For months I have anticipated the return of one of my favorite shows, “Who Do You Think You Are”. Even if I don’t know much about the featured celebrity, I hopefully will discover a new source for searching or find a hint that will lead me in a new direction. Last night “Who Do You Think You Are?” made its 2013 season debut and left me with mixed reviews.
For starters, searching for ancestors just doesn’t fall into place as it is portrayed on the show. As someone who has done research in libraries, cemeteries and personal interviews over a period of more than thirty years, I can tell you that you may search months, years or decades to locate one document much less the entire life story of your ancestor. Sometimes you come up totally empty handed.
Personally I love Ancestry, the sponsor of the show. In fact I have three family trees on their site and praise it as my “go to sight” for research. However, I believe the illusion of how easy it is to discover your past, who you are, and your family’s place in history on “Who Do You Think You Are?” is just that…… an illusion. The average beginning genealogist, I’m afraid, will get a false sense of tracing one’s tree. And when disappointment sets in, some will lose interest and their tree will never branch with limbs and twigs.
Sure, if you are a celebrity and have money to travel, it would make the process easier. If you are one of the fortunate ones that can hire a professional genealogist to do the research for you, oh well, you have just missed the personal satisfaction of a history lesson in places, events and your heritage. To me, documents from a professional would merely become a piece of paper with names on it. I wouldn’t have the pleasure of that “ah ha” moment! There is no greater reward in genealogy than to discover a document or photo and have the feeling of accomplishment in your pursuit.
Through the generations: Mother, Mamie Martin Stanley and I located cemeteries, interviewed family members, gathered photos and old documents. My daughter Kelly Hemperley Brown and her husband Scott and I enjoy locating cemeteries off the beaten path documenting headstones as we go. Rachel, who is about a year old in this photo, is all grown up now and currently is a Deputy Clerk in Caddo Parish Clerk’s Office. She has researched local court records for me and often accompanies me to different libraries searching old newspapers, microfilms and military histories. In short, my research has included four generations sharing our family’s history and having that “ah ha” moment together.
While I find the celebrities heritage enjoyable at times, if I had my druthers, every once in a while I would prefer Ancestry send in a John Doe…… you know; ordinary researchers like you and me; the people who have brick walls and do not have the luxury of hiring the pros to do the work for us or to travel extensively. Every person who has walked the face of this earth is deserving of having their story told regardless of their social status.
Another suggestion I would make to the producers of the show is that they allow the person with the most gathered information on the ancestor be allowed to travel on the discovery journey regardless of whether the featured person is a celebrity or a descendant of John Doe. Had it not been for the encouragement of and the companionship of my mother pointing me in the right direction when I began we would have not had the benefit of sharing what we discovered. She didn’t have to wait until I arrived home with new information; she experienced it right along with me.
In conclusion when the celebrity located the grave-site of her relative of generations past and greeted it with “what’s up”, I thought how irreverent! The first words from her mouth should have been that she would have loved to have known him and thank him for his contribution to the war, politics and her family.