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Genealogy is so old that it's new. TV shows cashing in on the craze include TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" and PBS' "Genealogy Roadshow."

Genealogy Roadshow, Who Do You Think You Are Explore Roots

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Genealogy Roadshow

“Genealogy Roadshow” on NPR goes to the source. Credit: Courtesy of David Bean
Producer: Krasnow Productions

Celebs Research Roots on TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Everything old is new again, and genealogy is one of the very old things that seems to be a new trend on TV.  “Genealogy Roadshow” premieres Sept. 23 on PBS, but first there was TLC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” In that version, celebrities seek their roots by zipping around the world and consulting with historians and professional genealogists.

Since I write about my family history at Ancestors in Aprons, I was interested to see “Who Do You Think You Are,” hoping that I could learn some tips and tricks for tracing my own ancestors. I did, in fact, pick up some ideas about where to look.

However, the show downplays the long hours poring over dusty manuscripts that gets you beyond what is available online. Ancestry.com was a sponsor and prominently featured in each episode, and I use that source, but comes a time when you need to go to a specialized library or a historical site.

Two things were rather annoying from that point of view. One, I don’t have an unlimited budget, so I can’t say – as the celebs always did – “Oh my three times great-grandfather came from a small town in England? Guess I’d better go to England.”

And second, if I actually DID go to England, I’d have to search around myself rather than walk into a library and have a genealogist hand me a folder of information already researched.

Nevertheless, the show is both fun and educational and just might sell you on searching out your own roots. The eight episodes are now available in their entirety for viewing on line.

“Genealogy Roadshow” Premiering on PBS

Genealogy Roadshow Davy Crockett

Joshua Taylor, who is a Davy Crockett re-enactor, asks, “Am I related?” Credit: Courtesy of David Bean
Producer: Krasnow Productions

Next up, PBS will be launching a new genealogy show, mimicking the wildly popular “Antiques Roadshow.” In “Genealogy Roadshow,” ordinary people with some interesting family stories talk to one of two experts to find out whether their family legends are true. Am I related to Jessie James? Why is there an African American man holding a white child in this picture, and how is he related to my family? Am I related to any Civil War soldiers? Revolutionary War soldiers? Is a white Governor of Tennessee really an ancestor of my African American family?

As you can see, the questions and family legends are engaging and full of drama. In the first hour-long show, the two experts (which I saw in a preview version) dealt with the family history of eight people, plus did a quick DNA analysis of one person. In the case of the DNA test, you don’t need an expert to interpret. There are several companies that send you detailed results.

One of the experts on the show explains where most of the information comes from that she is sharing, but the other just tells the person’s story with no clue as to how he learned the information. For someone who is interested in tracing their own family, that is very frustrating.

Geneaology Roadshow, happy participant

Marguerita Page likes what she heard on “Genealogy Roadshow”!

Just as with “Antiques Roadshow,” some people get answers that delight them, and others are disappointed to learn, that “No, you are not related to George Washington.”

The first show airs on Sept. 23, and takes place at the historic Belmont Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee. Some time is devoted to explaining the history of the mansion, which is quite interesting. Subsequent shows will go to Austin,  Detroit and to San Francisco, where they prove that every family has an interesting story – and many mysteries to solve.

“Genealogy Roadshow” was created in Ireland, where it was a huge hit, and I predict it will strike it rich in the United States, too.  But watch with caution. I can personally attest to the fact the genealogy is highly addictive.

Vera Marie Badertscher

Vera Marie Badertscher first went to the movies at the Duncan Theater in Killbuck, Ohio, when her grandmother was selling tickets. Now she watches Netflix and TV movie channels more often than movies in theaters, but she loves to rediscover old favorites. When she’s not at the movies, she’s reading and traveling and writing at A Traveler’s Library and Ancestors In Aprons. Follow her on Twitter at @pen4hire.

Vera Marie Badertscher has written posts on Reel Life With Jane.


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17 comments

  1. This sounds like a smash hit in the making. Thanks for previewing the show and writing up a great review, Vera.
    Jane Boursaw recently posted…Rizzoli & Isles Recap: Partners in Crime – 4×12My Profile

  2. As lead researcher for Genealogy Roadshow, I can assure you that all sources were authenticated, but TV doesn’t always give enough time to cover everything. I did all the research on the photo of the African American and white child; it was quite intensive… and rewarding. I believe this is going to be a more realistic view of how research is done than other shows… I hope so, at any rate.

  3. Hi Vera and Jane,

    The show was a success on Irish TV screens not so long ago so hopefully it goes well across the Atlantic too.

    The YouTube trailer is excellent. We can’t access PBS this side of the pond so let us know how it goes!

    All the best,
    Shane

  4. Wow. Loved to hear that this type of show is being done! So many people have pictures and artifacts that all of us would like to see. Personally, I would love to meet the Irish cousins that I have only met online who helped me trace my “Hunt” Irish lineage back to 800 AD (Burke’s Peerage) and the one who begat our maternal heritage with his African American slave. I have the original picture of their son that is over 130 yrs old(see webpage, page 2). Thanks for the story!

  5. I just finished watching Genealogy Roadshow and I have to vent my frustration. Like the show “Who do you think you are”, I find it lacking drama where it counts. I didn’t feel invested enough to tear up when the young woman saw a picture of her father for the first time. To created drama with music and people sniffling just seemed exactly that, created. Dr Gates (Faces of America) showed Yo Yo Ma a book of his ancestors it was real drama because you saw what Dr Gates and his team went through to collect the information. I understand that you could not fit this into a time frame of one hour, however the true joy one feels when finding a primary source or breaking down a brick wall can’t be recreated with dramatic music.

  6. It is true that finding that missing piece of evidence is a wonderful high! Perhaps if this show stirs enough interest in seeking family stories, someone will launch another show that is more detail oriented. Obviously Genealogy Roadshow is for the general audience and tries to cover several different kinds of stories in each episode rather than going into depth on one story. On the other hand, Who Do you Think You are, concentrated on one person at a time, but still had to skip over a lot of the “behind-the-scenes” research that makes it all exciting.
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted…Call the Midwife Recalls London’s East EndMy Profile

  7. I have watched the program since it came on and I find it extremely interesting. I can not get anyone in my family interested enough to search for information regarding my grandfather who one day got up one day and walked away from his entire family forever and now his family feels why bother since he abandoned a wife,six daughters and two sons. The is a man I want to find out more information because for all of his faults he left a trait of kindness in his family that my mother and some of her siblings have inherited. An important link is missing as a result of him. My grandfather’s name was James Moore and the young woman that he married was my grandmother Bessie Lee Hampton and I believe that were married in Nashville, Tennessee.

  8. Vera Marie Badertscher

    Hi Elaine:
    I have a similar “missing person” great great grandfather, except that we know how he died and where. But I’m still looking for missing bits of information about him, particularly where his children with his first wife wound up (my great-great-grandmother was his 2nd wife). It’s these dramatic stories (some rather soap-operaish) that make hunting down ancestors so addicting.
    Vera Marie Badertscher recently posted…Cheap CA- Oregon Hotel Guide for Road TripMy Profile

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