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# Monday, 25 April 2016
Genealogy Roadshow Debuts May 17 (PLUS: Submit a Family Mystery for Next Season!)
Posted by Diane

"Genealogy Roadshow" has released a preview of its new season, premiering Tuesday, May 17, 8 p.m. ET on PBS. Shows this season will take place in Boston, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles.

If you haven't seen this series, it has professional genealogists D. Joshua Taylor, Kenyatta Berry and Mary Tedesco use research to solve family history mysteries for ordinary people. Often, the guests have done a little genealogy themselves and run across a family legend or difficult research problem.

(PS: Josh Taylor will present our Best New England Genealogy Research Strategies webinar this Thursday, April 28. Got ancestors from Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut or Rhode Island? Find out more here about this terrific opportunity to learn from an expert.)

Here's a preview of this season of "Genealogy Roadshow":

The show's website also is beefed up with genealogy tips and clips from past episodes. Many featuring background on historical events and people in guests' trees, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder, the US Colored Troops, and pirates and outlaws.

"Genealogy Roadshow" guests are selected through an application process—here's the online form for next season.

Genealogy TV | Webinars
Monday, 25 April 2016 10:31:57 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 29 March 2016
Sneak Peek! "Who Do You Think You Are?" Premieres Sunday With Aisha Tyler
Posted by Diane

The month of March sneaked* right by, and it's already time for the premiere of TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" this Sunday at 9/8 central.

This episode features African-American actor Aisha Tyler (she was Ross' paleontologist girlfriend on "Friends" and she's a cohost on "The Talk").

I always enjoy when a genealogy show visits places that also figure into my family tree, so I should be happy with this one: Tyler travels to Cleveland, Ohio, and the Western Reserve Historical Society, as well as the Texas State Library & Archives and other sites in Austin.

The stories Tyler discovers in her mother's family history include a second-great-grandfather who, according to the show's publicist, "took a brave stand for his people, and left a mark so great that he is commemorated today by one of America’s capital cities." He was born out of wedlock to a white man who opposed rights for African-Americans.

I'm not allowed to reveal too many details about the episode, but here's a video sneak peek for you:

Here's a rundown of other "WDYTYA?" celebrity guests this season.

*For any fellow grammar geeks out there, I actually looked up whether sneaked or snuck would be correct, and the Grammarist recommended the former, although the newer snuck has become common and is also acceptable.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Genealogy TV
Tuesday, 29 March 2016 09:55:25 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, 07 March 2016
PBS' "Genealogy Roadshow" Announces 2016 Season Premiere
Posted by Diane

It's a great time to be a genealogist who watches TV. The latest genealogy television series to announce its season premiere is Genealogy Roadshow, whose season 3, episode 1, airs Tuesday, May 17, on PBS.

The series, sponsored by, will visit Boston, Miami, Houston and Los Angeles in its four episodes. In each one, sleuths D. Joshua Taylor, Kenyatta Berry and Mary Tedesco help everyday people (some of whom have done a little genealogy) investigate family stories and learn more about their roots.

Other television series featuring genealogy research to look for:
Any genealogy shows I'm missing?

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Monday, 07 March 2016 15:19:15 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, 03 March 2016
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Celebrity Lineup & Video Sneak Peek
Posted by Diane

TLC has announced the celebrity lineup for the spring 2016 season of "Who Do You Think You Are?", which premieres Sunday, April 3 at 9/8 central. Here's a video sneak peek at the season:

Celebrity guests you'll see include:
  • Scott Foley, an actor who's appeared on "Scandal," "Felicity" and other shows. According to TLC's announcement, he "finds a relative who risked his life for one of America’s founding fathers, and an ancestor who suffered unspeakably during one of this nation’s darkest times."
  • Lea Michele, the actress and singer who portrayed Rachel on "Glee." Looks like she has interesting ancestry, with Italian roots on her mother's side and Turkish and Sephardic Jewish roots on her father's side.
  • Chris Noth, the actor from Sex and the City and Law & Order. He "learns his ancestors suffered during one of the greatest catastrophes in American history, and [has] a relative who fought in one of the bloodiest battles of all time."
  • Molly Ringwald, a member of the 1980s "Brat Pack" and star of several of the movies of my youth. The show explores her family lore of roots in Swedish royalty.
  • Katey Sagal, who was Peg Bundy on "Married With Children" and more recently, Gemma on "Sons of Anarchy." She'll explore her family's Amish roots.
  • Aisha Tyler, from "The Talk" and "Criminal Minds," rediscovers the story of her second-great-grandfather and learns she has a prominent ancestor who tried to hide a son born out of wedlock.
Firsts for the upcoming season include travel to Portugal, Sweden and Ellis Island (it's hard to believe the show hasn't taken us there yet), as well as a witch hunt involving a male ancestor. is once again sponsoring "Who Do You think You Are?" and providing research for each celebrity.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Thursday, 03 March 2016 15:27:03 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 17 February 2016
"Finding Your Roots" Reveals Family Tree Surprises for LL Cool J & Sean Combs
Posted by Diane

This week's episode of "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." showed the power of genetic genealogy in revealing answers about family history.

Gates revealed the family histories of two African-American hip-hop artists, LL Cool J (whose real name is James Todd Smith) and Sean John "P. Diddy" Combs. The genetic genealogy surprises came in LL Cool J's family tree.

(Spoilers ahead if you haven't watched yet!)

LL Cool J's mother, Ondrea, ended up genetically matching a woman whose last name didn't show up anywhere in the family tree. The amount of shared DNA indicated a first cousin relationship. Researchers tested Ondrea's cousins on both sides of her family and found no first cousin relationship.

Ondrea's parents Ellen Hightower and Eugene Smith—the loving grandparents who helped raise LL Cool J—weren't her biological parents. Gates delivered this news in a private phone call that wasn't part of the show.

The match's nieces also took DNA tests, and one shared enough DNA with Ondrea to be half-sibling. So researchers knew the name of her biological father: Nathaniel Christie Lewis, a professional boxer in the 1930s. But there was no Ondrea Lewis in New York City birth records.

Ondrea's birth certificate didn't name any parents, and it was issued a year after her birth, but it did contain the number of her original birth record. Back in New York City's birth register, that certificate number belonged to an Ondra Jolly, born to a woman named Ethel Mae Jolly.

If you've tested your DNA and you're ready to use your results to explore your genealogy, get the guidance you need in Family Tree University's Genetic Genealogy 201 online course, starting Feb. 2.

Although all the research was condensed into a single episode, genetic genealogist CeCe Moore said on Facebook that her part alone took hundreds of hours of work to sort out the DNA evidence. Moore also shared an interview Gates gave about LL Cool J's family tree.

In Combs' family tree, the show's research team discovered a long line of free black ancestors in Maryland, which Gates said is extremely unusual for an African-American. One man, who was captured and accused of being a runaway slave, later volunteered for the US Colored Troops in the Civil War (see our tips on researching US Colored Troops soldiers here).

Watch this episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 17 February 2016 10:48:42 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 10 February 2016
How Did "Finding Your Roots" Find the Military Ancestry of John McCain, Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette?
Posted by Diane

This week's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." focused on military service in the ancestry of Sen. John McCain and actors Julianne Moore and Patricia Arquette. (And it just so happens that our military records webinar is next week—I'll tell you more about that in a minute.)
  • McCain followed the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals in the Navy. Researchers discovered that McCain's Confederate second-great-grandfather William Alexander McCane served under the brutal Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, deserted, was captured by the Union, and was imprisoned in the notorious Irving Block Prison in Memphis. Gates pointed out the similarities to McCain's own horrific experience as a POW in Vietnam.
  • Moore (whose real name is Julie Anne Smith), grew up in what she described as a "peripatetic" military family. Her ancestor Peter M. Smith fought in the Mexican War, and was among the troops who successfully stormed  Chapultepec Castle Sept. 13, 1847.
  • Arquette was surprised to learn she had a Civil War ancestor, one of the "Hundred Days Men" who enlisted for short periods to serve as guards and laborers, freeing up more-experienced soldiers for combat duty. Her sixth- and seventh-great-grandfathers, respectively, served in the American Revolution and the French and Indian War.
The episode didn't go deeply into the historical records that provided the information, but we did get a glimpse of a Civil War muster roll for Pvt. McCane.

The basic record type for learning about your ancestor's military service from the Revolutionary War up through the Philippine Insurrection is the Compiled Military Service Record, or CMSR. According to professional genealogist Shelley K. Bishop, author of a service records guide in the upcoming May/June 2016 Family Tree Magazine, the War Department created CMSRs for enlisted men to facilitate processing later military pension applications.

A CMSR consists of a jacket with cards that summarize information from muster rolls, hospital rolls, prison records, payment vouchers and more.

Depending on the war, you might find indexes to CMSRs and/or digitized CMSRs on genealogy websites such as and Fold3. CMSRs that aren't imaged online might be available on microfilm, or you might need to order copies from the National Archives.

From there, you can look for military pension applications, regimental histories, state adjutant general records, battlefield maps and other records.

Shelley's article will help you find CMSRs, and even before that issue comes out, learn how to research several types of military records in our Feb. 25 webinar How to Find Ancestor Military Records (see more details about it and register in

You can watch the full military heritage episode of "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr." on the PBS website.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Military records | Webinars
Wednesday, 10 February 2016 10:51:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, 27 January 2016
"Finding Your Roots": Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and Bill Hader
Posted by Diane

The family trees of three funny men were the focus of this week's "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.": "Saturday Night Live" cast member Bill Hader, late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel, and television writer and actor Norman Lear (who's going strong at age 90).

Gates' contrasted each guest's humorous outlook with the sadness in his family tree. Here are the highlights (or maybe I should say lowlights):
  • Jimmy Kimmel: Usually the show waits until the end to get into DNA, but Your Genetic Genealogist blogger Cece Moore appeared early on to explain how DNA testing could reveal whether Kimmel's great-grandfather Frank Kimmel was the biological child of German immigrants Christian Kümmel and Teresa Stockhausen. They were married six years after Frank was born and their obituaries don't acknowledge him. Moore compared the autosomal DNA of a known Stockhausen descendant, a known descendant of both Teresa and Frank, and Jimmy Kimmel's father. Results showed Frank was the child of Christian and another woman. Researchers weren't able to learn why he was estranged from his parents.
Kimmel's mother's family immigrated from Southern Italy and settled on New York City's crowded Lower East Side of  (home to the wonderful Tenement Museum). His great-grandfather Vincenzo's brother and father died in an earthquake on the island of Ischia in 1883. Vincenzo immigrated in 1903, then sent for his wife and children nine months later.
  • Bill Hader: Hader's German-American great-great-grandfather served in World War I in France, where he wasn't seeing any action. He left his unit for the front lines, perhaps trying to prove his patriotism in the face of anti-German sentiment from home. Gates spent most of his time on Hader's mother's line, in which an ancestor from the conflict-filled border state of Missouri chose to enlist for the Union. His military pension record claimed he was going deaf as a result of "nasal catarrh" (a cold) contracted during the war. (Here's our guide to finding your ancestors' military pension records, and Antiquus Morbus is my favorite site for looking up archaic medical terms and causes of death.)

    The show's researchers traced Hader's mom's family to Revolutionary War soldier and slaveowner William Simms in Virginia, an indentured servant in Colonial Maryland, and all the way back to Charlemagne (a heritage that's not all that unusual, according to this article).
  • Norman Lear: Norman Lear's story had the most sadness to me, from his childhood spent partly without his father (who served prison time for a get-rich-quick scheme during the Great Depression) to his Jewish ancestors' impoverished, persecuted existence in Russia's Pale of Settlement. A series of pogroms there in the late 1800s and early 1900s prompted his family to emigrate to the United States. On his maternal side, Lear's grandfather left first, and sent for his grandmother ("Bubbe") and then-6-year-old mother in 1905. 
Lear's paternal great-grandfather died in the United States in 1902, and his tombstone inscription said he was a Levite, a descendant of the tribe of Levi. His DNA shows he indeed carries the genetic signature found among Levites.
You can watch the full episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

Genealogy TV | Italian roots | Jewish roots | Military records
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 15:36:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 20 January 2016
"Finding Your Roots": Maya Rudolph, Shonda Rhimes and Keenan Ivory Wayans
Posted by Diane

Season 3, episode 3 of Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr. shared the family trees of actor Maya Rudolph, television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes (the force behind "Grey's Anatomy") and comedian Keenan Ivory Wayans.

These highlights and takeaways that stood out to me:
  • Maya Rudolph, whose father is Jewish and mother was African-American, described herself as feeling “rootless.” It turns out her family has deep roots in Vilna, then in the Russian Pale of Settlement and now in Lithuania, where vital records document her line back to her fifth-great-grandfather. That search was possible because her great-grandfather Julius Rudolph’s US naturalization records gave his original name, Judal Rudashevsky.
Researchers traced her mother’s family to enslaved third-great-grandparents in the early 1800s (using a strategy described in previous posts: looking for white slaveowning families with the same surname and living near the enslaved person). The owner's will freed his slaves, but his descendants continued to exploit the freedmen and ignore labor contracts. The slaves sued in court and, surprisingly, won.
Rudolph’s DNA revealed ancient Asian heritage. Rare for African-Americans, it comes from Indonesians who migrated to the island of Madagascar, the origin of a small percentage of slaves. Despite family rumors that her grandfather was part American Indian, her DNA showed no Indian ancestry.
  • Shonda Rhimes’ Chicago family was part of the 20th century African-American Great Migration to northern cities (you’ll find our research guide to this Great Migration in the January/February 2016 Family Tree Magazine). Around 1910, her great-grandparents escaped the impoverished, segregated Mississippi Delta, where white landowners often would use intimidation to keep their sharecroppers from leaving. A deed record in Arkansas showed they had managed to save enough money to purchase their own land there by 1918.
  • Keenan Ivory Wayans' family in South Carolina could be traced back to his enslaved great-great-grandfather Marion Brock and his mother, Millie Martin. Searching nearby for Brock or Martin slaveowners, researchers found his family listed in a white man’s estate record. Just seven years after Emancipation, Marion Brock was able to buy 105 acres of land.
In another branch, his third-great-grandfather Ben Pleasant was the enslaved personal servant of a man who served as governor of South Carolina from 1852 to 1854. During a trip to Canada, abolitionists kidnapped Ben, who chose to return home to slavery. Wayans pointed out that while many want to think of their slave ancestors as willing to give up anything for freedom, Ben chose to be with his family. I think a lot of us can identify with the desire to see our ancestors as doing what we consider to be the right thing according to today's values.  
Interestingly, Wayans' DNA test showed he also has Asian genetic heritage, with African ancestors in Madagascar.
Read more about this "Finding Your Roots" episode on The Root and watch the full episode on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Jewish roots
Wednesday, 20 January 2016 11:49:54 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 06 January 2016
"Finding Your Roots" Season Premiere Focuses on Enslaved Ancestors
Posted by Diane

Did you see the season premiere of "Finding Your Roots" last night on PBS?  What did you think?

The episode focused on the role of slavery in the family trees of Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist (above, left); Kara Walker, an artist whose sometimes-provocative work centers on slavery and African-American identity (right); and Ty Burrell, an actor best known as Phil Dunphy on the show "Modern Family" (center).

Burrell recalls a family story about having black roots, and the show's researchers did find out that his enslaved fourth-great-grandmother was raped at age 13 by her 33-year-old slaveowner, Dudley Mask. Her child Nellie, Burrell's third-great grandmother, carried the surname of her father. The story was in a family history written by Mask descendants, and DNA testing proved Burrell's relationship to the family.

Brazile learned the origin of her surname: Researchers linked her ancestor Della Braswell, born in 1843, to a slaveowning family of the same name. That family descended from Robert Bracewell, who was born in England in 1611 and immigrated to the American Colonies. 

Kara Walker had family rumors of white ancestry. The average African-American is nearly a quarter European, Gates said on the show. Walker's great-grandfather James Thorpe, born in 1881 in Aiken, SC, had a black mother and a white father—who in 1900 resided with his white family a few blocks from James and his mother. Records suggested that the father helped his son financially.

In each family tree, researchers identified slaveowners by locating the former slave's place of residence, then searching the census for white families with the same surname in the same county. This strategy is based on the fact that many (but not all) slaves took the surname of the most recent slaveowner, and after slavery, often (but not always) settled near their former homes.

Researching the white families' probate records (which document the transfer of property when a slaveowner has died) or 1860 slave schedule can provide confirmation it's the right owner. You can read more about how to follow this method of researching enslave ancestors in our Slave Ancestors Research Guide.

I also find it fascinating how families ended up where they did. Burrell grew up in a small town in Oregon, where Nellie Mask's daughter Susannah Weeks applied for land under the Homestead Act of 1862. Brazile's great-great-grandfather was born into slavery in Louisiana and died there at age 92, alone and impoverished, in the 1930s. Brazile was raised in Jefferson Parish, La.

You can watch the full "Finding Your Roots" episode on the show's website. It airs Tuesdays at 8 pm Eastern on PBS.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 12:18:35 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 19 October 2015
"Finding Your Roots" Season 3 to Premiere Jan. 5 on PBS
Posted by Diane

There's finally a premiere date for the third season of PBS' "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.": Jan. 5, 2016. The show has been on hiatus after an internal review concluded that actor Ben Affleck had "improper influence" over producers' decision to omit a reference to Affleck's slaveowning ancestor in the episode featuring his family history.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the show added an additional researcher/fact-checker, another genealogist and an expert in genetic genealogy. Producers also instituted a more-rigorous process of obtaining releases from the celebrity guests whose ancestries are featured.

The lineup will include television producer Shonda Rhimes (whose shows include "Grey's Anatomy") and actors Neil Patrick Harris (of "How I Met Your Mother") and Juliana Margulies (of "The Good Wife").

The Hollywood Reporter also states "Genealogy Roadshow" will return May 17. Read the full article here.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Monday, 19 October 2015 14:33:17 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 26 June 2015
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Returns for a Summer 2015 Season
Posted by Diane

This is a nice surprise: "Who Do You Think You Are?" is returning for a summer season on TLC starting Sunday, July 26 at 9/8 central. Famous folks whose ancestries we'll learn about include:
  • Tom Bergeron, host of "Dancing With the Stars" and "America's Funniest Home Videos." He'll go all the way back to his 10th-great-grandmother and his family's migration to North America.
  • Bryan Cranston, the actor who played the dad on "Malcolm in the Middle" and is Walter White on "Breaking Bad." Update: TLC's original announcement hinted at Cranston's discovery of an "unfortunate pattern amongst the men" in his family, but the show's publicist sent an update that the episode will focus on the actor's Civil War roots.
  • Ginnifer Goodwin, Mary Margaret/Snow White on "Once Upon a Time." She learns more about her paternal great-grandparents, whom her father doesn't know much about.
  • Alfre Woodard, television actor in "The Last Ship" and "State of Affairs" and film actor in 12 Years a Slave. She follows her paternal side and explores where her surname came from. She's also the first African-American on the series in a few seasons—I think since Jerome Betis in 2012, when the show was still on NBC.
Shed Media and Is or Isn't Entertainment produce "Who Do You Think You Are?" for TLC, and sponsor provides research on the celebrity guests' ancestors. (You'll learn the "Who Do You Think You Are?" genealogy researchers' secrets in Family Tree Magazine's upcoming Summer 2015 Discover Your Roots guide—I'll share the link as soon as the guide becomes available in

The next season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" starts July 26. You can watch clips from past seasons on the show's website.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Friday, 26 June 2015 09:39:45 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Thursday, 25 June 2015
PBS Postpones "Finding Your Roots" Due to Ben Affleck's "Improper" Influence
Posted by Diane

PBS has decided to postpone future seasons of the Henry Louis Gates documentary genealogy series "Finding Your Roots" after determining that celebrity guest Ben Affleck improperly influenced producers to leave out a reference to his slave-owning ancestors. PBS also concluded that Gates should have informed the network "of Mr. Affleck’s efforts to affect program content."

The network wants producers to hire another fact-checker and independent genealogist before airing the third season, and won't commit to a fourth season "until we are satisfied that the editorial standards of the series have been successfully raised to a level in which we can have confidence." The episode profiling Affleck's ancestry will no longer be distributed.

The 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment uncovered emails between Gates and Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, made public in April,  in which the two discussed Affleck's request to remove a segment mentioning that his ancestors were slave owners.

Both "Finding Your Roots" and TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" have identified slave owning ancestors of other celebrities.

PBS launched an internal review after the emails were made public. Gates said that producers decided to omit Affleck's slave ancestors after determining that other relatives were more interesting. Affleck posted on Facebook that he was embarrassed by his family's slave-owning past, but that Gates ultimately determined the episode's content. (The show also said Affleck's mother was a Freedom Rider in 1964 during the Civil Rights movement, a claim she has said isn't true.)

The episode was the subject of much discussion in the genealogy community and beyond, raising issues including America's ability to deal with its slaveholding past, the editorial integrity of Gates' research team and the veracity of historical documentaries and reality series in general.

This New York Times article has a good overview of the events. This Variety article has more details on the internal review.

Genealogy TV
Thursday, 25 June 2015 09:56:53 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Friday, 27 February 2015
Genealogy News Corral: Feb. 23-27
Posted by Diane

  • Subscription site Findmypast added several new UK, Irish and Australian record collections for Findmypast Friday, including 1832 cholera victims, British Trade Union membership registers,  Irish newspapers, New South Wales cemetery transcriptions and more. Read more about the updated databases on the Findmypast Fridays home page.

FamilySearch | findmypast | Genealogy Events | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 27 February 2015 15:41:26 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 18 February 2015
"Genealogy Roadshow" Episode 6 Investigates Family Mysteries in Philadelphia
Posted by Diane

Last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" visited the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. This was the last regular episode this season, but it looks like next week, we'll see a "Best of Genealogy Roadshow" season finale with highlights from both seasons.

The stories, along with genealogy tips and resources gleaned from them, included:
  • A Methodist minister had heard that her ancestor was a horse thief and counterfeiter who'd given his spoils away, Robin Hood-style. Kenyatta Berry revealed that the great-grandfather, Ed Harmon, was indeed part of "Boss" Buck's gang of horse thieves in an area known as the Pennsylvania Wilds. Newspapers and court records recounted how gang members were arrested for trying to sell counterfeit money. There was no evidence, though, that the gang gave away their money, but Berry said later records did indicate that Harmon managed to become a law-abiding citizen.
  • Mary Tedesco helped a family get to the bottom of the story about a great-grandfather, Charley Flynn, who'd gone missing. Tedesco noted that the show's researchers were suspicious when they discovered the July 18, 1929, date of birth for Flynn's younger son was the same date Flynn's wife gave as her husband's death date. They found no evidence he died that day or even that year—but they did find a 1989 obituary with a matching name and other details. Charley appears to have simply left his wife in 1929, and later married another woman.
  • A young lady with her aunt and uncle brought a family story that their relative had started the world's longest-burning fire. It turned out that her great-great-grandfather, a miner, had been involved in a long, contentious strike in Ohio. A small group miners set the New Straitsville mine on fire, not expecting it to be burning more than 100 years later. The only person to admit his involvement never named his accomplices.
  • A woman with a family story about a seafaring ancestor found out her third-great-grandfather John Griffis was indeed the captain of a merchant ship, who was authorized by Congress to act as a privateer during the Quasi-war with France from 1798 to 1800. His ship's arrivals and departures were reported in newspapers, helping Roadshow researchers trace his whereabouts.
  • An African-American family had a story that a formerly enslaved ancestor, Orin Fulp, was fathered by a slaveowner. Berry traced him back in census records, comparing his 1910 listing as "mulatto" to his 1880 listing as "black." She pointed out that former slaves didn't always take the last name of their owner, but in this case, post-slavery census records show Orin farming on land he'd purchased near other Fulp families, white and black. (Use our guide in the January/February 2015 Family Tree Magazine to trace enslaved African-American ancestors.) No paper records provide a conclusive link, but a DNA test showed a match between the guest and a white family, suggesting her family story is true.

You can watch the Feb. 17 episode of "Genealogy Roadshow" on the PBS website.

I almost forgot: You can apply online to have your family mystery investigated on next season's "Genealogy Roadshow."

African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Jewish roots
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 12:39:24 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 21 January 2015
Pros Share Family Research Tips in "Genealogy Roadshow: St. Louis"
Posted by Diane

I was excited to see that last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" was in St. Louis, my old college stomping grounds (wish I knew at the time that a couple of my Depenbrock relatives had moved there). I recognized the St. Louis Public Library, where filming took place, and the downtown area, and of course the iconic Gateway Arch.

If you have ancestors there, here are the St. Louis library's online genealogy resources, and you might want our St. Louis genealogy research guide.

In telling the show's guests more about their family mysteries, hosts D. Joshua Taylor, Mary Tedesco and Kenyatta Berry revealed several genealogy research tips:
  • Always look at page two of the passenger list. Page two helped Tedesco elaborate upon the first guest's family legend about her great-grandmother, who supposedly immigrated as a mail-order bride but spurned the intended groom when she arrived and ran off with another man.

    Later passenger lists span two pages side-by-side, and when you search them online, you initially see the left-hand page listing the names. Use the arrows in the site's image viewer to flip to the second page, which contains details such as who paid the person's passage (in this case, the great-grandmother's brother), the name of a relative back at home, and the final US destination.
  • Even when a family legend isn't accurate, it came from somewhere. When you're trying to determine if the story is plausible, look for relatives in the right place and time. In researching a young woman's fabled relationship to Blackbeard, Taylor traced her tree back and found relatives along the Carolina coast involved in seafaring trades in the early 1700s. (Although he didn't find a relationship, the relatives' presence in the right places and time means they could've had some encounter or other connection to the pirate.)
  • Relatives often stuck together. A little girl and her mother found out from a great-uncle's obituary that a great-great-grandmother's maiden name was Ingalls. How cool would it be to be related to Laura Ingalls Wilder? Berry used censuses and land records to trace the great-grandmother's line to a James L. Ingalls, who filed a land claim in South Dakota two years before Laura Ingalls Wilder's family arrived there. Earlier, James L. lived in Iowa not far from Lansford Ingalls, whose son Charles was the famous author's father. Although she didn't find records showing a relationship, Berry said the circumstantial evidence points to one. 

As we saw in this segment, it's common to refer to any long-ago family member as an ancestor, but technically, only people you descend from—parents, grandparents, great-grandparents—are ancestors, so Laura Ingalls Wilder would be the little girl's relative.

  • Family research is full of surprises, and you can't assume based on a person's appearance. A woman, who appeared to be of European descent and had identified as such her entire life, discovered a census reference to her mysterious grandfather as "colored," and a then similar notation on her mother's birth certificate. Her mother, who had died recently when the show was filmed, and who also appeared Caucasian, had wanted her secret kept until her death. Berry showed the woman additional census records indicating the mother and grandfather had African heritage. She explained how "passing" for white meant cutting off ties with one's African-American roots—but it also could make life easier during that time. What an awful choice to have to make.
Watch the full "Genealogy Roadshow" in St. Louis espisode online here.

Learn Taylor's expert research strategies for investigating family mysteries in our on-demand webinar 10 Essential Tricks from Genealogy Roadshow, available in

Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Wednesday, 21 January 2015 12:20:41 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 14 January 2015
"Genealogy Roadshow" Season 2 Premiere Investigates Family Mysteries in New Orleans
Posted by Diane

Last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" season premiere was filmed in New Orleans inside the Cabildo, the seat of government under Spanish rule. It's now part of the Louisiana State Museum, and I was lucky enough to visit there several years back.

Filming this season took place as part of a family history fair in each location (above). Being in the Cabildo added to the sense of place, as did an aside in a New Orleans cemetery that demonstrated how much you can learn from a tombstone.

The show shed light on about eight family mysteries from local residents, including:
  • My favorite segment was the first, in which two young women, sisters, asked about their family home. From the photo, it looked like a shotgun-style house.
Host D. Joshua Taylor traced the family in censuses, and discovered from the 1890 veterans schedule that the sisters' third-great-grandfather, Baptiste Eugene, fought for the US Colored Troops in the Civil War. A pension based on his service allowed his widow, Adele, to purchase the house after his death in 1891.
Adele's pension application was a gold mine, stating how she had been born free, to a mother whose slaveowner, from Virginia, had freed his slaves upon his death. Adele named her mother and her father, a white man.
(If you're tracing enslaved African-American ancestors, check out the guide in the January/February 2015 Family Tree Magazine.)
  • Mary Tedesco, a new host this season, told a family of their colorful ancestor Charles A. Montalde, who didn't really die in the Klondike, as the family thought. Instead, he bounced around from New Orleans to Sacramento, Calif., to Albuquerque, NM, to Reno, Nev., making business deals and likely living as a bigamist.
  • Another particularly interesting story was from a guest whose family legend told of her great-uncle's murder. Taylor showed newspaper articles about the case, used marriage announcements to figure out whose wedding the uncle had been to that night, and used census records to show the relationships among those involved and the proximity of their homes.
He pointed out how in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, women reported how many children they'd given birth to and how many were still living, helping you see when someone's missing from the household.
The new season brought another welcome change besides a third host: The emcee, whose role reminded me of the court reporter on "People's Court" and didn't seem to add much to the series, is gone. The storytelling pace also seemed to slow down a bit, making the history easier to follow.

"Genealogy Roadshow" airs through Feb. 17 on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on most PBS stations. If you missed last night's episode, it's available for purchase on iTunes (and it's free on the PBS website—thanks to GeneaBloggers for the tip).

African-American roots | census records | Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:17:40 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 12 December 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Reveals Genealogical Secrets in Guests' DNA
Posted by Diane

The final episode of "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.," which aired a couple of weeks ago (I'm just now blogging about it thanks to holiday busy-ness), features actor Jessica Alba, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Gates himself.

It also focused on the genetic ancestry of these and previous guests, with analysis from genetic genealogy consultant and Your Genetic Genealogist blogger CeCe Moore.

If you're considering DNA testing, or you've tested and you're not sure how to use your results, this episode can give you an idea of the possibilities. I'll include the highlights here, but watch the episode (soon—the video expires Dec. 26) and read Moore's post on the show's blog for more details, including information that had to be cut or simplified for the show.

(You also should consider taking the next session of our Family Tree University Genetic Genealogy 101 course, starting Jan. 12 and instructed by The Genetic Genealogist blogger Blaine Bettinger.)
  • Jessica Alba: Gates commented that Alba's ancestral breakdown was one of the most diverse he'd ever seen, with British, Iberian (where her Mexican heritage comes in), Italian and French-German. Her Mexican family is among the two-thirds of Mexicans of Mestizo heritage, with a combination of European and native roots.

    Alba's father's test revealed he has Native American (including Mayan), Jewish, Italian and Middle Eastern ancestry, suggesting Sephardic Jewish roots. Genealogical research shows that his mother's line includes fourth-great-grandmother Carmen Carillo. His mitochondrial DNA matches who had Carmen in their tree also had confirmed Sephardic Jewish ancestry, suggesting that she's the link to Alba's Sephardic roots. 
  • Gates: Gates was able to solve one of his own genealogy brick walls with genetic genealogy testing. Although DNA shows that more than half of his ancestors were white, he had never been able to identify them by name. Moore noted that a Mayle family repeatedly occurred in his genetic matches, with many of the matches' lines going back to a Wilmore Mayle, a white man.
Genealogical research, much of it by Gates' newfound cousin, Alexandra, revealed that Wilmore Mayle, born in England, emancipated a slave, Nancy, in 1826, with the condition that she remain with him "in the quality of [his] wife." After that, Mayle appears variously in records as white, free black, and mulatto. The family settled in an isolated area of what's now West Virginia with other mixed-race families. On the show, Gates joins a gathering of Mayle relatives. 
  • Deval Patrick: Patrick's DNA revealed he's nearly 40 percent European, with all of his Y-DNA ancestors originating in Europe. Genealogical records for another line showed that Patrick's African-American great-great-grandmother Emily Wintersmith and her son purchased a farm from a white man, Dr. Harvey Slaughter, for a very small sum. In analyzing Deval Patrick's autosomal DNA, Moore observed that one of his matches is a woman descended from a Capt. George Gray, the brother of Harvey Slaughter's mother. This suggests that Harvey Slaughter is Patrick's great-great-grandfather.
Other interesting genetic genealogy-related tidbits in this episode:
  • Gates put to rest rumors of Native American ancestry in the family trees of Billie Jean King, Anna Deveare Smith and Benjamin Jealous. Those whose American Indian heritage rumors did have merit include Anderson Cooper (who, to oversimplify it, has Chilean DNA on his 21st chromosome—see Moore's blog post for the details) and Valerie Jarrett (whose DNA corroborated her 7th-great-grandmother's baptismal record suggesting that her mother was Algonquin).
  • The average African-American today is a quarter European.
  • Humans are genetically 99.9 percent identical. The part of our DNA that makes us different "races" is  miniscule.
  • Jessica Alba is related to Alan Dershowitz, who appeared on a previous episode; and Tony Kushner and Carole King also are related.
Moore's post reports that production for next season is already underway, with Jimmy Kimmel, John McCain, Sandra Cisneros and Soledad O'Brien so far. (All I want for Christmas is to be on that list!) 

You can watch the full episode online before Dec. 26 on the 'Finding Your Roots" website.

Visit the genetic genealogy section of for guides such as our Using DNA to Solve Family Mysteries webinar and our DNA Success Stories download.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Friday, 12 December 2014 10:59:32 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, 09 December 2014
"Genealogy Roadshow" Season Two Premieres Next Month
Posted by Diane

Mark your calendar for Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. ET: That's when family history TV series "Genealogy Roadshow" returns to PBS for its second season, producers announced today.

The show, part "Antiques Roadshow" and part "History Detectives," has genealogy experts Kenyatta D. BerryD. Joshua Taylor and Mary Tedesco explore guests' family history mysteries and legends. It's shot in talk show format: We see an introduction to the guest, then the guest sits down with the expert and the expert reveals the truth behind the family story. A live audience (composed of both family history enthusiasts and hired extras) looks on.

Shooting locations and highlights for the six episodes in season two are:
  • Jan 13, New Orleans: A couple with ancestry in the same small Italian town explore whether they're related, a woman wants to find out who committed a murder in her family’s past, a home held in one family for more than a century has a fascinating story, and a woman discovers her ancestor's journey from slavery to freedom.
  • Jan 20, St. Louis: A woman discovers her mother's life-changing secret, a woman finds out if she's descended from the pirate Blackbeard, a mother and daughter want to know if they're related to a famous author, and a young man seeks connection to the Mali tribe of Africa
  • Jan. 27, Philadelphia: A man learns about the historic event that drove his family to Phildelphia, another may be a Viking descendant, a family wants to know its involvement with one of history’s biggest scams, a man hopes to confirm his link to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and two sisters learn their ancestors were part of the great Irish migration
  • Feb. 3, New Orleans: A local man wants to recover history washed away in Hurricane Katrina, a woman discovers connections to both sides of the Civil War, another unravels the mystery behind her grandfather’s adoption, and a man explores a link to New Orleans Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau
  • Feb. 10, St. Louis: A musician hopes to find family connections to a famous St. Louis jazz composer, two sisters find out if they're related links to a survivor of the Donner party disaster, and an Italian-American woman learns whether she's related to Italian royalty
  • Feb. 17, Philadelphia: One woman’s ancestor may have inspired labor laws, a pastor may have an outlaw in her family tree, DNA testing helps a woman find answers about slavery in her family, and another woman learns her ancestor may have helped people escape the Holocaust
You can see photos from each filming event, which also included a family history fair with vendors, on the show's website. Guests were cast earlier this year, after a call for genealogists to submit their family mysteries.

Taylor reveals the research strategies experts used to unravel family mysteries during season one in our on-demand webinar, 11 Essential Research Tricks from Genealogy Roadshow. It's available in

Genealogy TV
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 16:58:09 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 19 November 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 Revolution.

    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 Greek heritage.
  • 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.
  • 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 unknown.
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.

If you're researching Greek ancestors, let our downloadable Greek Genealogy guide lead you to records, websites and resources. It's available in

You 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, 19 November 2014 12:58:03 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 12 November 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.

    Chopra's family 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 FamilySearch accounts.
  • 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 loss. You 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.
Watch 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, 12 November 2014 10:37:40 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 05 November 2014
"Finding Your Roots" Focuses on Jewish Genealogy
Posted by Diane

"Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." this week focused on Jewish ancestry, and the family trees of attorney and author Alan Dershowitz, singer/songwriter Carole 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 there in 1905, which the shows researchers found documented in local newspaper articles prompted many, including Sarah, to leave. She immigrated under the name Scheine Besmogin.
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 more on how historians know Ellis Island officials didn't change immigrants' names).
Gates' team also found marriage records in a Russian archive that helped document King's 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 great-uncle arrived to join his brothers in the United States, just before Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Another newspaper published an account of a massacre of 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 of websites and resources for tracing Jewish roots on, and several Jewish genealogy guides in

Watch the full episode of Finding Your Roots online here.

Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 16:37:47 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 29 October 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 family.

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.
  • 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.
Watch the full episode featuring Nas, Angela Bassett and Valerie Bowman Jarrett, on the "Finding Your Roots" website.

You'll find our Jump Start Your African-American Genealogy Value Pack and other African-American genealogy books, videos and downloads in

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 29 October 2014 15:47:53 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, 22 October 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
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.
You can watch this episode of "Finding Your Roots" online, at the show's website.

Asian roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Hispanic Roots | Italian roots
Wednesday, 22 October 2014 10:36:08 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 15 October 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 rapidly thinning.

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 and Fold3. 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

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 originates.
  • 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 percent African.
You 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, 15 October 2014 10:49:04 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 10 October 2014
Genealogy News Corral: Oct. 6-10
Posted by Diane

  • A genealogist has started the 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 You can read more in the announcement here.
  • For all you UK genealogists: 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 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. | FamilySearch | Genealogy TV | Libraries and Archives | NARA | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 10 October 2014 14:09:16 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
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.

You 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, 10 October 2014 11:03:22 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 08 October 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 Cooper, Ken 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.

You 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.    
  • 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 Railroad.

    Finally, Smith's DNA results showed she shares maternal ancestry with the Igbo people in what's now Nigeria.
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.  

You can watch the full "Finding Your Roots" season 2, episode 3 online.

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 08 October 2014 11:22:09 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, 01 October 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 descendants' success.

Derek Jeter
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 relationship.

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 Englishman.

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 Seminole Indians.

Rebecca Lobo
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 breaks.  

You can watch the full "Finding Your Roots" episode with Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King and Rebecca Lobo online.

Here, 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 grandfather.

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Genetic Genealogy
Wednesday, 01 October 2014 10:50:54 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Find Ancestors' Old Birth, Marriage & Death Records FREE on 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." ( is a sponsor.)

You'll need to sign up for a free account with (or log into the account you already have) in order to see the details of your search results.

Start searching the birth, marriage and death records on this 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.).

Tonight's "Finding Your Roots" features athletes Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King and Rebecca Lobo. The show airs at 8/7 Central on PBS, and you can watch a short preview here. | Celebrity Roots | Free Databases | Genealogy TV | Vital Records
Tuesday, 30 September 2014 10:30:28 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 24 September 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 underneath you."

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 young man.
  • King was surprised to learn he had Southern roots; his ancestors moved North and served for the Union during the Civil War.
  • 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.
  • 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 Using DNA to Solve Family Mysteries webinar.
The 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.

African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | Genetic Genealogy
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 10:58:05 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 12 September 2014
Genealogy News Corral: Sept. 8-12
Posted by Diane

  • Subscription site  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 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. | Celebrity Roots | findmypast | Genealogy books | Genealogy TV | Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, 12 September 2014 10:01:57 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 27 August 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, 27 August 2014 15:06:45 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, 21 July 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. 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, 21 July 2014 10:38:23 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
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 research firm.

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 each site.

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:
  • St. Louis: Aug. 23 and 24
  • New Orleans: Sept. 6 and 7
  • Philadelphia: Sept. 13 and 14
The announcement instructs interested "Genealogy Roadshow" filming event exhibitors to contact a Lisa Hope.

Genealogy TV
Monday, 21 July 2014 10:01:31 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, 20 June 2014
Genealogy News Corral: June 16-20
Posted by Diane

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 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 Park. Learn 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, 20 June 2014 11:08:18 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 04 June 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 of "Who 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:
  • 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
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.

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 and others.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 14:20:39 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, 16 May 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 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

Celebrity Roots | Civil War | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Friday, 16 May 2014 10:38:56 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 23 October 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 "Genealogy Roadshow":
  • 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 disprove.
  • 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.
  • 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.
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 now!

Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Wednesday, 23 October 2013 12:50:06 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 16 October 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 discover.

"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 your hands:
  • Family stories. They aren't always true, as we've seen on "Genealogy Roadshow," but there's often a grain of truth behind the stories.

  • 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 institution.)

    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 case.
Our Research Strategies: Criminal Records download helps you track down court, prison and other records of ancestors who strayed to the wrong side of the law.

The Using 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 records.

Watch this week's "Genealogy Roadshow" online here.

court records | Genealogy TV | Newspapers
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 12:58:21 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, 11 October 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, 11 October 2013 09:19:11 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 08 October 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 application.

Genealogy TV
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 16:08:36 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
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 the rush. 

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).

The immigration 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 sons" through 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 the time.

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 Foundation website.

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 the August 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, 08 October 2013 15:59:14 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, 01 October 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 line. 

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 enough.

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 screen.

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 experience are
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, 01 October 2013 14:34:56 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, 24 September 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 claims.

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 Revolution.

Here, 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.
  • 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.
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.

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 Elusive Ancestors.

African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Tuesday, 24 September 2013 12:04:03 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Wednesday, 18 September 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, Texas.

Genealogy TV
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 16:31:39 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, 11 September 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 eight.

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, 11 September 2013 10:59:26 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, 28 August 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 Crawford's 41st-great-grandfather.

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.)

This 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, 28 August 2013 10:25:34 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Tuesday, 27 August 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 last week.

  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.

The experts 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

(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 same name.

Genealogy TV | Videos
Tuesday, 27 August 2013 15:05:13 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]