I have faithfully watched the first four episodes of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series, and will watch the final three when the air. Overall, I find the episodes engaging and I always learn something. But something was bugging me, and I think I' finally figured out what.
Because the show is not geared specifically to the professional or advanced genealogist, methodology is really not shown, and I’m okay with that. I feel the purpose of the show is to get people interested in learning more about their family history, and by focusing on the interesting stories of well-known celebrities, it will likely draw people in to both the show and in pursuing their own histories.
I watched a few of the episodes with my husband, and I found myself saying, “It’s really not that easy.” Again, I get the purpose of the show, but at the same time, they make it look so easy that I’m afraid people will get discouraged once they start to explore their roots and realize it’s not as easy as the show makes it out to be. But that wasn’t really the thing that bugged me the most.
While I understand that it is necessary to conduct research in the area where your ancestors lived, I also know this is not always possible. Time and money often prevent us from actually visiting the areas ourselves so sometimes you have to rely on other means to obtain such information, like films from FHL, contacting county or town clerks, and perhaps finding a local researcher. That’s what irks me about the show. A clue is uncovered, and bam…off to the next location. While it’s interesting to see the places they visit and the information they uncover while there, I would think this would discourage many people from wanting to explore their family's history, as I’m sure most don’t have the time or money to do that kind of research. So while the show is aimed at encouraging people to explore their own ancestry, at the same time, it may be discouraging them given the current format.
In one breath, they make it seem so easy; you blink and you have a new clue or an answer. But in another breath, they present it in a manner that leads one to believe you can only find the answers by hopping on a plane each time you find a new clue. Don’t get me wrong, it' certainly makes the stories more interesting when you see the actual places and see the person’s experience in that place. But is that the reality of genealogy research for the average person? Probably not. For most of us, it’s probably more renting FHL films; corresponding with employees of archives, county courthouses, and libraries; and maybe even working with a researched in the area of interest.
Regardless of my opinion on the matter, I still think it’s a great show. The variety or stories is fantastic, from New England history (including witch trials), to slave ancestry, to Jewish heritage, to war heroes. I think it’s helping people learn about history in general and will encourage people to seek out their own family histories.