Even the smallest bit of nostalgia can set me off down a new genealogical rabbit hole. The other day, when I heard Cass Elliot singing Make Your Own Kind of Music1 in a car commercial on television, I knew right away that I was in trouble. Wouldn’t it be incredible to discover a genealogical connection with that legendary 1960s chanteuse? Okay—maybe it wouldn’t be for you, but for this aging flower-child, the thought of it was uber-cool. Curiosity piqued, I decided it was time to dig deeper.
Almost immediately, I saw that Cass Elliot, born Ellen Naomi Cohen in 1941, was Jewish by way of both her parents.2 Let’s face it—unless I’m ever able to find a 14th-century synagogue on the Orkney Islands , I have little chance of finding any similar lines here. This was disappointing, but I figured there had to be more to the story. I began to wonder who Cass had married, and if she had any children to whom I could establish a connection.
Unverified sources allude that Cass Elliot was married twice3 —but her only child, a girl named Owen, was not the daughter of either husband. Because Cass died when Owen was a little girl, it is said that Owen did not learn the identity of her biological father until many years later:4 a man named Charles Wayne Day, also known as Chuck, or Bing Day.5 Well, I had plenty of Days in my family tree, so this was a good start. I began building a tree for Mr. Bing Day, and was even more pleased to discover that his paternal grandmother was Mary (Judd) Day, a lady with strong indications of New England ancestry.6 Vainly, I figured I could drum up some proof if I could get Bing Day’s ancestors within a stone’s throw of Anthony Day7 or Thomas Judd. 8 I know, it all seems a little far-fetched—remember, I started the search on a whim, after hearing a car company’s new jingle. All I could think was that proof would come later.
I spent some time unceremoniously chasing the Days and Judds in Bing’s family from Vermillion County, Indiana to Vermillion County, Illinois, and further to Vermillion, South Dakota—I kid you not. But then my digging led me to an anomaly: while the trees I’d looked at previously had shown Bing Day’s parents as Paul Noah Day and Mary Ruth (Vandal) Day9, I stumbled upon one which listed his mother as a woman named Frances Jane Jeffrey10, and didn’t list a father at all. Then I noticed the first name of this particular tree’s owner: Owen.
Yes, it seemed I had found the public family tree actually belonging to the daughter of Cass Elliot—or at least someone using her name. Tired of looking at Days and Judds, I was grateful for the course correction. The missing identity of Bing’s father pointed to the possibility that he had been adopted, and that the other trees had listed his adopted parents as his only parents. It seemed bittersweet that a woman who only learned of her biological father late in life, should have one whose own patrilineage is unknown.
So, not all the leaves are brown11 here. I found Frances Jane Jeffrey’s ancestry to be an eclectic mix of mostly Scottish and southern U.S. roots, and was lucky to uncover a single New England line. It’s an ancestry that connects Cass Elliot’s daughter all the way back to Daniel Boone and even President Lincoln.12 I’m going to have to dig a lot more remotely to connect my own lineage with hers, including some “wonky” lines we could possibly have in common.13
Like music, genealogy helps me balance the craziness of today’s world. Chasing down rabbit holes like this one is a good excuse to work on my skills as a researcher, and it brings me closer to both my past and my present. Even if I didn’t uncover any solid connections, I got to take a closer look at the life of a great songstress, and I found the type of connection that I think we all seek—a connection to one another. Maybe it’s only about the uncertainty of a genealogical possibility, but hey, that’s quite a lot to get out of a car commercial. Sometimes, you just gotta go where you wanna go.14
1 Make Your Own Kind of Music, a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and sung by Cass Elliot in 1969.
2 See FindAGrave.com memorials nos.139754487 and 86030138 for her parents Phillip J. Cohen 1916-1962 and Bessie (Levine) Cohen 1915-1994 at the Hebrew Young Mens’ Cemetery, Woodlawn, Baltimore County, MD.
3 First to James Hendricks in 1963, and to Don VanWiedenman in 1971.
4 Per: https://nexttribe.com/cass-elliots-daughter/ Owen’s father was revealed to her as Chuck “Bing” Day (1942-2008) by Cass Elliot’s fellow band members on her nineteenth birthday.
5 Charles Wayne Day, aka Chuck or “Bing” Day, 1942-2008.
6 Mary (Judd) Day; See Indiana, U.S., Death certificates, 1899-2011, Ancestry.com, certificate no. 6224.
7 John Alphonso Day, The Descendants of Anthony Day of Gloucester, Mass…, Albany, N.Y., J. Munsell’s Sons, 1902.
8 Sylvester Judd, Thomas Judd and his descendants, J & L Metcalf, Boston, Mass., 1856.
9 See also: U.S., Census 1950 for the household of Paul N. and Mary Ruth (Vandal) Day of Chicago, Illinois.
10 Frances Jane Jeffrey, 1926-2003.
11 All the leaves are Brown , a song written by John Phillips and Michelle (Gilliam) Phillips, 1965.
12 Ella Hazel Atterbury Spraker , Jesse Procter Crump , The Boone family : a genealogical history of the descendants of George and Mary Boone, who came to America in 1717 : containing many unpublished bits of early Kentucky history : also a biographical sketch of Daniel Boone, the pioneer, by one of his descendants, Tuttle Co. , Rutland, Vt., 1922.
13 These possible “lines in common” are still to be determined…
14 Go Where You Wanna Go , a 1965 song written by John Phillips. It was originally recorded by the Mamas & the Papas.
11 thoughts on “California Dreamin’: Looking for Connections to Cass Elliot”
Oh, Jeff! I look forward to the day when I can indulge in such rabbit-hole chasing. What a decadent use of time–even if you rationalize it (not untruthfully) as honing your research skills. I share (at least some of) your musical taste and now have my “ear worm” for today. Thanks!
Andrew! Thanks for this – I guess the only thing I can say is that one must always hope a decadent use of time can (upon occasion) be a useful tool?? ~ You have a busy household though my friend – but that day will come. Surely sending you best wishes now and for when it arrives. Where will it lead you? Where do you want to go first?
You would not be alone. I just purchased a “The Best Of The Mamas & Papas” DVD (24 songs) with three Mama Cass songs.
Thanks Howland – you have made my case!
On a similar note, I did a little research into the ancestry of John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, and his father‘s side came from Watertown, New York. He was of English and Irish Canadian ancestry. I sent some of my research to his daughter Chynna and she was so pleased! Because her husband Billy Baldwin always brags of his Mayflower lineage
Michael, that’s really cool. I hope you get a chance to research Dennis Doherty. I will be curious to know what you find out. Thanks for keeping me in the loop!
According to Cass’ own daughter, she was named Owen because it was a contraction of the word “own.” As in, “she is my very own.” That is to say, there may not be an additional reason why she was named Owen.
I always wanted to trace the Ancestry of Denny Doherty as my paternal ancestors came from Prince Edward Island, and his ancestors were from Nova Scotia
Thank you for the article. It was lots of fun and brought back memories of my husband and me on trips in upstate New York. Loved the rabbit hole and loved Cass Elliot’s voice.
Thank you Jeff, for bring back memories of Mama Cass. Also thank you, Michael, for the double meaning of her “Owen.” Can’t wait to send it to my niece, whose “caboose,” is also an Owen.
Jeff, I am so grateful for the gift of this article that I found after watching Cass singing this magical song. (Inspired by the VW commercial) I googled “could I be related to Cass Elliott”. Your article was the first hit and it is magical! Unlike you, I actually share similar Jewish lineage and seeing her feels like watching family. Thank you for inspiring me to continue to with my genealogical rabbit hole.
Thanks Jamie! I’m glad you enjoyed some California Dreamin’ and that I could help. Her music really lives on in all of us. I sincerely hope you find your connection to Cass. I appreciate you checking in! All the best.