Friday, July 25, 2008

Genealogue Challenge #132

Actor David Strathairn has some very interesting genes.

What was the full maiden name of his paternal grandmother, and where were her grandfathers born?


His paternal grandmother's name was Lei Jessie Alana. Her maternal grandfather was born in Hawaii and her paternal grandfather was born in China.

Explanation of research:

In reading his bio on
I found that David's grandmother's name might be Pamela Lei, married to Thomas Strathairn and that their son, David's father, was born in Hawaii.

I found her listed as Jessie L. in Hawaii in the 1930 census with her husband Thomas Strathairn and two children, Thomas Jr (David's father) and Pamela.
I located both Thomas' and Pamela's death dates form the California Death Index on Ancestry. Pamela's name is given as Pamela Lei Strathairn. Her mother's maiden name is listed as Alana. Using this and the names Lei and Jessie, I located her in the 1920 census as Lei J. Alana, living with her mother and siblings in Hawaii. Her mother, Rita K. Alana lists her father was being from Hawaii.

I went back to the 1900 census and found Rita living with her husband James Alana and his father is listed as being from China.

Drew Smith

33-year-old Jessie L[ei] Strathairn appears in the 1930 Hilo census.

Her daughter Pamela Lei Strathairn has a California Death Index entry indicating her mother's maiden name was Alana.

The 1920 Honolulu census has Lei J. Alana in the household of her sister Eva. Also in the household is Lei's mother, Rita.

The 1900 Makawao census has the household of James and Rita Alana. James' father was born in China, while Rita's father was born in the Azores. Jessie Lei appears in this census as Victoria.

The 1910 Makawao census has Rita (divorced) as head of household, with children including Victoria Lei.


IMDB, Wikipedia and various fan sites indicate that David's Grandfather was Thomas Scott Strathairn, a musician from Crieff, Scotland.

He traveled widely, and in Hawaii met and married Pamela Lei,
Scottish roots .

The offical bio at David's Website records the following information:
Grandparents (deceased): Thomas Scott Strathairn (map-maker), Pamela Lei (professor of physical education)
Parents (deceased): Thomas Scott Strathairn Jr. (general practitioner/surgeon), Mary Frances Frazier (registered nurse..

A memorial notice from Stanford for Professor Pamela Lei Strathairn is here


Looking further at ages, it seems more likely that the Pamela of Stanford is a sibling..

Several rootsweb sources list Thomas's wife as Jessie Lei..

No corroboration yet


It does appear that Pamela Lei Strathairn was David's aunt, not his grandmother. But she did share a name with her mother, Victoria (alias Jessie) Lei (Alana) Strathairn.

As Drew notes, the 1900 census states that Victoria's paternal grandfather was born in China, her maternal grandfather in the Azores. Living with Victoria/Jessie's family in 1920 was an unmarried aunt, Millie Morris. The 1900 census shows that Millie's father was born in Portugal, which is consistent with the birthplace of her sister Rita's father.

So, David is (at least) Scottish, Chinese, Portuguese and Polynesian.

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