From Tennessee To Oz

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E-mail author, Michelle Russell, with your questions.

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Tennessee Sunset (c) M. Russell 2006

1.  Who was the earliest Gumm ancestor of Judy Garland you were able to find, and what year did they arrive in Tennessee?
The earliest direct-line descendant of the Gumm family (at that time spelled "Gum") that I found was Norton Gum. He married Sallie Clampit in the County of Knox, in 1793.
2.  Why have members of the Gumm family not been able to trace Judy Garland's ancestory back earlier than John Alexander Gum in 1850?
That is a big question that many would like to know. I was stumped on this situation as well and it took quite a few Gumm descendants, personal family documents and some "deducing" to figure it out.  All I can say right now is, this is all explained in the book!
3. What is your position on all the rumors about Frank Gumm, Judy's father?
There are a lot of rumors out there, and basically since there is no one around now who can say, 'yes, I was there,' they are still rumors.  Meanwhile, there is alot of information about Frank Gumm and his family that has previously not been known. I think "From Tennessee to Oz" will bring a much more complete picture of who Frank Gumm and his family were than has previously been had.

4. With all the books written about Judy and her family, what made you want to write another?
That's a good question!  I never really wanted to write a book.  In 1995, I began doing a research project for the Judy Garland Birthplace in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on the songs the Gumm family sang in vaudeville.  While working on this project, I interviewed a lot of people who had known the Gumms. They told me stories I had never read in any book.  Later, a couple of people convinced me that I had to put all this in a book. After I had decided to write the book, I moved to Murfressboro, Tennessee for a while. I had always been interested in Judy Garland's father because I knew she loved him so much, but realized there was very little written about his family history.  Once I was in Murfreesboro, the story just grew and grew. 
5.  Is it true that Judy was part Cherokee Indian?
I have yet to find any evidence of this. Some of her cousins may have had some Indian blood, but I don't think she did.  I'm sure after the book comes out, we'll probably learn more.
6.  What do you think about Ethel Gumm, Judy's mother?
Interviewing the people who had known Ethel Gumm was interesting. One woman said that nothing she had ever seen or read about Ethel Gumm, resembled the woman she had known in the slightest way. I think Ethel was not a perfect mother, but she did the best she knew how to protect her girls and look to their future.
7.  What are some of the things you've read that you find not true?
One small piece of information I find incorrect is calling Frank's mother, Elizabeth. Her name was Clemmie W. Baugh. She had a sister named Elizabeth, or Bettie, so I don't know where they get the name Elizabeth for her.
Another inaccuracy is assuming that every move Frank Gumm made in his life had to do with his being homosexual, or in some kind of trouble. They should have seen how many times his brothers moved!  Early 20th century America was a time of adventure and great new opportunity. The South was still suffering the results of the Civil War. The Gumms were all ambitious and social people with lots of energy, so they went out and pursued new lives. And don't forget, they came from pioneer stock!
8. What was the most important thing you learned about Judy while doing your research?
I think I do have a whole new picture of who Judy Garland was as a result of working on this book. She carried within her all of the best characteristics of her ancestors (as most of us do).  What surprised me most, I think, was the realization that the qualities in Judy's singing voice that so affected people - the great strength, courage and love - were the same qualities that her ancestors had as they pioneered the wilds of Tennessee and helped to form that great new state. 

More information will be forthcoming shortly.

From Tennessee to Oz * The Story of Judy Garland's Family History by Michelle Russell (c)2006