Saturday, March 6, 2010


I did not much like the new program, “Who Do You Think You Are,” that aired part #1 last night. It uses genealogy to pull surprises on celebs. Probably I should not be so quick to judgment, and after I watch the next airings I may change or maybe even moderate my pronouncement. I had read a not-so-complimentary review of it in the LA Times so perhaps that had skewed my expectation, but even if that was the case and the next programs are much better, I think there was plenty to take issue with.

Genealogy is not, as this program visually suggested, a whole line-up of Wows! I have been doing genealogy for 25 years and I have loved every minute of it. I have eked out little things here, little things there, slowly building a line, family by family, life by life, proving and disproving theories, trying to figure out where to try next, learning all about the history of our country because my families were in the middle of the making of it.

I’ve had lots of successes – but only one real WOW moment, where I stood up in the middle of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City about 9:30 p.m. after being on microfilm readers all day long and said “THERE SHE IS!” All my co-researchers within hearing distance clapped. It was a WOW moment but it happened after I had looked for Mandana Bradley, just an ordinary person, for 20 years before finding her. And I was even looking for someone else when she appeared. Too many WOWS give a faulty picture of the process and do no favors for newcomers starting their research.

If one wants to join a lineage society in the worst way, hiring a researcher to trace a line is a good way to get end results. But doing it that way is missing out on the "alogy" part of "gene-". The new TV program didn’t show just how much fun it is to start at the beginning. I personally think some judicious deleting of celebs and propitious use of genealogy tools and resources would have made for a stronger program. And a more realistic one.

And as my friend and professional genealogist Teresa said this morning as we discussed the program on Facebook: “I wonder if they are going to point out the many distant cousins and friends you are going to make when you do a true genealogical journey. How many years have we corresponded, Bobby? I think you have seen my address change a couple of times!”

Teresa and I are 4th cousins, she in Kentucky and I in California. We have never met each other personally but actually met first by letter in the pre-computer days (1984). Our great-grandmas were sisters. We've shared genealogy finds over the years that helped us build our Corel families, and now by Facebook Teresa and I have daily interchanges, some about genealogy and some about things like the animals she has on her farm.

I realize “Who Do You Think You Are” is not trying to teach genealogy. I think it mostly is presenting a forum for celebrities, which our society nowadays seems to want, and maybe the discipline of genealogical research will gain a few adherents. But I hope down the line someone says to these celebs, and to all the viewers, not to believe everything you see, or everything you read, or everything you find behind a fluttering leaf. And that starting at the beginning is a great place to start!

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