The second season of “Genealogy Roadshow” arrives on PBS on January 13, 2015. The show, patterned after the wildly popular “Antiques Roadshow,” plays to people’s curiosity about their family history. Just as people line up for “Antiques Roadshow,” lugging their inherited oddities in hopes of finding treasure, the people lining up for a shot at the professional genealogists are hoping for treasure, too.
The family treasures in this case, however, run to hopes of being able to brag of being descended from royalty, or proving an ancestor was innocent or was wronged. Sometimes it is just a vague curiosity. Where did we come from? Why did my ancestors come to North America? The answers are not always what the seeker may have been wishing for. And of course, the show’s producers look for stories that involve Murder (as was the case with Patricia Parrish, pictured above), Betrayal, Abandonment and Famous Names.
Because an hour spent looking at piles of birth and death certificates and census records — the necessary tools of genealogists — would get mighty dull, the show livens things up by taking a tour of the city they are visiting. They also make a point of giving little history lectures that put ancestors’ lives in perspective. Our country’s history, after all, starts with the histories of a multitude of families.
This year’s shows, airing weekly in January and February, alternate between New Orleans, St. Louis and Philadelphia.
Since the premiere episode takes place in New Orleans, it features a story about a black volunteer in the Union Army, a visit to New Orleans’ unique cemeteries — Cities of the Dead — and inevitably, the story of a slave.
In this particular story, Cherise Harrison-Nelson, a proud Mardi Gras Queen, only knows family members back to her second great-grandfather, and she wonders how her family came to New Orleans. The story is both heartbreaking and inspirational as genealogist Kenyatta Berry searches through Slave Data Records to discover the great-grandfather, Madison, who was bought and sold in slave markets from Alabama to New Orleans when he was a pre-teen. Cherise has a hard time with the thought of what the little boy endured, but her mother is more philosophical.
Lesson: Be prepared. Sometimes the facts of history are harsh. As her mother says, “It was a different time. We need to know.”
Family historians grouse a bit about the ease with which information is uncovered in this TV version of genealogy (and even more egregiously in the program “Who Do You Think You Are?”). While the search for information is condensed for the TV show, what is lost is the sometimes excruciating length of time it takes. But if you pay attention, you may learn some good tips about searching for your own family history.
Graham McDougal and family members come to “Genealogy Roadshow” seeking information about his great-great-grandfather, who said he was leaving for Alaska to seek gold and then disappeared from the family’s lives. A very dramatic story unfolds — mostly revealed in newspaper articles.
Lesson: If you’re seeking information about a relative, try online newspaper archives. They aren’t all online, its true, but a huge number are, and you may be surprised what you find.
Editor’s Note: Photos of “Genealogy Roadshow” are used courtesy of PBS. The New Orleans photo is the property of the author, Vera Marie Badertscher. Be sure to visit Vera’s wonderful genealogy site about her own family. Ancestors in Aprons. It’s fascinating, and also a great go-by if you’re thinking of starting your own genealogy site.