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Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Interview With "Who Do You Think You Are?" Producer Dan Bucatinsky
Posted by Diane
I had the chance recently to interview Dan Bucatinsky, coproducer (with Lisa Kudrow) of TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Is or Isn't Entertainment
We talked about why the show researches celebrities instead of average-Joe genealogists, how casting and filming happen, and his wish list. My questions were inspired by comments we've heard from many of you on social media, by my own impressions of the show, and by the conversation.
You can listen to the whole thing by clicking here, and/or you can read the synopsis below. If you listen, know a few things first:
- It's about a half hour, so get comfy.
- You can barely hear me ask my questions (stupid recording device) (it’s probably something I did), but Bucatinsky comes through loud and clear, so I don't think that harms what you can learn about the show. I hate my voice in recordings anyway.
- His kids run into the room about halfway through, which I thought was cute (much more so than when my kids do this to me).
- You can tell this was just after the Jesse Tyler Ferguson episode, because he talks about the upcoming shows with the McAdamses, Valerie Bertinelli and Kelsey Grammer. Yes, it took me awhile to get this together for you.
If you can’t listen, or you just want to know what you’re in for, here’s the gist:
Why profile just celebrities?
The comment/question we at Family Tree Magazine most often hear about "Who Do You Think You Are?" is "Why doesn't the show trace the roots of someone who isn't famous?" ("Like me?" is usually implied.) So I asked.
Basically, the explanation is what I thought it would be: In order to stay on TV, the show needs to attract a general audience—not just a genealogical one. To do that, it needs the celebrity "hook."
While the show certainly is meant to inspire, Bucatinsky says, "There is a reality about television ... in order to get the high volume of viewership on any network or any website, you need to find a very, very high level of public interest, one that crosses many circles of demographics."
"The casting process is extremely intense, and if we didn't have the well-known ‘tour guides,’ we would have probably a very difficult time getting people to engage, even though it doesn't mean the stories would be any less interesting. Even if you get maybe 100,000 people who are interested in genealogy, which is a big number, it's not a big number for television."
He said the producers’ ratings research bears out this statement: The higher the profile of the celebrity featured, the higher the ratings numbers.
How are the celebrities selected?
Casting the celebrity guests can be surprisingly difficult. In the first couple of years, Bucatinsky and Kudrow reached out to people they knew personally. Now that word is out in celebrity circles, stars' representatives tell producers they're willing to participate, and they go on a list.
"Any celebrity who has done the show has raved about their experience on it," Bucatinsky says.
But that’s not all: Although it’s hard to tell when research begins where an ancestral story will go, producers aim for variety. TLC gets a say, too. “One thing we do, when we have control over it, is try to create as much diversity as possible,” Bucatinsky says. “We'll try to see if the preliminary research makes the story feel like it will be diverse. We get approval from the network ... [the talent] has to coincide with what they know their viewership wants to see.”
The guest’s schedule also has to mesh with the show’s production schedule. “I can't even imagine another show that's as complicated to produce. The Rubik's cube of getting the talent approved, getting a story that actually feels like it's gonna break and be interesting enough to shoot, and getting a celebrity's schedule to tie in with our production schedule and the release dates is—I can't begin to tell you how complicated it is.”
How was the transition to TLC?
I also asked Bucatinsky about the show’s move from NBC to TLC before last season, and whether he feels it fits on a network that’s also home to shows like "Honey Boo Boo." (No offense to "Honey Boo Boo" fans out there—it's just a different kind of show from "Who Do You Think You Are?")
He thinks family history has a broad enough appeal that “Who Do You Think You Are?” is interesting to a range of audiences. "We certainly had our trepidation about 'hmm, I wonder if the audience for those shows is the same as our audience?' But there's no question there's a very wide audience for ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’”
He added that TLC has been supportive of the show, and hasn’t asked for changes in the formula.
What’s the most popular kind of story?
I’ve seen a lot of “types” of “Who Do You Think You Are?” episodes. Some focus on one ancestor; some cover two or more. Some stay in the United States; some globe-trot. I like stories that stick with one person, but others might think that slows the pace too much. I wondered which approach is most popular with viewers.
All of the above, Bucatinsky says. It’s the emotional connection that matters. "I feel like we've had really good success with stories where there's an emotional tie to the protagonist. Christina Applegate's episode last season was quite popular. It was partly because Christina herself has a wide audience, and partly because she was making the journey for her father, who never really knew his mother. And to come to so many amazing conclusions about his mother, and be able to bring her father to the gravesite of his mother—it’s hugely cathartic stuff. "
“I love an episode that really is emotional and bring insight into somebody's grandparents, who they remember as a kid but didn't know anything about," he adds. "And I also love the stories that take you back and you don't even realize that you had relatives that are part of the Mayflower or the Civil War or the Gold Rush—things you only learn about in history books, and the context makes it much more relevant.”
“It's some combination of the popularity of the celebrity and the strength of the story.” He also pointed out that how engaged the celebrity guest is plays a role.
Are the celebrity guests coached to do or say certain things?
Sometimes, I think, the celebrity seems to ask just the right question to segue into the surprise discovery—almost as if the person was told what to say. That's not the case, says Bucatinsky. "They may be prodded to find the information that we need them to find. We know that they need to hit a page of a particular document that they're wearing gloves to look at, so they will get guided to it, but the discovery itself is always organic and authentic. There's very little coaching in the moment.”
The celebrity doesn’t know what he’ll find or where he’s going next, but the archivists usually does. "Our archivist is someone who we've spoken to and found out information from ... they're there ready to meet our celebrity, and when the celebrity arrives, they will never have met before. ... Every bit of it that films our subject is filmed originally and in the order of the journey. It's not rehearsed. It's a documentary."
How long does it take to film an episode?
“A whole journey would be anywhere between 8 and 23 days, but that includes travel days,” Bucatinsky says. “We've had episodes that could probably have made really good two-hour episodes. We try to do the best we can. If we think the season's going to wind up on DVD, we'll put the scenes [there].”
Interestingly, an entire story line from Gwenyth Paltrow's episode didn't even make it on the show.
Who’s your dream guest? (and other things he’d love to do with the show)
“I don't really focus on the person, I focus on plans and stories that we haven't told before. I really want to tell a Latin American story.” (His family is from Argentina.)
“We haven't been to Asia, and it looks as though we're going to this season,” he added. (Although the season finale is tonight, with Minnie Driver, and they stay in England. Did I miss a trip to Asia?)
Although it seemed like he was going to evade the question, he later added, “If one of the Obamas wanted to do it, that would be dreamy.”
I also asked about the possibility of a follow-up show that would tie up some of the loose ends—such as what happened to the former spouses of Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s great-grandfather. Bucatinsky mentioned the scheduling difficulties as an obstacle, but added, “What I would want to try to do down the line is just start with one: One person who wants to come back and revisit a story and see how it goes. There are other stories to be explored, and it would be fun to have someone that people love come back.”
You can listen to my interview with “Who Do You Think You Are?” co-producer Dan Bucantinsky here.
Want to hear more? Here are a couple of Bucatinsy's interviews with other bloggers:
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 3:06:45 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Monday, July 21, 2014
"Who Do You Think You Are?" (US) Premieres This Wednesday
Posted by Diane
It's my turn to take over the TV at our house this Wednesday at 9
p.m. (Eastern), when the new season of the US series "Who Do
You Think You Are?" (WDYTYA?) premieres on TLC.
The first episode features the family tree of actor Cynthia Nixon,
known for her role as Miranda in "Sex and the City." I never got
into "Sex and the City," but you can bet I'll tune in to "WDYTYA?"
for the genealogy.
Watch a trailer for the episode below. In it, Nixon views court
records and visits a prison where it sounds like one of her female
ancestors was incarcerated.
Other celebrities featured this season include Valerie Bertinelli,
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Lauren Graham, Kelsey Grammer, and sisters
Rachel and Kayleen McAdams. We'll also see some older episodes, from
the show's run on NBC.
Ancestry.com sponsors the show (which you'll likely gather from its prominent positioning in each episode).
If you can't watch on Wednesday or you don't have cable, most
episodes are posted to the "Who
Do You Think You Are?" website after airing. Anybody know if they'll be on Hulu? I searched, but found only clips, not full episodes, from last year.
We'll post a recap
here on the
Genealogy Insider blog, too.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Monday, July 21, 2014 10:38:23 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Apply to Have Your Family Mystery Solved on "Genealogy Roadshow" Season 2
Posted by Diane
Here's some good news: We have official word that
"Genealogy Roadshow" is coming back to PBS for a second season.
It'll premiere in winter 2015 with season one experts D. Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry, plus Mary Tedesco,
founder of the Origins Italy
If you didn't see "Genealogy Roadshow" last year, it applies the
idea behind "Antiques Roadshow" to genealogy: An audiences line up
outside a local historic venue, and a lucky few get to share a
family mystery with the show's experts. The expert uses family
heirlooms, documents, photos and online research to investigate the
truth behind the family story.
This season will feature participants and stories from three
American regions: St. Louis, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Here's the
"Genealogy Roadshow" website where you can apply to participate at
Looks like there'll be a genealogy fair around filming at each site,
too: The producers also are looking for genealogy societies, vendors
and research firms to exhibit their products and services at the
events. Tables and exhibit space are free. Dates (all Saturdays and
Sundays, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) are:
The announcement instructs interested "Genealogy Roadshow" filming
event exhibitors to contact a
- St. Louis: Aug. 23 and 24
- New Orleans: Sept. 6 and 7
- Philadelphia: Sept. 13 and 14
Monday, July 21, 2014 10:01:31 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, June 20, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: June 16-20
Posted by Diane
- FamilySearch has added more than 4.9 million indexed records
and images to collections from Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Costa
Rica, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland, United States and
Venezuela, with especially notable collections form Costa Rica,
Portugal and Venezuela. You can see the list
of updated collections and click through to search or brose
them, on the FamilySearch blog.
In addition, to commemorate Juneteenth,
FamilySearch has added to its collection of records of the Bureau
of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the Freedmen's
Bureau. These document the post-Civil War era and include marriage
records legalizing marriages of former slaves, labor contracts,
military payment registers and more. Read
more about the records in FamilySearch's announcement and link
to the Freedmen's Bureau collections (which FamilySearch.org
organizes by state) here.
- The Civil War Trust is launching a fundraising campaign to
save the North Anna area of the Jericho Mills battlefield in
Virginia. Matching grants, donations from private foundations
and other funding means the trust already has 90 percent of the
purchase price needed to acquire the area. It likely will
eventually be made part of the Richmond National Battlefield
more about North Anna and the campaign to save it on the Civil
War Trust website.
African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Civil War | FamilySearch | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Friday, June 20, 2014 11:08:18 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Premiere Announced + More Genealogy TV News
Posted by Diane
Cable television network TLC has announced the premiere date and the stars of the 2014 season
Do You Think You Are?" (US version).
The new season will start Wednesday, July 23, at 9/8 central on TLC.
(If you don't have cable or can't watch that evening, the episodes
usually become available on
the show's website after they air.)
Six new episodes will air, featuring the family histories of:
In addition, TLC has acquired 10 of the episodes that aired on NBC
during previous seasons. Those feature
Matthew Broderick, Lisa Kudrow, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw,
Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brooke Shields, Vanessa
Williams and Rita Wilson.
- Valerie Bertinelli, an actor whose work includes the 70s/80s
series "One Day at a Time" and the current "Hot in Cleveland"
- Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an actor on "Modern Family"
- Lauren Graham, actor on "Gilmore Girls" (one of my
most-favorite-ever TV shows)
- Kelsey Grammer, actor on "Cheers" and "Frasier"
- Cynthia Nixon, actor on the "Sex and the City" TV series and movies
- Rachel McAdams, Canadian actor in movies such as "The
Notebook" and "About Time," and her sister, celebrity makeup
artist Kayleen McAdams
You can read
about the new "Who Do You Think You Are?" season on The Wrap.
In other genealogy television news:
- "Finding Your
Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.," will premiere on PBS Sept.
23. Guests will include actor Sally Field, Food Network chef
Aarón Sánchez, actor Ben Affleck,
singer Carole King,actor and comedian Tina Fey, political
commentator Alan Dershowitz,
White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, June 04, 2014 2:20:39 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, May 16, 2014
Genealogy News Corral: May 12-16
Posted by Diane
- The genealogy series "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis
Gates Jr.," which traced the ancestry of well-known Americans
using DNA combined with traditional research, will return to PBS
on Tuesday, Sept. 23, according to PBS'
recently released fall lineup.
The lineup doesn't mention
"Genealogy Roadshow," the 2013 series that researched genealogy
claims in the families of non-famous folks. It's looking like the
US version of this series isn't coming back. (Ireland's
version will return.)
- The Civil War Trust has released a new Battle App, this one
for the Atlanta Campaign, which began 150 years ago between the
forces of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and Gen. Joseph E.
Johnston. Available for iOS and Android, the App takes users on
a virtual tour with videos, maps, photos and more. You can
download the Atlanta Campaign and other Battle Apps using the
links on the
Civil War Trust website.
- British and Irish genealogy website Origins.net now has a new,
full index plus digitized images for the 1881
census of England and Wales, covering all counties. The
records are available with a subscription to Origins.net.
Celebrity Roots | Civil War | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Friday, May 16, 2014 10:38:56 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Eight Family Tree Tips to Take Away From "Genealogy Roadshow"
Posted by Diane
Genealogy television shows like TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?"
and PBS' "Genealogy Roadshow" are meant to entertain us, but that
doesn't mean we can't learn a thing or two from them.
In fact, our Tuesday, Nov. 12 webinar, 10
Essential Research Tricks from "Genealogy Roadshow," is full
of such lessons from co-host D. Joshua Taylor.
Here are my own favorite takeaway family tree research tips from
- Don't believe everything your family told you about your
ancestors. Whether it's the year Great-grandpa arrived in
the United States or a rumored link to George Washington, treat
family stories as theories that require research to prove or
- You can't get away from the "start with yourself and work
backward" principle. No matter what family claim the
"Genealogy Roadshow" experts were researching, the research
started with the present and moved to the person's parents, then
grandparents, etc. You didn't get details about every generation
in the show's quick segments (remember the entertainment factor), but those generations were listed
in the trees that flashed by.
- You're related to lots of people. Among them is
probably someone famous and someone infamous (remember this next
time one of those announcements comes out about which
celebrities are related—it's really not anything unusual). The
way to document a connection between two people is to research
both family trees as you normally would, and find a person
common to both trees.
- Build on others' work. "Genealogy Roadshow" sometimes
used already-existing, reliable research about famous folks.
Don't be afraid to look for clues in published family histories
and family trees you find online—just make sure you do research
to verify all the names, dates and relationships in those
resources, so you don't end up repeating someone else's mistakes
and claiming the wrong ancestors.
- Once you get beyond your garden-variety first or second
cousin, figuring out exactly how you're related to someone can
seem complicated. The trick is to find the most recent
common ancestor to the two cousins in question. If there's a
different number of generations between each cousin and the most
recent common ancestor, the cousins are "removed." The number of
removes is equal to the number of generations that separates the
two cousins. We explain
cousin relationships here and have a free
relationship chart PDF download here.
Josh Taylor's 10
Essential Research Tricks From "Genealogy Roadshow" will help
you do better family tree research whether you watched the show or
not. And you'll save $10 when you register
- Sometimes genealogical discoveries come quickly, and
sometimes it takes a lot of research to find answers. The
show's hosts often used the word "we" when talking about records
discovered. Behind the scenes, full-time, professional
researchers were devoting hours upon hours to tracing guests'
family trees. You might not be able to devote that much time at
once to your research, but keep plugging away a little bit at a
time. And keep track of what you've done so next time you can
pick up where you left off.
Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 12:50:06 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Genealogy Clues Your Ancestor Was a Black Sheep
Posted by Diane
One of the folks on this week's "Genealogy
Roadshow"—the last one of the season, filmed in Austin,
Texas—had a Civil War ancestor who, perhaps suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder, shot and killed his wife years after
the war. A very sad story.
Such family tree discoveries can be unsettling, even when family
rumors hint that something bad happened (as they did for this
Genealogy Roadshow guest). On the other hand, genealogists often
relish having ancestors who committed less heinous crimes—maybe
horse thievery or bootlegging—because that means records to
"Black sheep" are more common than you might think: Investigating
our family stories of my great-grandfather's time in prison for
bootlegging led me to the unexpected
discovery that his wife had filed for divorce and claimed cruel
treatment (the case was dismissed).
On the other side of
the family, I was completely surprised to discover that my
third-great-grandparents were divorced
in a sensational case, and a few years later, my
third-great-grandfather was stabbed in a knife fight over a woman
he'd become obsessed with (I still need to blog about this).
Here are a few clues that you may have a black sheep ancestor on
Strategies: Criminal Records download helps you track down
court, prison and other records of ancestors who strayed to the
wrong side of the law.
- Family stories. They aren't always true, as we've seen on
"Genealogy Roadshow," but there's often a grain of truth behind
- An unexplained disappearance from the family. It could
indicate an unrecorded death or migration for work, or it could
mean the person deserted the family.
- Your ancestor is listed in prison on a census. You'll usually
see the institution listed at the top of the form, and he may be
listed as an "inmate" or a "prisoner." (Not all inmates were in
prisons, though: In 1920, my bootlegger's son was an "inmate" in
an orphanage. It was just a term for someone who lived in an
If you know or suspect your ancestor was imprisoned, you can
find some records or indexes online. For federal institutions, check the National
Archives' Online Public Access search. For state prisons, check the state archives' website. Also look for prison records you can borrow on microfilm through interlibrary loan.
- You find newspaper articles about a divorce filing, desertion
(wives would sometimes post newspaper ads for missing husbands),
arrest, or a court action. I've been unable to find the court
records for my great-grandfather's bootlegging trial, so newspaper
mentions of it are all I have (so far).
- You find court records. When I was checking a court index in
search of the bootlegging case, I came across an entry showing
my great-grandparents as plaintiff and defendant: their divorce
Criminal Court Records on-demand webinar with Judy G. Russell
delves even deeper into the trial process, what court records it
might have generated about your ancestor, and how to find those
Watch this week's "Genealogy
Roadshow" online here.
court records | Genealogy TV | Newspapers
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:58:21 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Friday, October 11, 2013
Genealogy News Corral, Oct. 7-11
Posted by Diane
- The Federation of Genealogical Societies is running a three-part webinar series on genealogy society membership and communication. The webinars are presented by our friend George G. Morgan (author of Family Tree Magazine’s Document Detective column) and include:
- The Shape of the 21st Century Genealogical Society (Oct. 22)
- Harness the Power of Email in Your Society (Nov. 4)
- How to Develop and Implement Affordable Membership Benefits (Nov. 18).
Learn more on the FGS Voice blog and use the links in the post to register for each one.
FamilySearch | Genealogy societies | Genealogy TV | Webinars
Friday, October 11, 2013 9:19:11 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Seeks Guests for Possible Season 2
Posted by Diane
Word on Facebook has it that "Genealogy
Roadshow" is seeking guests for a second
season. (Whether there'll be a
second season hasn't been announced, so we'll have to keep our fingers crossed.)
Want "Genealogy Roadshow" researchers to investigate your family stories? Click here to fill out the
Tuesday, October 08, 2013 4:08:36 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Chinese Immigration and Angel Island
Posted by Diane
One of my favorite aspects of PBS'
"Genealogy Roadshow" is the mention of historical people and
events that have become fuzzy memories for folks who once learned
about them in a history class. The show elaborates on some of these
people and places, and others have me googling on my phone.
Last night, Genealogy Roadshow was set in San Fransisco's US Mint
building, with stories ranging from the 1860 Wiyot
Massacre to the 1906
earthquake and fire. The California
Gold Rush came up when a guest wasn't related to James
Marshall, whose gold discovery in the American River started
San Francisco's Chinese community was highlighted when a young
Asian-American woman wanted to know about her family and its fabled
connection to gangster Big Jim Chen. Researchers weren't able to
prove the story because Chen apparently hid his tracks well.
A history segment focused on Chinese immigration and the Chinese
Exclusion Act of 1882. Here's a little more about Chinese
immigration through San Francisco:
Angel Island in San Francisco Bay
was the immigration point for many Asians entering the United States
between 1910 and 1930 (along with Australians, Candians, Central and
South Americans, Russians and others).
station there served mainly as a place to to detain and
interrogate immigrants, mostly Asian, who were trying to enter the
country. When the 1906 earthquake destroyed San Francisco birth
records, it presented an opportunity to get around the
Exclusion Act, which made an exception for the children of US
citizens: Chinese who'd naturalized could claim to have had
additional children during a visit to China, then sell the "slots"
to those wanting to immigrate.
Immigration officials tried to identify these "paper
lengthy interrogations about the immigrant's home, family and
village in China. Visitors to Angel Island still can see some
of the poetry detainees carved into the walls as they passed
Nearly 250,000 case files were produced for Angel Island immigrants;
they're at the National
Archives at San Francisco. UC Berkeley has a database
with 90,000 of these immigrants' names and case file numbers.
You also can read some
immigrants' stories on the Angel Island Immigration Station
You'll find a guide to researching Angel Island ancestors and
locating their case files (even if they're not in the UC Berkeley index) in
2010 Family Tree Magazine.
You can watch the San Francisco "Genealogy Roadshow" online. Next week's
episode takes place in Austin, Texas. That's where my grandfather went to college in the 1920s and '30s, so I'm hoping to pick up some local history.
Asian roots | Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, October 08, 2013 3:59:14 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Your Ancestor's Immigration Experience and the Ellis Island Myth
Posted by Diane
Many of the guests on last night's "Genealogy Roadshow," filmed in
Detroit, had done their own research into family history claims. I love to see all that genealogical interest, and the impact that
family history knowledge can have on someone.
The young woman at the
center of my favorite story was adopted as part of an open adoption. She knew a lot
about her white birth mother's family tree, and little about her
African-American birth father's family. All four parents were with
her as Kenyatta Berry took her back in time along her paternal
Among the other stories was a woman whose English ancestors founded a royal bookstore that still exists today—but later in that line, a physician ancestor went to jail for murder. The final guest learned she was in fact related to Ponce de Leon.
One thing that surprised me in this episode was the show's handling of a
guest's tale of his family name change at Ellis Island, a common belief.
Taylor told the man (I'm paraphrasing) that Ellis Island arrivals
were brought into a room with a clerk at a desk, and the clerk may
not have spoken the languages of the immigrants. When the
clerk asked the passenger's name, he would write down what he'd
heard, which often wasn't the spelling the passenger used.
He made it pretty clear that Ellis Island officials didn't deliberately change passenger names because they were hard to pronounce or not American
I've always read, though, that passenger lists were
created by shipping line agents at ports of departure, and turned
over to US officials after arrival here. US immigrant inspectors
would then check off the passengers' names on those lists—they
didn't write down any names. Ellis Island also employed translators
in a wide range of languages to speak with immigrants. TV shows are often heavily edited, so what was
actually said could've been quite different from what ended up on
You can read
more about the Ellis Island name-change myth in this article
by Marian L. Smith, a historian at the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (now the Citizenship and Immigration
Service). The New
York Public Library has a similar article, with details about how
passenger lists were created.
Update: Here's a statement from Josh clarifying his comments on the show.
Many immigrants, like the one in question on last night's show,
changed their own names after arrival. Someone could do this legally, but more
often, people would just start using the new name.
Two good resources for learning about your ancestor's immigration
Also keep an eye out for the December 2013 Family Tree Magazine,
which will have a workbook to help you find your ancestors on
passenger lists. Also
check out these immigration research resources.
You can watch last night's "Genealogy Roadshow" here. Next week's episode takes us to San Francisco. I'm hoping to see some Gold Rush stories!
Genealogy TV | immigration records
Tuesday, October 01, 2013 2:34:56 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Genealogy Roadshow Dispels Myths, Tells (Short) Stories
Posted by Diane
Did you watch "Genealogy Roadshow" on PBS last night?
It's easy to see the "Antiques Roadshow" styling: "Genealogy Roadshow" had the
lines of people waiting to get in, the onlookers watching the expert
consultations, a host, a break to take in a few minutes of
local history (of the Belmont Mansion, where the episode was filmed), and the guests' surprised expressions.
I loved how the audience members leaned in to hear what genealogists D.
Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry had to say about the guests' family
I loved how twice, another person related to the story emerged from the
audience to meet the surprised guest.
And I loved how Taylor and Berry quickly dismissed several common family claims,
such as being related to Davy Crockett, George Washington (who had
no known descendants) or Jimmy Carter. They always offered a
bright side: The husband of the woman who wasn't related to Davy
Crockett had a Revolutionary War ancestor, for example, making their children eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American
we share six common genealogy myths you'll want to avoid as
you trace your family tree.
A couple of wishes regarding "Genealogy Roadshow":
- The show was fast-paced, so there were times I wanted
more and slower visual aids to explain the connections
researchers had uncovered. We saw family trees in some cases,
but the show zoomed through them pretty quickly.
That story; the one about the tender photo of Lafayette Cox, an
African-American man, holding the little boy of the family he worked
for; and the story of Sarah Jones, a young woman who had never met
her father, were my favorites.
- I wished to spend more time on some stories. An African-American woman learned
from a letter discovered at an archive that she really is related to white
Tennessee governor Austin Peay. But who wrote the letter, and why?
And I just wanted to hear more about the
African-American family who learned their enslaved
ancestor, Dinah Bell, was brought from South
Carolina to Tennessee. A dozen or so family members of all ages
were hanging on Taylor's every word, and you could see how much
the information meant to them.
You can watch
the Nashville episode of Genealogy Roadshow online.
I can't wait to see next week's show, set in Detroit!
Do your own genealogy detective work to sort out family stories with
help from Family
History Detective: A Step-By-Step Guide to Tracing Your Family
History and The
Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing
African-American roots | Genealogy TV | Research Tips
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 12:04:03 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
"Genealogy Roadshow" Sept. 23 Debut Investigates Family Stories in Nashville
Posted by Diane
I've already told my husband he's kicked out of the family room for
Monday night football next week: That's when the new "Genealogy
Roadshow" premieres on PBS.
This four-episode series has hosts Kenyatta Berry and D. Joshua
Taylor revealing the truth behind participants' family stories in front of
a live audience, which should bring a fun energy to the show. (I
chuckled at this
take on the Genealogy Roadshow format.)
Monday's episode was filmed at the Belmont Mansion in
Nashville, Tenn. One guest is David Miles Vaughn, who's been doing
genealogy for five years and wants to know if his family is really
related to Davy Crockett—a tale he'd always heard growing up.
Genealogy Roadshow premieres Monday, Sept. 23, at 9/8 Central on
PBS. Future episodes are set in San Francisco, Detroit, and Austin,
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 4:31:39 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
'WDYTYA?" Will Return to TLC in 2014
Posted by Diane
"Who Do You Think You Are?" watchers, rejoice—the
genealogy series has been renewed for a second season TLC. The
network has ordered 10 episodes, an increase over this season's
The celebrities haven't been announced. Which celebrities would you like to see on "Who Do You
Think You Are?" in 2014?
Last night's WDYTYA? season finale showed "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons' search for his French roots in Louisiana and in
France. Among his ancestors were a Medical College of
Louisiana-trained physician and an architect to King Louis XV.
Don't be sad—your genealogy TV-watching isn't over for the year. We
still have four
episodes of the new series "Genealogy Roadshow" coming up on
PBS, starting Monday, Sept. 23 at 9 p.m. It'll explore
noncelebrities' family history claims and reveal the answers before
a live audience.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:59:26 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Charlemagne Connections and English Roots
Posted by Diane
It's actually not unusual to descend from Charlemagne,
whom Cindy Crawford learned is in her family tree on last night's "Who Do
You Think You Are?" As noted in the show, the eighth-century
Frankish king had 20 children with different women (with eight of 10
known wives or concubines).
Charlemagne, who lived from April 2, 742 to Jan. 28, 814, was Cindy
When you go back 40 generations,
and you have roughly a trillion ancestors—more than the number of
people who existed at the time Charlemagne lived. (Virtually all
family trees have consanguineous marriages, so the same person will appear
in multiple places in a tree.)
NationalGeographic.com article explains how there comes a
point in history when "all individuals who have any
descendants among the present-day individuals" (that's us) "are
actually ancestors of all present-day individuals."
"all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man
or woman who lived around 1400 ... About a thousand years ago, a
peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans
alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living
today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants
eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would
turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today."
So anyone of European descent is probably related to Charlemagne,
and to his royal relatives as well. Of course, documenting the
generations back to royalty is another thing. You
can get started discovering your royal roots with the six steps in
our Spring 2011 Discover Your Roots bookazine.
If you have English ancestry of any variety, as Cindy Crawford did
through her Trowbridge line, there's still time to sign up for our Aug.
29 webinar and learn how to research English genealogy online.
You also can get our e-book A
Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your English Ancestors.
If you missed last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" you
can watch it on the show's website.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy TV | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 10:25:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
PBS Series "Genealogy Roadshow" Explores Roots of Everyday Americans
Posted by Diane
I learned a little more about PBS' upcoming Genealogy Roadshow
series while at the Federation of Genealogical Societies' Conference
The show, slated to air Mondays from 9 to 10 p.m.
ET starting Sept. 23 (my husband'll have to find someplace else to watch Monday night football),
will combine history and science to uncover the roots of everyday Americans. This season's participants come from four
cities: Nashville, Tenn.; Austin, Texas; Detroit; and San Francisco.
Genealogy experts will explore unverified family history claims
about connections to a famous event or historical figure (sounds to
me like a genealogical version of "History Detectives") by using
family heirlooms, records, DNA and local historians.
will reveal many of the answers they discover in front of a live
audience in a location relevant to the participant's family history.
Here's a teaser:
"Genealogy Roadshow" hosts are Kenyatta
D. Berry, a professional genealogist and president of the Association of Professional
Genealogists, and D.
Joshua Taylor, whom you've seen on "Who Do You Think You Are?"
and who serves as lead genealogist at findmypast.com.
(Both have also appeared in the pages of Family Tree Magazine
and been interviewed in our "Five Questions" column. Coincidence?)
"Genealogy Roadshow" is based on an Irish series of the
Genealogy TV | Videos
Tuesday, August 27, 2013 3:05:13 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)