as “dead on.” How cool is it to find connections to “Bernie,” and bring them on home to New England? ~ Great post Chris, entertaining and informative. Beuller next?

  5. It is great to hear from you Chris. I have links to some of the some of the Mayflower Passengers and Crew that you have.in your Family Tree. Approx 16 families are linked to me via the Archibald and Hilton Families. I have been working on my links for many years. It takes many hours for each of us to be able to prove our links. Some of my Ancestors are proven via DNA links besides the Ancestral names. Thanks for all the great help with our families. MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of your family. Sincerely Yours, Paul Morris Hilton. tinym81@rogers.com

  6. Did you do any research on his Kiser line?

    I found his grandparents, Garth E. (1884) and Jennie (1879) in the 1930 Census. They were bothliving in DuPage IL.

  7. Also interested in the Kiser line. I have a brick wall at Michael Kisner who says he left Tennessee prior to 1835 but was estranged from his family so I have not had much luck placing him.

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