I had to watch it, since my genealogical organizations, websites, and contacts kept bringing it to my attention:  NBC's new genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?  My reactions?  Mixed.

Each week, apparently, the show will present an investigation into the family history of one person.  Supposedly these are famous people; I haven't heard of any of them, but that helps me concentrate on the data, which I find more interesting anyway.

As I watched, I tried not to take the jaundiced position of expert amongst novices.  Not that I'm an expert in genealogy by any means, but I do know a whole lot more than I did when I began nearly eight years ago, and had to make a point of remembering those initial days of knowing nothing and being amazed by everything.  Not that making new discoveries ever gets routine.  But I would be very dull on a show like that, since I react to such revelations with "that's interesting," or maybe "that's really cool," but do not keep repeating, in an overly loud and dramatic voice, "Oh my God!" and "That's un-be-LEEV-able!"

The hyper-dramatic approach was not limited to the featured guest, but part and parcel of the show, and that did drive me nuts, even more so than the constant commercial breaks, which at least provided an opportunity to get the dishes done.  There is about 15 minutes of really excellent material in the show, and if they hadn't stretched it out to an hour, it would have been great.  It was fun to follow the research that led to the 49-er ancestor in California, and the accused witch in Massachusetts.  Enough fun that I may watch the next episode, but now that I know you can watch it on Hulu, I won't feel obligated to plan my life around 8 p.m. on Fridays.

On a personal note, the best part was seeing my Boston home-away-from-home, Li'l Writer Guy's sanctum sanctorum, the sixth floor reading room of the New England Historic Genealogical Society's library.

Recently I let my Ancestry.com membership lapse, on the grounds that they had doubled the cost.  It's a wonderful resource, but I couldn't let such an increase go unprotested, and was in a period of life when I couldn't use it effectively, anyway.  The membership had been costing me $150/year, which I had decided was worthwhile to keep the service available no matter how much or how little I used it.  I've not yet decided that it's worth $300, but have been hoping Ancestry will have a special membership sale sometime when I can rejoin.  The question now hangs in the air:  Will Who Do You Think You Are? encourage Ancestry to offer such a sale?  Or will it inspire a flood of new demand that will keep the price high?
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 9:31 am | Edit
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As one of my cousins asked, SC, "Has Sarah Jessica Parker ever heard of THE INTERNET"?! :) I enjoyed the show (except for some of the histrionics), recognizing it must have been difficult for the producers to figure out how much show biz to put into what is considered by many to be a dry discipline. Turns out it's pretty exciting after all. I laughed when the historian for the Gold Rush said that it was likely the most important event of 19th century America except for the Civil War. I think the historians for the Louisiana Purchase, the Erie Canal, Reconstruction and maybe the transcontinental railroad all say the same thing! Anyway, here's hoping that people see the intersection of genealogy and history and technology and get inspired to figure out who in the world they think they are.

Posted by Eric on Sunday, March 07, 2010 at 8:34 am

The second episode, about the ancestors of a Dallas Cowboys football player, was better, largely because of the lack of histrionics. The long, frequent commercial breaks still drove me nuts, though not as much as the way the show manages to drag the story out. They could present a LOT more content in that time if they wanted to...but I guess that's not the idea. Anyway, I'm hooked and ready for the next one. :)

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 11:12 am

Episode 3: Good one. Best line: (from Poland) "Lisa Kudrow in my home? And not in my TV? I don't believe."

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 22, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Episode 4: My favorite so far. Matthew Broderick is married to Sarah Jessica Parker (Episode 1) and if I lived in their household and had a dollar for every time one of them said, "Oh my God!" Porter could retire. But aside from that, his reactions were much less shrill than his wife's.

His story itself was also more compelling to me. First he traces an ancestor to World War I in France, and that made me think of the three members of our family who served in France at that time.

Then he investigates a Connecticut Civil War ancestor, which was interesting because Broderick is an actor, and he played a Civil War soldier in the movie, Glory. At the time he had not given any thought to the idea of of his own ancestors being in that war. One of the repeated themes in this show is how ignorant these people are of history, and how little they cared about the past—until genealogy brought it to life for them. Just like me.

What made this episode personally interesting was first of all recognizing the genealogy research room at the Connecticut State Library, which, like the NEHGS Library and the New York Public Library, is one of my favorite places. And even better, the researcher who helps Broderick is the same one who got me started there...not to mention that he's also the friend and neighbor of my brother's family! I find this kind of connection rather cool.

Posted by SursumCorda on Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Episode 5: Watching genealogy neophytes suddenly realize the connection between themselves and history is almost as much fun as watching children discover things for the first time. Gary Boyd Roberts appears briefly in this one. (He got me started at the NEHGS, and I saw him again recently at the NY Public Library.) Movie and TV folks supposedly aren't very religious, but they use the phrase "Oh my God" more than anyone I've ever heard.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, April 05, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Episode 6 and Episode 7: Last night we caught up with the end of the season. Both episodes are good ones, and moving. It's shocking to see how many people are as ignorant of family history, and history in general, as I was when I started my genealogical research. And so much fun to see them "get it"! Especially moving was Spike Lee, famous filmmaker, uttering his version of the Genealogist's Lament ("Why didn't I talk to my grandparents while they were still alive?"): Why didn't I interview my grandmother and get her stories on film?

Posted by SursumCorda on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 at 8:20 am
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