Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Take on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? Series

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.




last2cu said...

I do agree with what you have said! But, having worked at one of the largest cemeteries in North America, I have had people drive from all over the United State to Orlando , FL for vacation and feel that before they left for home they should visit relatives buried in FL..They would come into the office looking for "Aunt Tiny's" grave..they had heard that she was buried there...I would ask for a last name and date of birth or death..They wouldn't have a clue.."OK, now you have to give me some kind of clue" they would say that they never really thought of her having a last name..."All I remember is that she lived in a white house"...This would go on and on but, they were determined to see her grave..I would ask if she really was "tiny" or was she a really big woman?.."She was a 400 pounder" OK, let me look in the spaces where we bury oversized caskets..."See if this name rings a bell?" BINGO we found her and now they are interested in learning the last names of their other family members..

Yes, it is much harder than they ever admit..Yes, people get discouraged..but, baby steps, baby steps..i tell them to go home and put the names and dates on photos to start...most of us are not from royalty and probably from ordinary people who did extraordinary things...I love your thoughts.Thank you!

A rootdigger said...

I agree too.If I can sound a little sour I will say this.I am envious of the rich celebrities money and wealth which they got by hard work. But still it would be nice for us poor folks to have all that advantage as well.I culd get alot of church records with that money and a lot more books of information, [which I would share]

I wonder though would it take away from the show to see old jo's family became somehow plain shepherds who worked their way up. I guess it has to be the celebrety. And I hope it draws in More Meyer people with more trees.

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