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Thursday, August 28, 2014
Ancestry.com Free Access Weekend Through Sept. 1
Posted by Diane
We hear that subscription genealogy website Ancestry.com is having a free access weekend!
You can search and view a billion new genealogy records from 67 countries around the world, from now through Sept. 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
You’ll need to register for a free basic Ancestry.com account (if you don’t already have one) to view records.
Thursday, August 28, 2014 1:20:15 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Registration Opens for FGS 2015 Conference Feb. 11-14 in Salt Lake City
Posted by Diane
The Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), whose 2014 annual conference is going on now in San Antonio, just opened registration for the 2015 FGS conference.
What's special about the FGS 2015 conference, and the reason that registration is already open, is that it'll be held in conjunction with FamilySearch's 2015 RootsTech conference Feb. 11-14 in Salt Lake City.
The two conferences will have joint general sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, and will share an exhibit hall. They'll have separate classes. See the FGS 2015 program here.
You can take advantage of a special early bird registration fee for FGS 2015 of $139, which expires Sept. 12. Add on a pass to the RootsTech conference for $39.
Separate Rootstech registration will open Aug. 29.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 10:53:50 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Interview With "Who Do You Think You Are?" Producer Dan Bucatinsky
Posted by Diane
I had the chance recently to interview Dan Bucatinsky, coproducer (with Lisa Kudrow) of TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Is or Isn't Entertainment
We talked about why the show researches celebrities instead of average-Joe genealogists, how casting and filming happen, and his wish list. My questions were inspired by comments we've heard from many of you on social media, by my own impressions of the show, and by the conversation.
You can listen to the whole thing by clicking here, and/or you can read the synopsis below. If you listen, know a few things first:
- It's about a half hour, so get comfy.
- You can barely hear me ask my questions (stupid recording device) (it’s probably something I did), but Bucatinsky comes through loud and clear, so I don't think that harms what you can learn about the show. I hate my voice in recordings anyway.
- His kids run into the room about halfway through, which I thought was cute (much more so than when my kids do this to me).
- You can tell this was just after the Jesse Tyler Ferguson episode, because he talks about the upcoming shows with the McAdamses, Valerie Bertinelli and Kelsey Grammer. Yes, it took me awhile to get this together for you.
If you can’t listen, or you just want to know what you’re in for, here’s the gist:
Why profile just celebrities?
The comment/question we at Family Tree Magazine most often hear about "Who Do You Think You Are?" is "Why doesn't the show trace the roots of someone who isn't famous?" ("Like me?" is usually implied.) So I asked.
Basically, the explanation is what I thought it would be: In order to stay on TV, the show needs to attract a general audience—not just a genealogical one. To do that, it needs the celebrity "hook."
While the show certainly is meant to inspire, Bucatinsky says, "There is a reality about television ... in order to get the high volume of viewership on any network or any website, you need to find a very, very high level of public interest, one that crosses many circles of demographics."
"The casting process is extremely intense, and if we didn't have the well-known ‘tour guides,’ we would have probably a very difficult time getting people to engage, even though it doesn't mean the stories would be any less interesting. Even if you get maybe 100,000 people who are interested in genealogy, which is a big number, it's not a big number for television."
He said the producers’ ratings research bears out this statement: The higher the profile of the celebrity featured, the higher the ratings numbers.
How are the celebrities selected?
Casting the celebrity guests can be surprisingly difficult. In the first couple of years, Bucatinsky and Kudrow reached out to people they knew personally. Now that word is out in celebrity circles, stars' representatives tell producers they're willing to participate, and they go on a list.
"Any celebrity who has done the show has raved about their experience on it," Bucatinsky says.
But that’s not all: Although it’s hard to tell when research begins where an ancestral story will go, producers aim for variety. TLC gets a say, too. “One thing we do, when we have control over it, is try to create as much diversity as possible,” Bucatinsky says. “We'll try to see if the preliminary research makes the story feel like it will be diverse. We get approval from the network ... [the talent] has to coincide with what they know their viewership wants to see.”
The guest’s schedule also has to mesh with the show’s production schedule. “I can't even imagine another show that's as complicated to produce. The Rubik's cube of getting the talent approved, getting a story that actually feels like it's gonna break and be interesting enough to shoot, and getting a celebrity's schedule to tie in with our production schedule and the release dates is—I can't begin to tell you how complicated it is.”
How was the transition to TLC?
I also asked Bucatinsky about the show’s move from NBC to TLC before last season, and whether he feels it fits on a network that’s also home to shows like "Honey Boo Boo." (No offense to "Honey Boo Boo" fans out there—it's just a different kind of show from "Who Do You Think You Are?")
He thinks family history has a broad enough appeal that “Who Do You Think You Are?” is interesting to a range of audiences. "We certainly had our trepidation about 'hmm, I wonder if the audience for those shows is the same as our audience?' But there's no question there's a very wide audience for ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’”
He added that TLC has been supportive of the show, and hasn’t asked for changes in the formula.
What’s the most popular kind of story?
I’ve seen a lot of “types” of “Who Do You Think You Are?” episodes. Some focus on one ancestor; some cover two or more. Some stay in the United States; some globe-trot. I like stories that stick with one person, but others might think that slows the pace too much. I wondered which approach is most popular with viewers.
All of the above, Bucatinsky says. It’s the emotional connection that matters. "I feel like we've had really good success with stories where there's an emotional tie to the protagonist. Christina Applegate's episode last season was quite popular. It was partly because Christina herself has a wide audience, and partly because she was making the journey for her father, who never really knew his mother. And to come to so many amazing conclusions about his mother, and be able to bring her father to the gravesite of his mother—it’s hugely cathartic stuff. "
“I love an episode that really is emotional and bring insight into somebody's grandparents, who they remember as a kid but didn't know anything about," he adds. "And I also love the stories that take you back and you don't even realize that you had relatives that are part of the Mayflower or the Civil War or the Gold Rush—things you only learn about in history books, and the context makes it much more relevant.”
“It's some combination of the popularity of the celebrity and the strength of the story.” He also pointed out that how engaged the celebrity guest is plays a role.
Are the celebrity guests coached to do or say certain things?
Sometimes, I think, the celebrity seems to ask just the right question to segue into the surprise discovery—almost as if the person was told what to say. That's not the case, says Bucatinsky. "They may be prodded to find the information that we need them to find. We know that they need to hit a page of a particular document that they're wearing gloves to look at, so they will get guided to it, but the discovery itself is always organic and authentic. There's very little coaching in the moment.”
The celebrity doesn’t know what he’ll find or where he’s going next, but the archivists usually does. "Our archivist is someone who we've spoken to and found out information from ... they're there ready to meet our celebrity, and when the celebrity arrives, they will never have met before. ... Every bit of it that films our subject is filmed originally and in the order of the journey. It's not rehearsed. It's a documentary."
How long does it take to film an episode?
“A whole journey would be anywhere between 8 and 23 days, but that includes travel days,” Bucatinsky says. “We've had episodes that could probably have made really good two-hour episodes. We try to do the best we can. If we think the season's going to wind up on DVD, we'll put the scenes [there].”
Interestingly, an entire story line from Gwenyth Paltrow's episode didn't even make it on the show.
Who’s your dream guest? (and other things he’d love to do with the show)
“I don't really focus on the person, I focus on plans and stories that we haven't told before. I really want to tell a Latin American story.” (His family is from Argentina.)
“We haven't been to Asia, and it looks as though we're going to this season,” he added. (Although the season finale is tonight, with Minnie Driver, and they stay in England. Did I miss a trip to Asia?)
Although it seemed like he was going to evade the question, he later added, “If one of the Obamas wanted to do it, that would be dreamy.”
I also asked about the possibility of a follow-up show that would tie up some of the loose ends—such as what happened to the former spouses of Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s great-grandfather. Bucatinsky mentioned the scheduling difficulties as an obstacle, but added, “What I would want to try to do down the line is just start with one: One person who wants to come back and revisit a story and see how it goes. There are other stories to be explored, and it would be fun to have someone that people love come back.”
You can listen to my interview with “Who Do You Think You Are?” co-producer Dan Bucantinsky here.
Want to hear more? Here are a couple of Bucatinsy's interviews with other bloggers:
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 3:06:45 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, August 25, 2014
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Season Finale: Minnie Driver Traces English Roots
Posted by Diane
This week's season finale of TLC's
"Who Do You Think You Are?" features English actor Minnie
Driver (fun fact—her real name is Amelia Fiona).
Driver was on the British "Who Do
You Think You Are?" (which inspired the US version); I imagine
this is the same show, perhaps re-edited. (You can see a clip
from the BBC show here.)
If you're hoping for a look at 20th-century English research, you're
in luck. Driver will learn about her father's career in the Royal
Air Force during World War II, of which he hardly spoke. She
researches back to his parents, and then forward to discover a
relative who becomes the first paternal relative she's ever
Among places viewers will visit are the Royal Air Force Museum,
Rockside Hall (once a Royal Air Force psychiatric hospital), and
several local libraries.
Watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" at 9/8 Central on TLC. Past
episodes are available on the TLC website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, August 25, 2014 4:45:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, August 22, 2014
Smithsonian Launches Website to Crowdsource Old Document Transcriptions
Posted by Diane
The Smithsonian Institution has joined the crowdsourcing revolution: It launched a Transcription Center website where volunteers can help transcribe thousands of document images, such as Civil War diaries, letters from artists Mary Cassatt and Grandma Moses, and old American currency.
Over the past year, nearly 1,000 volunteers participated in a beta test of documents in high demand by researchers, resulting in about 13,000 pages of transcriptions.
According to the Smithsonian’s press release, “In one instance—transcribing the personal correspondence of members of the Monuments Men held in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art collection—49 volunteers finished the 200-page project in just one week.”
A Reddit community devoted to the Applachian Trail transcribed the 121-page digitized diary of Earl Shaffer, the first man to hike the entire length of the trail. Hiking enthusiasts, naturalists and other researchers now can search the digital version, helping to preserve access while protecting the fragile original.
Another volunteer reviews each completed transcription before it’s certified by a Smithsonian expert.
To participate, register here and click Tips for quick instructions. You can choose a project by theme (such as American Experience or Civil War Era) or by contributing repository.
Museums | Social Networking
Friday, August 22, 2014 11:11:06 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Genealogy News Corral: August 17-22
Posted by Diane
- To celebrate back-to-school season, genealogy website Mocavo—one of our
101 Best Websites for genealogy—is offering free access to
its universal search of all databases at once this weekend, Aug.
22-24. (Normally on Mocavo, you can search one database at a
time for free, but you need a subscription to search multiple
databases at once.) You'll need to create a free basic Mocavo
account to use the open access offer, and it ends Sunday, Aug.
24 at 11 p.m. Eastern. You'll find more
details on the Mocavo blog.
- Findmypast.com has launched a Hall of Heroes campaign
to help you share stories about heroic figures in your family
history—whether their deeds have been officially recognized in
some way, or are known only to you. You can submit your family
hero's story and describe records where you found the
information, and read about other heroes documented in the
site's collections. Browse
the Hall of Heroes website here.
- Registration opens Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. Eastern for the 2015
Forensic Genealogy Institute. The event itself takes place
March 26-28 next year in Dallas; find a
course description here. Forensic genealogy is a
profession involving genealogy research and reporting in cases
with legal implications (such as heirship), and the institute is
intended for those wanting to develop their skills in the
forensic genealogy field.
FamilySearch | findmypast | Free Databases | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, August 22, 2014 10:01:41 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Thursday, August 21, 2014
"Who Do You Think You Are?" With Kelsey Grammer: Genealogy Sources for Tracing Pioneer Roots
Posted by Diane
I mentioned in yesterday's
post that the pioneer era is one of my favorite eras of
history to learn about. Maybe it comes from my childhood love of
Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" book series.
So I especially appreciated the second part of last night's "Who
Do You Think You Are?", when Kelsey Grammer drove to Baker City
in eastern Oregon to walk in ruts left by thousands of covered
wagons crossing the high desert on their way to Oregon's Willamette
Valley. It's fascinating to me that the ruts are still there.
Grammer's third-great-grandparents Joseph and Comfort Dimmick, along
with their many children and other relatives, followed the trail
from their homes in the Midwest to land near Salem, Oregon, that
they received under the Donation
Land Claim Act of 1850.
Grammer read from a pioneer diary the Dimmicks' nephew kept during
the journey. It described how the oldest Dimmick son drank
contaminated water from a creek and died of cholera, one of the most
common diseases trail migrants suffered. He was buried alone along
There's no single comprehensive list of westward pioneers. WDYTYA
historians were tipped off to Grammer's pioneer ancestry because of
the time period and birthplaces in census records: A family that
lived in Oregon before railways reached the area had parents and
older children born in the Midwest.
Do you have pioneer roots? Here are some resources for tracing them, from Family Tree Magazine's guide 7
Tips for Researching Pioneer Heritage:
You'll find help using these and other pioneer research resources in our downloadable 7
Tips for Researching Pioneer Heritage, available in
- The Oregon-California
Trails Association Paper Trail site indexes names from
more than 3,500 documents about the Oregon and California
Trails. Search for a name for free; subscribe for access to more
- Brigham Young University's free Trails of Hope:
Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846–1869, is a searchable
collection of writings of 49 voyagers on the Mormon, California,
Oregon, and Montana trails.
- The Oregon State Archives also has a searchable Early Oregonians Database of pre-1860
residents, with names from census, death, probate and other
records. (I searched for Joseph Dimmick, and one
of the results showed Joseph and Comfort's son Joseph, born in
Ohio, which also was Comfort's birthplace. WDYTYA? didn't
touch on their pre-migration lives, but there's a Dimmick road
north of Cincinnati. Now I'm curious.)
- Newspapers can be good sources of news on who was headed West,
and how local emigrants fared along the trail.
- Many states and counties have lineage societies that family
historians can join if they prove descent from settlers before a
certain year, and you often can request a search of member
- The free Bureau of
Land Management's General Land Office record search lets
you search federal land patents for public land states—like the
Dimmicks, many pioneers traveled West for land.
- Trail diaries may be in libraries or private collections. The searches at WorldCat and ArchiveGrid can help you find them.
- Search for Mormon pioneers in the Early Latter-day Saint Database.
You can watch
the full episode on the "Who Do You Think You Are?" website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Research Tips
Thursday, August 21, 2014 10:23:35 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Kelsey Grammer Discovers Pioneer Roots This Week on "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Posted by Diane
Tomorrow on "Who Do
You Think You Are?" Kelsey Grammer, Frazier Crane from
"Cheers" and "Frazier," learns about the early life of the
grandmother who raised him. One of the mysteries that'll be revealed
on the show is why his grandmother wasn't raised by her parents,
Grammer also discovers that his third-great-grandparents traveled
the Oregon Trail with their 12 children. The pioneer era is one of
my favorite periods of history to read about, so I'm especially
looking forward to that part of the episode. (And 12 children? Could
you imagine? Just driving a few hours with my two kids in the car is
enough to make me swear off road trips.)
Plus, the show stops in
Portland, Ore., where I used to live, and the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, where
I've visited. I enjoy seeing places I recognize.
Here's a preview clip for you:
"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs Wednesdays at 9/8 Central on TLC.
And now you can watch
full episodes of this season on the "Who Do You Think You Are?"
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 3:33:05 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Research Australian Genealogy Records Free on MyHeritage
Posted by Diane
Those researching in Australia, here's an offer for you: Genealogy
website MyHeritage is
National Family History Month in August by granting free
access to many of its Australian records collections through this
Friday, Aug. 22. You'll need to set up a free MyHeritage account (or
log in, if you already have one).
That includes Australian birth, marriage and death records,
electoral rolls, school records and more. You
can start searching MyHeritage Australian records here.
Even if you don't have ancestors Down Under, you might have cousins
there if relatives migrated to Britain's Australian colonies.
the MyHeritage announcement about the records offer here.
For help searching MyHeritage, check
out Family Tree Magazine's MyHeritage Web Guide, available in
MyHeritage | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 1:25:02 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Ancestry.com Won't Retire MyCanvas After All
Posted by Diane
Good news for users of the MyCanvas
photo book service (including me—I used it to create my wedding
album), which owners Ancestry.com
to retire in September.
just announced that instead of discontinuing MyCanvas, it will
transfer the site to Alexander's,
the Utah-based printing production company that already handled the
printing of MyCanvas photo books, posters, calendars and other
Eric Shoup, executive VP of product at Ancestry.com, wrote
on the Ancestry.com blog that the transfer, which will take
about six months, should be a smooth one for MyCanvas users. Users'
projects will remain available on Ancestry.com until the site moves
over to Alexander's. More details will be available as the
transition moves ahead.
Ancestry.com | Photos | saving and sharing family history
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 11:13:25 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)