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Wednesday, November 19, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Features Greek Genealogy
Posted by Diane
I was struck by the strong Greek identities of the guests—comedian Tina Fey, author David Sedaris
and journalist George
Stephanopoulos—on last night's "Finding Your
Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." All grew up with a deep
sense of being Greek, spent time with other Greeks, and went to Greek Orthodox churches.
A lot of this identity comes from the guests' relatively
recent Greek heritage—each had grandparents who came from Greece in
the early 20th century. Could it also be the food? My husband and I,
and lots and lots of other people, go every year to a Greek festival
in our area to get dinner and copious amounts of baklava. It's a
good reason to be proud of one's culture.
Despite their strong ethnic identity, though, none of the guests
knew much about their family histories. Gates pointed out that Greek
roots can be hard to trace because of record losses suffered during
the world wars and Greece's fight for independence from the Ottoman
Empire—struggles that also took their toll on the Greek people.
There's the language barrier and decentralized archive system, too.
Nonetheless, the show's researchers were able to discover quite a
bit of family tree information for each guest. The highlights:
- Tina Fey: Researchers found Fey's immigrant grandmother
Vasiliki Kourekou on a 1921 passenger list "deep in the Ellis
Island archives." (I had to chuckle over Gates' dramatic
wording. Ellis Island passenger lists are readily available
online, and the record "archives" at Ellis Island are on the computers in
the first-floor Family History Center, which any visitor can use.)
She was from Patrina, and researchers found an old family
history with genealogies of the town's residents. Fey's
third-great-grandfather escaped the Turks' massacre on the
island of Chios,
and went on to earn a medal for his service in the Greek
On her father's side of the family, Fey's English
fifth-great-grandfather John Hewson was a manufacturer in the
textile industry. He migrated to the American Colonies
with a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin and
became a prominent textile manufacturer here as well; quilts
from his company now hang in museums. He also organized his
workers to support the American Revolution.
The ethnicity estimates from Fey's DNA test show she has 6
percent Asian ancestry, which breaks down to 3 percent Caucasus
and 3 percent Middle Eastern—not surprising for a person of
- George Stephanopoulos: Both of Stephanopoulos' parents
are Greek. His maternal grandmother Marguerite Nicodopoulos was
born in Saravali. The town was the site of a WWI Nazi raid in
January 1944, in which George's family, part of the local
resistance, was rounded up and later released. Their home,
though, was later burned down by German supporters.
His fourth great-grandfather was a Klepht, or
anti-Ottoman rebel, leading up to the Greek Revolution, and later
served in the war. Stephanopoulos' DNA revealed he's 98.9 percent European.
Ancestors in Sedaris' maternal line were in the United
States from colonial times. His fourth-great-grandfather was 16
when he enlisted for the Americans in the Revolutionary War. His
DNA test revealed 4 percent Caucasus ancestry.
- David Sedaris: When Sedaris was young, his Greek
grandmother, who spoke no English, lived with his family.
She was born in Apidia, where Sedaris still has distant cousins
who helped piece together the family history. In Greek military
archives, researchers discovered that his
third-great-grandfather Elias Sedaris, born in 1781, had a
daughter seized by the invading Turkish army. Her fate is
If you're researching Greek ancestors, let our
downloadable Greek Genealogy guide lead you to records,
websites and resources. It's
available in ShopFamilyTree.com.
can watch this episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.
Next week's episode will focus on genetic genealogy and the DNA
results of guests such as Anderson Cooper, Jessica Alba, Gov. Deval
Patrick and others.
Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, November 19, 2014 12:58:03 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Focuses on Ancestry in the British Empire
Posted by Diane
British roots was the theme for last night's "Finding Your
Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." That includes roots from all
over the British Empire: As it revealed the family histories of
guests Deepak Chopra,
Sally Field and Sting, the show touched on research in England,
Ireland, Canada, India, the American colonies and Australia.
- Deepak Chopra: This alternative medicine guru and
author came to America in 1970, where he eventually became chief of staff in a busy Boston hospital.
had managed to avoid the desperate poverty rampant in India, Gates
said, by aligning themselves with the British rulers. His
father, a medic for the British Indian Army during World War II,
served in the bloody Battle
of Kohima. He later became an aide to Lord
Mountbatten, viceroy of British India, who helped him
secure a scholarship to study cardiology in Scotland.
When Britain left India in 1947, the partition
of India displaced millions of Hindus, Sikhs and
Muslims. Chopra's grandparents managed to escape their
hometown in the newly created Pakistan.
One of the most interesting parts of this segment was a
record of visitors to the sacred city of Haridwar that allowed the
show's researchers to document a branch of Chopra's tree back to
his sixth-great-grandfather. You can find
information about the Hindu Pilgrimage Records at FamilySearch,
which has digitized versions available for the public to view at a
FamilySearch Center, or for members of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter Saints to view from home when logged into their
- Sally Field: Actor Field was cut off from her father's
family history after her parents divorced when she was 4. Gates'
research team documented the family in Ontario, Canada, to her fifth-great-grandparents. How did they end up there? Ralph and Anne Morden lived in Pennsylvania in the
1770s. According to a letter written at the time, Ralph, a Loyalist, was taken prisoner and executed for
treason. To protect her eight children, Anne moved her family to
Ontario, where Britain granted her land as compensation for her
can read more on Canadian land grant records here.
Fields' DNA test revealed a small amount of American
Indian ancestry, which Gates suggested means her colonial American
family had children with their Indian neighbors.
On her father's maternal side, researchers traced
Field's ancestor back to William Bradford, a Mayflower pilgrim and
governor of the Plymouth colony. Probably in the interest of time,
Gates skipped over the Pilgrims'
years in Leiden, Holland, when telling their story; you'll find
those details here.
- Sting: Sting was born
Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner in Wallsend, England (the show didn't mention this, but he got his name because he once performed in a black-and-yellow-striped sweater). A newspaper article
reported how his great-grandfather, whose shipmate father had
died at sea, was injured while working in the town
shipyards at age 13.
Another set of third-great-grandparents,
laceworkers in Nottingham, England, moved to France to find work
after steam-powered machines automated their jobs. An
unidentified book referred to "the lace hands of Nottingham
extraction" and the "great distress" caused by the French
Revolution of 1848, which eliminated laceworkers' main
clientele and prompted the family to move to Australia.
In Sting's paternal grandmother's line, a baptismal record of a
great-great-grandfather in Ireland showed that the parents were
too poor to make the customary donation to the church—a common
occurrence during the Great
Famine. The family moved to England, among the roughly
1.5 million to emigrate between 1845 and 1855.Our Empire Emigrants guide helps you research British ancestors in India, Australia and South Africa.
Ready to research ancestors in England? Family Tree University's English Genealogy 201 course will show you what old records to look for and how to find them. The next session starts Dec. 8.
this episode of "Finding Your Roots" on the show's website.
Next week's episode will focus on the Greek
roots of Tina Fey, George Stephanopoulos and David Sedaris.
Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, November 12, 2014 10:37:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Wednesday, November 05, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Focuses on Jewish Genealogy
Posted by Diane
"Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." this week focused on
and the family trees of attorney and author Alan Dershowitz,
King and writer Tony Kushner. All the guests have Eastern European
roots and relative
who were affected by antisemitism and the Holocaust—they either fled
to the United
States or were killed.
Alan Dershowitz: Dershowitz already knew quite a bit
about his family and the
Orthodox Jewish neighborhood where he grew up inNew York City .
His grandparents came
from Galicia, in an
area now in Poland
but then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, after years of crop
failures led to antisemitic
violence. His grandfather Naftali arrived first, in 1907; his
grandmother Blema came
two years later. The research team uncovered Naftali's
naturalization record, which
under laws at the time also made his wife a citizen.
Dershowitz's paternal relatives established a synagogue
in their basement
after immigrating in 1931. US immigration laws and quotas made it
hard for many Jews
to enter the country, but the family managed to save 28 cousins
from the Holocaust
by issuing affidavits that the synagogue had hired them.
Carole King: Born Carol Joan Klein in Brooklyn, Carole
King spoke of her stoic
grandmother. This grandmother, Sarah Besmogin, immigrated to the
United States in
1905 from a town in the Pale
of Settlement, a part of the Russian Empire where Jews
were permitted to settle. Pogroms
in 1905, which the shows researchers found documented in
articles prompted many, including Sarah, to leave. She
immigrated under the name Scheine
King's Klein grandparents were originally surnamed
Gleiman. Ellis Island
records showed they were detained after arriving here in 1904,
possessing only $2
between them. A mysterious Sam Klein—possibly the source of the
Gleimans' new name—finally
secured their entry into the United States. Gates took the
opportunity to dispel the
popular myth that Ellis Island officials changed immigrants' names
(he didn't offer
much explanation, so in case you're wondering, here's
on how historians know Ellis Island officials didn't change
team also found marriage records in a Russian archive that helped
family to her third-great-grandparents.
Tony Kushner: Kushner grew up in a large family and a
tight-knit Jewish community
in Louisiana. Gates explained that many Jews moved South after
the Civil War to open
up businesses. City directories showed that Kushner's
great-grandfather Ezrael Kushner
had opened a lumber store in Lake Charles, La., by 1927.
A New York newspaper article reported when Kushner's
to join his brothers in the United States, just before Germany
Poland in 1939. Another newspaper published an account of a
Jews in the family's hometown. A Yizkor book—one of many written
to memorialize towns
destroyed in the Holocaust—named Kushner's relatives among those
killed in that massacre.
Kushner shared some poignant thoughts on the Holocaust, slavery
and other human atrocities—I'd
quote, but watching this segment would be more impactful.
You'll find a list
websites and resources for tracing Jewish roots on
genealogy guides in ShopFamilyTree.com.
full episode of Finding Your Roots online here.
Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, November 05, 2014 4:37:47 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
"Finding Your Roots": Tracing African-American Slave Ancestors
Posted by Diane
Last night's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." focused
on the challenge of tracing African-American ancestors before
slavery in the family trees of actress Angela Bassett, political adviser Valerie Bowman
Jarrett and rapper Nas.
One reason I was especially interested in this topic is that we're
planning an article on tracing enslaved ancestors for the
January/February 2014 Family Tree Magazine. Gates' research
team used the same strategy our experts recommend to identify
potential slaveowners, whose records can shed light on who their
slaves were: Compare an African-American family's 1870 census
listing—the first census to list the former slaves by name—to the
1860 census for the same area, looking for white families there with
the former slaves' surname. This is based on the fact that freed slaves often took the surnames of their most recent owners, usually
stayed in the same area, and sometimes even worked for the same
Although the strategy worked for all three of Gates' guests, it
doesn't always. A freed person could take any name he or she wanted.
This is a great episode, though, for seeing what types of records
might contain details on the enslaved.
Here are some highlights for each guest:
- Angela Bassett: Bassett's great-grandfather William
Henry Bassett was born into slavery and later became a preacher.
His death certificate mysteriously gave his father's last name
as Ingram. Researchers found an Elizabeth Ingram who was a
neighbor of William's parents, George and Jinney, in the 1870
census. Researching Ingram's family, they discovered her
father-in-law had bequeathed Bassett's great-great-grandparents
to his children. They had grown up on the same plantation.
Sometime between the age of 3 and 14, their son William Henry
was sold to the Bassetts.
- Valerie Bowman Jarrett: Jarrett's great-grandfather
Robert Robinson Taylor, born in 1868, was the first
African-American to graduate from MIT, and he later became a
professional architect. He wrote a letter claiming that his father, Henry, was a slave who had a white father. A passage Booker T. Washington wrote stated that Henry was given unusual freedom. He received a sum of money when he finally became free.
In another of Jarrett's
lines, her great-great-grandfather Victor Rochon was among the
first black men elected to the Louisiana House of
Representatives in 1888. Victor was named in the 1850 census,
meaning he was free. Slaveowner Pierre Rochon had filed manumission papers to free Victor's
mother (likely his mistress) and her children.
Watch the full episode featuring Nas, Angela Bassett and
Valerie Bowman Jarrett, on the "Finding Your Roots" website.
- Nas: Nas' great-grandparents had the same last name,
Little, and so did their parents. Five generations of his family
tree had couples in which both had the
Little surname. Researchers learned that generations of a white
Little family in North Carolina had owned generations of Nas'
family, all of whom took the name. One of the slaveowners, Benjamin Little, actually kept detailed
records of how much cotton Nas' ancestor picked each day, a very
rare glimpse into an enslaved ancestor's life.
In court records,
researchers also uncovered a receipt for the purchase of Nas'
third-great-grandmother, Pocahontas Little. You
can see Nas' interactive family tree here.
You'll find our Jump Start Your African-American Genealogy Value Pack and other African-American genealogy books, videos and downloads in ShopFamilyTree.com.
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, October 29, 2014 3:47:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Traces Celebrity Chefs' Italian, Mexican and Chinese Immigrant Ancestors
Posted by Diane
Last night's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." on PBS
focused on the immigrant ancestors of celebrity chefs of different ethnic—and culinary—backgrounds: Tom Colicchio
(Italian), Aarón Sánchez (Mexican)
and Ming Tsai (Chinese).
I don't have family heritage in these places, but I think this already interesting show would be even more interesting if you're researching in any of these areas.
I appreciated how this show detailed various motivations for
immigrants to leave their homelands, and explained how some would
travel back and forth between home and the United States before
finally settling here. This was quite common, especially for men, who would come to earn money to take to their families
back home. More than half of all Italian immigrants in the early
20th century, Gates said, were "birds of passage."
Here are some highlights of this episode:
- Tom Colicchio's great-great-grandfather traveled to America in
1901, returned to Italy, then came back in 1906 and went home
again in 1911. He was pressed into service in the Italian army
in World War I, and finally brought his family to settle in the
United States in 1947. The show described the burgeoning
population, harsh taxes, crime and an earthquake that propelled
Colicchio's family to leave their picturesque town of Vallarta.
- Aarón Sánchez's great-great-grandfather was a prominent
rancher in Mexico who lost everything he had and fled to the
United States during the Mexican
Revolution. He later was able to get his cattle back.
Sánchez's third-great-grandfather, born in Spain in 1822, was
the military commander Hilario Gabilondo. In 1857,
Gabilondo ordered the deaths of about 70 filibusters (Americans
attempting to seize land in Mexico) in an expedition led by
former California state senator Henry Crabb. Read
more about filibustering here.
The show's researchers traced Sanchez's ancestors in
Spain back to his sixth-great-grandfather in the early 1700s. A
DNA test revealed Sanchez has nearly 25 percent American Indian
ancestry (the equivalent of having an Indian grandparent) and 3.7
percent African-American ancestry.
- Ming Tsai's grandfather was a comptroller of a university in
China when Japan invaded before World War II. He was sent to a
prison in Japan, where he was tortured and contracted typhus; he
nearly died. He was able to return to his work after the war,
but the Cultural
Revolution, during which millions of intellectuals and
"bourgeois" were persecuted and killed, forced him to flee.
Many historical relics were destroyed during the
Cultural Revolution, including steles, or carved
stone tablets recording families. The Ming family stele was the
only one remaining in their town. It led researchers records at
the Shanghai public library (probably jiapu,
or books recording paternal family lineage) that allowed them to
trace his ancestry all the way back to his 116th-great-grandfather
in the 27th century BC.
In trying to find out more about steles, I came across the House of Chinn website,
about Chinese genealogy research and the author's own family. You
might find it helpful if you're researching ancestors in China.
You also can search
a surname index to jiapu on subscription website Ancestry.com.Each chef's cuisine is inspired by the foods of his ancestors; each recalled delicious meals with parents and grandparents. As the holidays approach, it's good to remember that food is a great way to introduce family members to their ancestors. You might even say that the way to a nongenealogist's heart is through his or her stomach.
can watch this episode of "Finding Your Roots" online, at the
Asian roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Hispanic Roots | Italian roots
Wednesday, October 22, 2014 10:36:08 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Features Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander and Benjamin Jealous
Posted by Diane
All three guests—Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander and Benjamin Jealous—in last night's "Finding Your
Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." had connections to the
Civil War and to the American Revolution, highlighting the
contradictions in a country that supported the ideals of the
American Revolution yet allowed slavery to continue.
Revolutionary War pension files were the source for most information
on the ancestors' Revolutionary War service. Laws making pensions
available to most veterans or their dependents weren't passed until
years after the war, when the ranks of those eligible to apply were
Revolutionary War pension applications are on microfilm at the
National Archives and the Family History Library. In addition, the
records are digitized and available on subscription sites
Ancestry.com and Fold3. FamilySearch.org has a free index you can
search, then you'll link to Fold3 to see the record.
Learn more about military pension records for the American
Revolution, War of 1812 and the Civil War in our Pension
Records Workbook, available from ShopFamilyTree.com.
Here's a rundown of this episode's genealogy finds:
- Ben Affleck, a Boston native, actor and producer, discovered
he has a third-great-grandfather Almon Bruce French who was active
in the Spiritualist
movement that took hold of the country in the latter 19th
century. He believed he was a medium and would travel around
conducting seances so Civil War widows and orphans could
"communicate" with their deceased loved ones.
His sixth-great-grandfather served in the Revolutionary War under
Gen. George Washington in the summer of 1776. Gates also revealed that
Affleck is 10th cousins once removed with his good friend and fellow
Bostonian Matt Damon (Affleck seemed surprised, but this link was actually uncovered several years ago).
- Khandi Alexander, an actor, knew nothing of her family history, which
Gates pointed out is common in African-American families who chose
to forget the painful experiences of slavery and segregation. She'd never even seen a picture of her grandfather, who she
learned died as a young man in an industrial explosion in Florida.
The newspapers called it an accident, but his family suspected it
was rigged by employees who didn't want a black supervisor.
Alexander's second-great-grandfather, born a slave, was the son of
an unidentified black slave and a white slaveowner. Through that man,
Alexander is descended from a man who served in the American
Revolution and went on to own 85 slaves on a large plantation.
Her DNA test showed she's about three-quarters African, and a
more-specific analysis pinpointed the areas in Africa where her DNA
- Benjamin Jealous, a civil rights activist and past president
of the NAACP, is a descendant of Peter G. Morgan, an
African-American who was born into slavery, took advantage of the
rare opportunity to learn a trade, and earned enough to purchase his
own freedom just before the Civil War. He received special
permission to remain in Virginia (the law there stated that freed
slaves had to leave the state), and claimed ownership of his wife
and daughters as slaves to help protect them from being kidnapped
and sold into slavery. He freed them with a moving manumission
statement in 1864.
In his white father's family, Jealous has
eight ancestors known to have served in the American Revolution,
including a 16-year-old who played the fife at the Battles
of Lexington and Concord.
Jealous' DNA test revealed he is 80 percent European and about 18
can watch the full "Finding Your Roots" episode with Ben Affleck,
Benjamin Jealous and Khandi Alexander on the show's website.
And keep an eye on the
show's Genealogy Blog, where genetic genealogist CeCe Moore is
providing more information about the show's DNA testing strategy and
the results revealed on air.
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Military records | Research Tips
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 10:49:04 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, October 10, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: Oct. 6-10
Posted by Diane
- A genealogist has started the InstitutionalCemeteries.org
website to catalog cemeteries established for asylums,
poorhouses, prisons, orphanages and other institutions, whose
residents often were buried unclaimed and forgotten. On the site,
you can view maps by region of the country, and you also can submit
information on any such cemeteries you know about.
- FamilySearch has announced
plans to digitize a portion of the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania,
starting with compiled family histories. The digitized documents
will be available free at FamilySearch.org. You
can read more in the announcement here.
- For all you UK genealogists: Ancestry.com
is holding a "Branching Out" sweepstakes for UK residents (a
separate sweepstakes was held for US residents). The grand prize
includes 20 hours of professional genealogy research, a one-year
Ancestry.co.uk WorldWide subscription and a copy of Family Tree
Maker software. The sweepstakes is open to residents of the UK
(except for Northern Ireland), and you can enter
here by Sunday, Nov. 9.
- The TV series "Genealogy Roadshow" is filming in Philadelphia the
weekend of Oct. 25 and 26, and producers are looking
to cast men and women age 35-55 (the casting call doesn't say,
but I believe it's to be the onlookers shown in the background as
guests' genealogy mysteries are unraveled). This gig pays $75, and
the chance to witness firsthand as family history legends are
supported or shattered. You
can submit your application here.
Ancestry.com | FamilySearch | Genealogy TV | Libraries and Archives | NARA | UK and Irish roots
Friday, October 10, 2014 2:09:16 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
CNN Highlights Genealogy in "Roots: Our Journeys Home" Series, Oct. 12-20
Posted by Diane
CNN will highlight genealogy in a weeklong series
"Roots: Our Journeys Home," Starting this Sunday, Oct. 12, at 9.p.m. The series will follow 13 of the network's most
familiar faces as they trace their roots.
You'll see hosts and anchors
including Anthony Bourdain, Anderson Cooper (who's having a great
genealogy year, having also recently appeared on "Finding Your Roots
With Henry Louis Gates Jr."), Chris Cuomo, Wolf Blitzer, Sanjay
Gupta, Christine Romans and others.
The series will touch on a variety of topics, ethnic origins and
places: Bourdain travels to Paraguay; Blitzer visits the Auschwitz
extermination camp in Poland, where his paternal grandparents died;
Michaela Pereira, adopted as an infant, goes to St. James Parish,
Jamaica; Gupta explores the places where his parents were born in
Pakistan and India; Kate Bouldan learns about her ancestral family's
glass-blowing business in a tiny Belgian town.
The series culminates in a two-hour special on Monday, Oct. 20, at 9
p.m. ET, hosted by Cooper and Pereira.
can see a schedule of
CNN's "Roots: Our Journeys Home" series
and an overview of each installment here.
And here's a video sneak peek:
Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Friday, October 10, 2014 11:03:22 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
"Finding Your Roots": Anderson Cooper, Anna Deavere Smith, Ken Burns
Posted by Diane
Last night's "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr." linked
its guests, Anderson
Burns and Anna
Deavere Smith, by the events of the Civil War.
- CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, who is related to New York's Vanderbilt
family through his mother Gloria, has Southern roots on
his father's side. Several of his relatives who fought in the
Confederate Army were small farmers and laborers in Mississippi,
and among the majority of Southerners who didn't own slaves. But
Cooper was surprised to learn that a third-great-grandfather who
did own a plantation was killed by one of his slaves.
Normally toward the end of each episode, Gates will
reveal the results of the guests' DNA tests.We didn't hear
anything about Cooper's DNA. Makes me wonder if the results were so
anticlimactic, or maybe revealed sensitive information.
can see an interactive family tree for Anderson Cooper here.
- Ken Burns has an ancestry worthy of a producer of
documentaries about history, with relatives in the Civil War (on
the Confederate side, including one held at Camp Chase
in Ohio), a slave-owning third-great-grandfather, relatives on
both sides of the American Revolution, and a link to his hero,
Abraham Lincoln (his 5th cousin four times removed). The show's
researchers' also found DNA evidence to support Burns' family
legend that he's related to Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Gates asked Smith, "How could your family have lost the story of
this man?", a question that could apply to pretty much anyone's
family history, and a situation genealogists work so hard to fix.
- Anna Deavere Smith, an actress and playwright, had the best
story of the episode, I thought. Her free black
great-great-grandfather Basel Biggs moved his family to
Pennsylvania before the Civil War—where their farm was right in
the path of the Confederate army on its way to Gettysburg. The
family fled before the battle; their land was used as a
Confederate field hospital. Afterward, Basel was hired to
supervise a handful of men disinterring Union soldiers who fell
on the battlefield and reburying them in orderly graves—the
first burials in what became the Gettysburg
National Cemetery. A Cleveland, Ohio, newspaper article
celebrated his success as a veterinarian and his "magnificent"
home. Last, Gates showed Smith Basel's obituary, which revealed
that Basel Biggs was active on the Underground
Finally, Smith's DNA results showed she shares maternal ancestry
with the Igbo
people in what's now Nigeria.
You can watch the full "Finding
Your Roots" season 2, episode 3 online.
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, October 08, 2014 11:22:09 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Traces Family Trees of Athletes Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, Rebecca Lobo
Posted by Diane
Titled "Born Champions," last night's episode of "Finding Your
Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." examined the ancestries of
recently retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (above, during the show),
tennis legend Billie
Jean King and WNBA star Rebecca Lobo.
Throughout the show, Gates emphasized how past
generations' character and decisions may have contributed to their
Derek Jeter was on a kind of surname roller coaster when he first
learned that the last name he's carried all his life came from a
slaveowner, then learned that the slaveowner was his
third-great-grandfather—so he had a genetic connection to his name,
after all. (Our
African-American Slave Genealogy Guide can help you research your
own black ancestors before the end of slavery.)
Gates pointed out how common it is for black Americans to have
European ancestry. It's not hard to see why, under an institution
that gave one person absolute power over another. DNA testing of
Jeter and known descendants of the slaveowner confirmed the
Jeter said during the show that he thought he was Black and Irish. (Note: This is updated. I originally thought I heard him say "Black Irish," and a reader corrected me.) It turned out Jeter has a female ancestor from
Ireland, whom the show mentioned in passing, and she married an
Billie Jean King
King's "Gammy," her dad's mom, was adopted as a baby. An aunt had a
family Bible that recorded Gammy's birth name, enabling Gates' team
to find her birth record and learn Gammy's mother's name.
King's DNA test revealed no American Indian heritage, squashing
King's mother's closely held belief that her family line included
Lobo has Spanish heritage on her father's side. Her
great-grandmother Amelia Gutierrez left a diary, which a cousin had,
that told how her father Antonio escaped to Tangier after fighting
to establish the first
Spanish republic in 1873. When the family decided to emigrate
in 1896, they arrived too late to catch their ship to Argentina, so
they went to North America instead. (Find a guide to research in
Spain, Portugal and the Basque region in our December
2011 Family Tree Magazine.)
Her DNA test revealed that she had just over 10 percent Ashkenazi
Jewish ancestry, which Gates said suggests a great-grandparent
(based on the fact that you inherit approximately 12.5 percent of
your autosomal DNA from each great-grandparent). Then through chromosome
analysis, the research team could learn which of Lobos'
grandmothers contributed the Jewish DNA. Because there was no paper
evidence of Jewish ancestry for that grandmother's mother, Gates
said it's likely that the father—as yet unidentified—was Jewish.
I tell you what, I could really use a message or two from a sponsor
in this show. As irritating as commercial interruptions can be, it's
hard to keep up (or go switch the laundry) when you don't have any
can watch the full "Finding Your Roots" episode with Derek Jeter,
Billie Jean King and Rebecca Lobo online.
you can read genetic genealogy consultant CeCe Moore's post about
the DNA testing done for last week's "Finding Your Roots" episode—including
more on that loose end regarding the identity of Courtney Vance's
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Genetic Genealogy
Wednesday, October 01, 2014 10:50:54 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Find Ancestors' Old Birth, Marriage & Death Records FREE on Ancestry.com Through Oct. 6
Posted by Diane
is opening up its birth, marriage and death records for free
access through Oct. 6 to mark the new season of the PBS series
"Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." (Ancestry.com is a
You'll need to sign up for a free account with Ancestry.com (or log
into the account you already have) in order to see the details of
your search results.
searching the birth, marriage and death records on this
Ancestry.com page, which also has more information about
"Finding Your Roots."
You can enter only a name and birth year here, but once you have
your results, click Edit Search on the left to add more details to
your search (dates and places of of marriage, death and other life
events, parents' names, etc.).
Your Roots" features athletes Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King
and Rebecca Lobo. The show airs at 8/7 Central on PBS, and you can
a short preview here.
Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots | Free Databases | Genealogy TV | Vital Records
Tuesday, September 30, 2014 10:30:28 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Episode 1 Focuses on Fathers' Family Histories
Posted by Diane
Last night's "Finding
Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." tied together the
family histories of three well-known Americans—author Stephen King
and actors Gloria Reuben and Courtney Vance—with the theme of
fathers. Missing fathers, to be more specific.
All three lost their fathers before they could learn anything about
their history. King was 2 when his father walked out; Reuben's
father died when she was 12; and Vance was 30 when he lost his
father to suicide.
The message that hit home for me, which I think is the message that
host Henry Louis Gates wanted to get across, is that some empty part
of you is filled when you can discover these missing parts of your
family's past. King said you "see that there's a foundation
Last night's surprises for the three guests included:
- King's father, who joined the Navy after abandoning his
family, changed his last name at some point from Pollack to
King. The show's researchers could find no legal record of a
name change, though—he just started using the new name as a
- King was surprised to learn he had Southern roots; his
ancestors moved North and served for the Union during the Civil
- The show's researchers also were able to identify her earliest
African ancestor in the Western Hemisphere, who was transported
as a slave via the Middle
Passage. Gates pointed out how hard this is to do, a dream
for many African-American genealogists.
- Courtney Vance's father grew up in foster care. Vance learned the identity of his father's mother, as
well as some painful aspects of her life.
full "In Search of Our Fathers" episode is available to view on
the "Finding Your Roots" website. The show will air on most
PBS stations on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern.
- Through Y-DNA testing of himself and a male-line descendant of the
minister his grandmother had named as the father of her child,
Vance learned that the minister was not the father. More
importantly, the test identified a Y-DNA match—a relative along
Vance's paternal line. With further research in that man's
family tree, Vance could possibly learn who his grandfather was.
I wonder if the show's researchers attempted this and for some
reason it didn't make the show? Talk about loose ends.
If you want to use DNA to solve family mysteries, you can learn
how in our Genetic
Genealogy 101 Family Tree University online course and our
DNA to Solve Family Mysteries webinar.
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Genetic Genealogy
Wednesday, September 24, 2014 10:58:05 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, September 12, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: Sept. 8-12
Posted by Diane
- Subscription site Findmypast.com
has added more than 240,000 parish records to its marriage and
burial records for Surrey, Middlesex and Eastebourne parishes in
Britain. (And I didn't know that genealogical socities that
transcribe these records for Findmypast get a royalty each time
the records are viewed.) The site also has added
an "Attach a Tree" button to its images and
transcriptions, so you can attach records to your ancestors'
profiles in your Findmypast family tree.
- Here's an alarming heads up from genealogy author Megan
Smolenyak Smolenyak: Someone is selling a fake Kindle book with
her name on it on Amazon.com. Add it to the list of scams that
writers and genealogy consumers have to watch out for. Visit
Megan's Roots World blog to see the warning and make sure
you don't fall for this one.
Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots | findmypast | Genealogy books | Genealogy TV | Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, September 12, 2014 10:01:57 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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, July 21, 2014
"Who Do You Think You Are?" (US) Premieres This Wednesday
Posted by Diane
It's my turn to take over the TV at our house this Wednesday at 9
p.m. (Eastern), when the new season of the US series "Who Do
You Think You Are?" (WDYTYA?) premieres on TLC.
The first episode features the family tree of actor Cynthia Nixon,
known for her role as Miranda in "Sex and the City." I never got
into "Sex and the City," but you can bet I'll tune in to "WDYTYA?"
for the genealogy.
Watch a trailer for the episode below. In it, Nixon views court
records and visits a prison where it sounds like one of her female
ancestors was incarcerated.
Other celebrities featured this season include Valerie Bertinelli,
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lauren Graham, Kelsey Grammer, and sisters
Rachel and Kayleen McAdams. We'll also see some older episodes, from
the show's run on NBC.
Ancestry.com sponsors the show (which you'll likely gather from its prominent positioning in each episode).
If you can't watch on Wednesday or you don't have cable, most
episodes are posted to the "Who
Do You Think You Are?" website after airing. Anybody know if they'll be on Hulu? I searched, but found only clips, not full episodes, from last year.
We'll post a recap
here on the
Genealogy Insider blog, too.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Monday, July 21, 2014 10:38:23 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Apply to Have Your Family Mystery Solved on "Genealogy Roadshow" Season 2
Posted by Diane
Here's some good news: We have official word that
"Genealogy Roadshow" is coming back to PBS for a second season.
It'll premiere in winter 2015 with season one experts D. Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry, plus Mary Tedesco,
founder of the Origins Italy
If you didn't see "Genealogy Roadshow" last year, it applies the
idea behind "Antiques Roadshow" to genealogy: An audiences line up
outside a local historic venue, and a lucky few get to share a
family mystery with the show's experts. The expert uses family
heirlooms, documents, photos and online research to investigate the
truth behind the family story.
This season will feature participants and stories from three
American regions: St. Louis, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Here's the
"Genealogy Roadshow" website where you can apply to participate at
Looks like there'll be a genealogy fair around filming at each site,
too: The producers also are looking for genealogy societies, vendors
and research firms to exhibit their products and services at the
events. Tables and exhibit space are free. Dates (all Saturdays and
Sundays, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) are:
The announcement instructs interested "Genealogy Roadshow" filming
event exhibitors to contact a
- St. Louis: Aug. 23 and 24
- New Orleans: Sept. 6 and 7
- Philadelphia: Sept. 13 and 14
Monday, July 21, 2014 10:01:31 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, June 20, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: June 16-20
Posted by Diane
- FamilySearch has added more than 4.9 million indexed records
and images to collections from Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, United States and
Venezuela, with especially notable collections form Costa Rica,
Portugal and Venezuela. You can see the list
of updated collections and click through to search or brose
them, on the FamilySearch blog.
In addition, to commemorate Juneteenth,
FamilySearch has added to its collection of records of the Bureau
of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the Freedmen's
Bureau. These document the post-Civil War era and include marriage
records legalizing marriages of former slaves, labor contracts,
military payment registers and more. Read
more about the records in FamilySearch's announcement and link
to the Freedmen's Bureau collections (which FamilySearch.org
organizes by state) here.
- The Civil War Trust is launching a fundraising campaign to
save the North Anna area of the Jericho Mills battlefield in
Virginia. Matching grants, donations from private foundations
and other funding means the trust already has 90 percent of the
purchase price needed to acquire the area. It likely will
eventually be made part of the Richmond National Battlefield
more about North Anna and the campaign to save it on the Civil
War Trust website.
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Civil War | FamilySearch | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Friday, June 20, 2014 11:08:18 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Premiere Announced + More Genealogy TV News
Posted by Diane
Cable television network TLC has announced the premiere date and the stars of the 2014 season
Do You Think You Are?" (US version).
The new season will start Wednesday, July 23, at 9/8 central on TLC.
(If you don't have cable or can't watch that evening, the episodes
usually become available on
the show's website after they air.)
Six new episodes will air, featuring the family histories of:
In addition, TLC has acquired 10 of the episodes that aired on NBC
during previous seasons. Those feature
Matthew Broderick, Lisa Kudrow, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw,
Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Vanessa
Williams and Rita Wilson.
- Valerie Bertinelli, an actor whose work includes the 70s/80s
series "One Day at a Time" and the current "Hot in Cleveland"
- Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an actor on "Modern Family"
- Lauren Graham, actor on "Gilmore Girls" (one of my
most-favorite-ever TV shows)
- Kelsey Grammer, actor on "Cheers" and "Frasier"
- Cynthia Nixon, actor on the "Sex and the City" TV series and movies
- Rachel McAdams, Canadian actor in movies such as "The
Notebook" and "About Time," and her sister, celebrity makeup
artist Kayleen McAdams
You can read
about the new "Who Do You Think You Are?" season on The Wrap.
In other genealogy television news:
- "Finding Your
Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.," will premiere on PBS Sept.
23. Guests will include actor Sally Field, Food Network chef
Aarón Sánchez, actor Ben Affleck,
singer Carole King,actor and comedian Tina Fey, political
commentator Alan Dershowitz,
White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, June 04, 2014 2:20:39 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, May 16, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: May 12-16
Posted by Diane
- The genealogy series "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis
Gates Jr.," which traced the ancestry of well-known Americans
using DNA combined with traditional research, will return to PBS
on Tuesday, Sept. 23, according to PBS'
recently released fall lineup.
The lineup doesn't mention
"Genealogy Roadshow," the 2013 series that researched genealogy
claims in the families of non-famous folks. It's looking like the
US version of this series isn't coming back. (Ireland's
version will return.)
- The Civil War Trust has released a new Battle App, this one
for the Atlanta Campaign, which began 150 years ago between the
forces of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Gen. Joseph E.
Johnston. Available for iOS and Android, the App takes users on
a virtual tour with videos, maps, photos and more. You can
download the Atlanta Campaign and other Battle Apps using the
links on the
Civil War Trust website.
- British and Irish genealogy website Origins.net now has a new,
full index plus digitized images for the 1881
census of England and Wales, covering all counties. The
records are available with a subscription to Origins.net.
Celebrity Roots | Civil War | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Friday, May 16, 2014 10:38:56 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Eight Family Tree Tips to Take Away From "Genealogy Roadshow"
Posted by Diane
Genealogy television shows like TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
and PBS' "Genealogy Roadshow" are meant to entertain us, but that
doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from them.
In fact, our Tuesday, Nov. 12 webinar, 10
Essential Research Tricks from "Genealogy Roadshow," is full
of such lessons from co-host D. Joshua Taylor.
Here are my own favorite takeaway family tree research tips from
- Don't believe everything your family told you about your
ancestors. Whether it's the year Great-grandpa arrived in
the United States or a rumored link to George Washington, treat
family stories as theories that require research to prove or
- You can't get away from the "start with yourself and work
backward" principle. No matter what family claim the
"Genealogy Roadshow" experts were researching, the research
started with the present and moved to the person's parents, then
grandparents, etc. You didn't get details about every generation
in the show's quick segments (remember the entertainment factor), but those generations were listed
in the trees that flashed by.
- You're related to lots of people. Among them is
probably someone famous and someone infamous (remember this next
time one of those announcements comes out about which
celebrities are related—it's really not anything unusual). The
way to document a connection between two people is to research
both family trees as you normally would, and find a person
common to both trees.
- Build on others' work. "Genealogy Roadshow" sometimes
used already-existing, reliable research about famous folks.
Don't be afraid to look for clues in published family histories
and family trees you find online—just make sure you do research
to verify all the names, dates and relationships in those
resources, so you don't end up repeating someone else's mistakes
and claiming the wrong ancestors.
- Once you get beyond your garden-variety first or second
cousin, figuring out exactly how you're related to someone can
seem complicated. The trick is to find the most recent
common ancestor to the two cousins in question. If there's a
different number of generations between each cousin and the most
recent common ancestor, the cousins are "removed." The number of
removes is equal to the number of generations that separates the
two cousins. We explain
cousin relationships here and have a free
relationship chart PDF download here.
Josh Taylor's 10
Essential Research Tricks From "Genealogy Roadshow" will help
you do better family tree research whether you watched the show or
not. And you'll save $10 when you register
- Sometimes genealogical discoveries come quickly, and
sometimes it takes a lot of research to find answers. The
show's hosts often used the word "we" when talking about records
discovered. Behind the scenes, full-time, professional
researchers were devoting hours upon hours to tracing guests'
family trees. You might not be able to devote that much time at
once to your research, but keep plugging away a little bit at a
time. And keep track of what you've done so next time you can
pick up where you left off.
Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 12:50:06 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Genealogy Clues Your Ancestor Was a Black Sheep
Posted by Diane
One of the folks on this week's "Genealogy
Roadshow"—the last one of the season, filmed in Austin,
Texas—had a Civil War ancestor who, perhaps suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder, shot and killed his wife years after
the war. A very sad story.
Such family tree discoveries can be unsettling, even when family
rumors hint that something bad happened (as they did for this
Genealogy Roadshow guest). On the other hand, genealogists often
relish having ancestors who committed less heinous crimes—maybe
horse thievery or bootlegging—because that means records to
"Black sheep" are more common than you might think: Investigating
our family stories of my great-grandfather's time in prison for
bootlegging led me to the unexpected
discovery that his wife had filed for divorce and claimed cruel
treatment (the case was dismissed).
On the other side of
the family, I was completely surprised to discover that my
third-great-grandparents were divorced
in a sensational case, and a few years later, my
third-great-grandfather was stabbed in a knife fight over a woman
he'd become obsessed with (I still need to blog about this).
Here are a few clues that you may have a black sheep ancestor on
Strategies: Criminal Records download helps you track down
court, prison and other records of ancestors who strayed to the
wrong side of the law.
- Family stories. They aren't always true, as we've seen on
"Genealogy Roadshow," but there's often a grain of truth behind
- An unexplained disappearance from the family. It could
indicate an unrecorded death or migration for work, or it could
mean the person deserted the family.
- Your ancestor is listed in prison on a census. You'll usually
see the institution listed at the top of the form, and he may be
listed as an "inmate" or a "prisoner." (Not all inmates were in
prisons, though: In 1920, my bootlegger's son was an "inmate" in
an orphanage. It was just a term for someone who lived in an
If you know or suspect your ancestor was imprisoned, you can
find some records or indexes online. For federal institutions, check the National
Archives' Online Public Access search. For state prisons, check the state archives' website. Also look for prison records you can borrow on microfilm through interlibrary loan.
- You find newspaper articles about a divorce filing, desertion
(wives would sometimes post newspaper ads for missing husbands),
arrest, or a court action. I've been unable to find the court
records for my great-grandfather's bootlegging trial, so newspaper
mentions of it are all I have (so far).
- You find court records. When I was checking a court index in
search of the bootlegging case, I came across an entry showing
my great-grandparents as plaintiff and defendant: their divorce
Criminal Court Records on-demand webinar with Judy G. Russell
delves even deeper into the trial process, what court records it
might have generated about your ancestor, and how to find those
Watch this week's "Genealogy
Roadshow" online here.
court records | Genealogy TV | Newspapers
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:58:21 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, October 11, 2013
Genealogy News Corral, Oct. 7-11
Posted by Diane
- The Federation of Genealogical Societies is running a three-part webinar series on genealogy society membership and communication. The webinars are presented by our friend George G. Morgan (author of Family Tree Magazine’s Document Detective column) and include:
- The Shape of the 21st Century Genealogical Society (Oct. 22)
- Harness the Power of Email in Your Society (Nov. 4)
- How to Develop and Implement Affordable Membership Benefits (Nov. 18).
Learn more on the FGS Voice blog and use the links in the post to register for each one.
FamilySearch | Genealogy societies | Genealogy TV | Webinars
Friday, October 11, 2013 9:19:11 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Seeks Guests for Possible Season 2
Posted by Diane
Word on Facebook has it that "Genealogy
Roadshow" is seeking guests for a second
season. (Whether there'll be a
second season hasn't been announced, so we'll have to keep our fingers crossed.)
Want "Genealogy Roadshow" researchers to investigate your family stories? Click here to fill out the
Tuesday, October 08, 2013 4:08:36 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Chinese Immigration and Angel Island
Posted by Diane
One of my favorite aspects of PBS'
"Genealogy Roadshow" is the mention of historical people and
events that have become fuzzy memories for folks who once learned
about them in a history class. The show elaborates on some of these
people and places, and others have me googling on my phone.
Last night, Genealogy Roadshow was set in San Fransisco's US Mint
building, with stories ranging from the 1860 Wiyot
Massacre to the 1906
earthquake and fire. The California
Gold Rush came up when a guest wasn't related to James
Marshall, whose gold discovery in the American River started
San Francisco's Chinese community was highlighted when a young
Asian-American woman wanted to know about her family and its fabled
connection to gangster Big Jim Chen. Researchers weren't able to
prove the story because Chen apparently hid his tracks well.
A history segment focused on Chinese immigration and the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882. Here's a little more about Chinese
immigration through San Francisco:
Angel Island in San Francisco Bay
was the immigration point for many Asians entering the United States
between 1910 and 1930 (along with Australians, Candians, Central and
South Americans, Russians and others).
station there served mainly as a place to to detain and
interrogate immigrants, mostly Asian, who were trying to enter the
country. When the 1906 earthquake destroyed San Francisco birth
records, it presented an opportunity to get around the
Exclusion Act, which made an exception for the children of US
citizens: Chinese who'd naturalized could claim to have had
additional children during a visit to China, then sell the "slots"
to those wanting to immigrate.
Immigration officials tried to identify these "paper
lengthy interrogations about the immigrant's home, family and
village in China. Visitors to Angel Island still can see some
of the poetry detainees carved into the walls as they passed
Nearly 250,000 case files were produced for Angel Island immigrants;
they're at the National
Archives at San Francisco. UC Berkeley has a database
with 90,000 of these immigrants' names and case file numbers.
You also can read some
immigrants' stories on the Angel Island Immigration Station
You'll find a guide to researching Angel Island ancestors and
locating their case files (even if they're not in the UC Berkeley index) in
2010 Family Tree Magazine.
You can watch the San Francisco "Genealogy Roadshow" online. Next week's
episode takes place in Austin, Texas. That's where my grandfather went to college in the 1920s and '30s, so I'm hoping to pick up some local history.
Asian roots | Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, October 08, 2013 3:59:14 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Your Ancestor's Immigration Experience and the Ellis Island Myth
Posted by Diane
Many of the guests on last night's "Genealogy Roadshow," filmed in
Detroit, had done their own research into family history claims. I love to see all that genealogical interest, and the impact that
family history knowledge can have on someone.
The young woman at the
center of my favorite story was adopted as part of an open adoption. She knew a lot
about her white birth mother's family tree, and little about her
African-American birth father's family. All four parents were with
her as Kenyatta Berry took her back in time along her paternal
Among the other stories was a woman whose English ancestors founded a royal bookstore that still exists today—but later in that line, a physician ancestor went to jail for murder. The final guest learned she was in fact related to Ponce de Leon.
One thing that surprised me in this episode was the show's handling of a
guest's tale of his family name change at Ellis Island, a common belief.
Taylor told the man (I'm paraphrasing) that Ellis Island arrivals
were brought into a room with a clerk at a desk, and the clerk may
not have spoken the languages of the immigrants. When the
clerk asked the passenger's name, he would write down what he'd
heard, which often wasn't the spelling the passenger used.
He made it pretty clear that Ellis Island officials didn't deliberately change passenger names because they were hard to pronounce or not American
I've always read, though, that passenger lists were
created by shipping line agents at ports of departure, and turned
over to US officials after arrival here. US immigrant inspectors
would then check off the passengers' names on those lists—they
didn't write down any names. Ellis Island also employed translators
in a wide range of languages to speak with immigrants. TV shows are often heavily edited, so what was
actually said could've been quite different from what ended up on
You can read
more about the Ellis Island name-change myth in this article
by Marian L. Smith, a historian at the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (now the Citizenship and Immigration
Service). The New
York Public Library has a similar article, with details about how
passenger lists were created.
Update: Here's a statement from Josh clarifying his comments on the show.
Many immigrants, like the one in question on last night's show,
changed their own names after arrival. Someone could do this legally, but more
often, people would just start using the new name.
Two good resources for learning about your ancestor's immigration
Also keep an eye out for the December 2013 Family Tree Magazine,
which will have a workbook to help you find your ancestors on
passenger lists. Also
check out these immigration research resources.
You can watch last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" here. Next week's episode takes us to San Francisco. I'm hoping to see some Gold Rush stories!
Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, October 01, 2013 2:34:56 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Genealogy Roadshow Dispels Myths, Tells (Short) Stories
Posted by Diane
Did you watch "Genealogy Roadshow" on PBS last night?
It's easy to see the "Antiques Roadshow" styling: "Genealogy Roadshow" had the
lines of people waiting to get in, the onlookers watching the expert
consultations, a host, a break to take in a few minutes of
local history (of the Belmont Mansion, where the episode was filmed), and the guests' surprised expressions.
I loved how the audience members leaned in to hear what genealogists D.
Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry had to say about the guests' family
I loved how twice, another person related to the story emerged from the
audience to meet the surprised guest.
And I loved how Taylor and Berry quickly dismissed several common family claims,
such as being related to Davy Crockett, George Washington (who had
no known descendants) or Jimmy Carter. They always offered a
bright side: The husband of the woman who wasn't related to Davy
Crockett had a Revolutionary War ancestor, for example, making their children eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American
we share six common genealogy myths you'll want to avoid as
you trace your family tree.
A couple of wishes regarding "Genealogy Roadshow":
- The show was fast-paced, so there were times I wanted
more and slower visual aids to explain the connections
researchers had uncovered. We saw family trees in some cases,
but the show zoomed through them pretty quickly.
That story; the one about the tender photo of Lafayette Cox, an
African-American man, holding the little boy of the family he worked
for; and the story of Sarah Jones, a young woman who had never met
her father, were my favorites.
- I wished to spend more time on some stories. An African-American woman learned
from a letter discovered at an archive that she really is related to white
Tennessee governor Austin Peay. But who wrote the letter, and why?
And I just wanted to hear more about the
African-American family who learned their enslaved
ancestor, Dinah Bell, was brought from South
Carolina to Tennessee. A dozen or so family members of all ages
were hanging on Taylor's every word, and you could see how much
the information meant to them.
You can watch
the Nashville episode of Genealogy Roadshow online.
I can't wait to see next week's show, set in Detroit!
Do your own genealogy detective work to sort out family stories with
help from Family
History Detective: A Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Family
History and The
Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing
African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:04:03 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Sept. 23 Debut Investigates Family Stories in Nashville
Posted by Diane
I've already told my husband he's kicked out of the family room for
Monday night football next week: That's when the new "Genealogy
Roadshow" premieres on PBS.
This four-episode series has hosts Kenyatta Berry and D. Joshua
Taylor revealing the truth behind participants' family stories in front of
a live audience, which should bring a fun energy to the show. (I
chuckled at this
take on the Genealogy Roadshow format.)
Monday's episode was filmed at the Belmont Mansion in
Nashville, Tenn. One guest is David Miles Vaughn, who's been doing
genealogy for five years and wants to know if his family is really
related to Davy Crockett—a tale he'd always heard growing up.
Genealogy Roadshow premieres Monday, Sept. 23, at 9/8 Central on
PBS. Future episodes are set in San Francisco, Detroit, and Austin,
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 4:31:39 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
'WDYTYA?" Will Return to TLC in 2014
Posted by Diane
"Who Do You Think You Are?" watchers, rejoice—the
genealogy series has been renewed for a second season TLC. The
network has ordered 10 episodes, an increase over this season's
The celebrities haven't been announced. Which celebrities would you like to see on "Who Do You
Think You Are?" in 2014?
Last night's WDYTYA? season finale showed "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons' search for his French roots in Louisiana and in
France. Among his ancestors were a Medical College of
Louisiana-trained physician and an architect to King Louis XV.
Don't be sad—your genealogy TV-watching isn't over for the year. We
still have four
episodes of the new series "Genealogy Roadshow" coming up on
PBS, starting Monday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. It'll explore
noncelebrities' family history claims and reveal the answers before
a live audience.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:59:26 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Charlemagne Connections and English Roots
Posted by Diane
It's actually not unusual to descend from Charlemagne,
whom Cindy Crawford learned is in her family tree on last night's "Who Do
You Think You Are?" As noted in the show, the eighth-century
Frankish king had 20 children with different women (with eight of 10
known wives or concubines).
Charlemagne, who lived from April 2, 742 to Jan. 28, 814, was Cindy
When you go back 40 generations,
and you have roughly a trillion ancestors—more than the number of
people who existed at the time Charlemagne lived. (Virtually all
family trees have consanguineous marriages, so the same person will appear
in multiple places in a tree.)
NationalGeographic.com article explains how there comes a
point in history when "all individuals who have any
descendants among the present-day individuals" (that's us) "are
actually ancestors of all present-day individuals."
"all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man
or woman who lived around 1400 ... About a thousand years ago, a
peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans
alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living
today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants
eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would
turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today."
So anyone of European descent is probably related to Charlemagne,
and to his royal relatives as well. Of course, documenting the
generations back to royalty is another thing. You
can get started discovering your royal roots with the six steps in
our Spring 2011 Discover Your Roots bookazine.
If you have English ancestry of any variety, as Cindy Crawford did
through her Trowbridge line, there's still time to sign up for our Aug.
29 webinar and learn how to research English genealogy online.
You also can get our e-book A
Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your English Ancestors.
If you missed last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" you
can watch it on the show's website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 10:25:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
PBS Series "Genealogy Roadshow" Explores Roots of Everyday Americans
Posted by Diane
I learned a little more about PBS' upcoming Genealogy Roadshow
series while at the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference
The show, slated to air Mondays from 9 to 10 p.m.
ET starting Sept. 23 (my husband'll have to find someplace else to watch Monday night football),
will combine history and science to uncover the roots of everyday Americans. This season's participants come from four
cities: Nashville, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; Detroit; and San Francisco.
Genealogy experts will explore unverified family history claims
about connections to a famous event or historical figure (sounds to
me like a genealogical version of "History Detectives") by using
family heirlooms, records, DNA and local historians.
will reveal many of the answers they discover in front of a live
audience in a location relevant to the participant's family history.
Here's a teaser:
"Genealogy Roadshow" hosts are Kenyatta
D. Berry, a professional genealogist and president of the Association of Professional
Genealogists, and D.
Joshua Taylor, whom you've seen on "Who Do You Think You Are?"
and who serves as lead genealogist at findmypast.com.
(Both have also appeared in the pages of Family Tree Magazine
and been interviewed in our "Five Questions" column. Coincidence?)
"Genealogy Roadshow" is based on an Irish series of the
Genealogy TV | Videos
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 3:05:13 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)