Friday, January 28, 2011

"Who Do You Think You Are?" Returns February 4

The new season of the very popular television program "Who Do You Think You Are?" is scheduled to air at 8:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. Central) on NBC on Friday, February 4.  According to the e-mail message I received from Ancestry.com today, this season's celebrities are Vanessa Williams (February 4), Tim McGraw (February 11), Kim Cattrall, Rosie O'Donnell, Lionel Richie, Steve Buscemi, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ashley Judd.

The first season of the series was talked about up, down, and sideways on many genealogy lists.  Like many other people, I enjoyed the program, but before it starts up again, I have some comments I want to air.  Many researchers put in lots of hours before each episode, and most of the research doesn't make it on air, just the "sexy" parts.  At least with Susan Sarandon, they showed someone plowing through microfilm, instead of just another Ancestry.com computer screen.  One of my favorite things was how everyone had archive directors help them with their research.  Sure, that's realistic!  Another interesting tidbit that came out after the Kudrow episode aired was that the record she got to see in Belarus, which had been brought from Moscow, is available online for free.  But that wouldn't make for dramatic television, would it?

The upshot is that it's entertainment, so there shouldn't be an expectation that they make the research look realistic.  Unfortunately, the general public doesn't understand that, so they go to a Family History Center all excited and then become frustrated because they can't find everything with half a dozen clicks.  Anyone who thinks it will be that easy to find your family history should read the classic article from Dan Leeson, "Where Is My Family's File?"

Please understand, I don't want to dissuade people from researching their families.  I am thrilled every time someone comes into the Family History Center and begins looking.  It's exciting for them and for us when they start finding records and moving back in time.  But not everything is online, and records can be transcribed and indexed in creative ways, and sometimes records really are lost, and it will take more than one afternoon of poking around on the computer to discover all the wonderful information about your family that's waiting for you.  I just want everyone to have realistic expectations of what they can find and how long it might take.  I've been doing this for 35 years, and I still do the Genealogy Happy Dance when I make a big discovery.

So if you get bitten by the genealogy bug after watching "Who Do You Think You Are?", what should you do?  Look up a genealogical society or a Family History Center in your area. People there will be happy to help you start your search.  And if you don't find all the answers right away, be patient and keep slogging through.  Your ancestors are waiting for you!

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