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# 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 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, September 11, 2013 10:59:26 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
Jim Parsons on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Surname Meanings and Origins
Posted by Diane

Last night on "Who Do You Think You Are?", Jim Parsons (that's him on the right) learned that his great-grandmother's Hacker surname is French.



Hacker is on the Acadian Memorial Archive's list of common Creole surnames. I kind of wish the genealogist at the Louisiana Historical Center in New Orleans had gone into the surname etymology a few seconds more. Ancestry.com's last name meaning search (which provides definitions from the Dictionary of American Family Names by Oxford University Press) says Hacker is German, Dutch or Jewish

My guess (after finding a bunch of online articles about computer hacking in France) is that the name is variant of Hacher, from the French word for "chop"—perhaps an occupational surname for a woodcutter.

We at Family Tree Magazine get a fair number of questions about "Where does my last name come from?" and the answer isn't always easy.

You can hear some surnames and know immediately they're German (take my Depenbrocks) or Italian (such as Fiorelli) or whatever, but others are more ambiguous. And it could be that your surname is a variant of the original name, or an Americanized spelling your immigrant ancestor adopted after arriving here. Our contributing editor Nancy Hendrickson gives her Shore family name as an example: She always thought it was English, but it's actually a variation of a Swiss name, Schorr.

Want to know where your last name comes from? See our seven surname research tips on FamilyTreeMagazine.com (free article).

Also check out ShopFamilyTree.com surname resources such as the book American Surnames by Elsdon Coles Smith or The Surnames of Wales by John and Sheila Rowlands.

You can improve your online genealogy searching for ancestors' names with Lisa Louise Cooke's Google Surname Search Secrets video class.

Watch the full "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode with "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons on the show's website.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots | Research Tips
Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:32:21 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, September 10, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Ends the Season With a "Big Bang"
Posted by Diane

Tonight, TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" ends its TV season with a bang—a Big Bang, that is, in an episode featuring "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons (see what I did there?). He plays Sheldon Cooper, a portrayal often credited for the sitcom's success.

In this preview of tonight's WDYTYA?, Parsons sounds like any other getting-started family historian. He says he wants to learn more about his genealogy to honor the memory of his father, and that someone—he can't remember who—told him the family has French roots and a Louisiana connection.

You can watch Parsons on WDYTYA? tonight on TLC at 9/8 Central.

Update: See my post-watching post about Jim Parsons' "Who Do You Think You Are?" epsiode here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 12:43:26 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Wednesday, September 04, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Researching British Convict Ancestors
Posted by Diane

On "Who Do You Think You Are?" last night, country singer and cookbook author Trisha Yearwood learned her orphaned, impoverished fifth-great-grandfather was convicted of stealing and killing deer from an estate in 1760s England.

But instead of being hanged—then the lawful punishment for this crime—he was transported to Britain's American Colonies. There, he received land that once belonged to the Creek Indians, and his fortunes eventually reversed.


Here's Yearwood viewing that land, along with historian Joshua S. Haines.

Though early American historians downplayed the presence of former British convicts in their midst, it's now estimated that more than 52,000 immigrants to the 13 Colonies from 1700 to 1775 were convicts and prisoners.

(The same article points out that African slaves and indentured servants also were a significant proportion of arrivals; only about a quarter of the era's immigrants traveled here of their own will.)

If your British roots go back to a convict, see our free FamilyTreeMagazine.com article about online genealogy resources for British convicts, such as records from the Old Bailey in London and Scotland's Inverary Jail, as well as the UK national archives' prison photos.

For researching British ancestors in general—whether or not they were convicts—check out our Ultimate British Genealogy Collection of how-to guides and video courses on uncovering your family's records. It's 60% off right now in ShopFamilyTree.com, but only 100 are available! 

You can watch the full "Who Do You Think You Are?" Trisha Yearwood episode online.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Research Tips | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, September 04, 2013 10:16:37 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, September 03, 2013
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Trisha Yearwood
Posted by Diane

Tonight is genealogy TV night once again: Country music star and cookbook author Trisha Yearwood, a native of Monticello, Ga., traces her roots on TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" at 9/8 central.

Yearwood visits the Nashville Public Library to search for information on her father's side of the family. She'll also go to England, but not to trace royal lineage, as Cindy Crawford did in last week's episode.

Instead, as TLC describes Yearwood's search, "she uncovers an ancestor’s history of crime, loss, and perseverance."



Here, she combs through a document with historian James Horn at the National Archives of England.

In case your evening involves other plans or you don't have cable, TLC has been posting "Who Do You Think You Are?" episodes on the show's website after they air.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, September 03, 2013 11:39:00 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# 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 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 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."

and

"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)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, August 19, 2013
Chris O'Donnell visits St. Louis on "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Posted by Diane

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's "Who Do You Think You Are?" because actor Chris O'Donnell stops in St. Louis, my stomping grounds during college and briefly thereafter.



Although I wasn't researching genealogy in earnest at that time, I did have an appreciation for St. Louis' rich history and I loved to visit the Missouri History Museum. I wonder what St. Louis sites will make an appearance in the show?

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, O'Donnell met with Missouri History Museum Library and Research Center archivist Dennis Northcott, whom I've had fun chatting with at genealogy conferences. (Hey, I'm one degree from Chris O'Donnell!)

On Tuesday's episode, O'Donnell also visits Fort McHenry in Baltimore (I'm predicting a War of 1812 connection), the National Archives in Washington, DC, and the Smithsonian Institution.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" (the US version) airs at 9/8 Central on TLC. If you miss it, episodes are being posted to the show's website after they air. With getting ready for the FGS conference in Fort Wayne, Ind., this week, I might have to avail myself of that option.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Libraries and Archives | Museums
Monday, August 19, 2013 11:28:10 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Zooey Deschanel on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Quaker Genealogy Tips
Posted by Diane

On last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" actress Zooey Deschanel traveled to Pennsylvania to learn more about her fourth-great-grandmother Sarah (Henderson) Pownall's abolitionist activities.



Toward the beginning of the episode, Deschanel was presented with a long family tree of names and dates, perhaps to help viewers transition from the present back to a fourth-great-grandparent. Then the show turned its focus to Sarah Pownall.

My favorite quote from this episode is after Deschanel read an antislavery statement Sarah Pownall signed. Deschanel said "Yesterday all I had was a family tree. Now I have an identity for this woman." Names and dates are nice, but the more you get to know about your ancestors' lives, the more those names mean to you.

You're lucky if you have Quaker roots—Quakers kept good records, and you'll find plentiful printed and online information.

Once you know your Quaker ancestor's name and location, a good resource to start is the Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy by William Wade Hinshaw (Genealogical Publishing Co., available on CD and searchable on Ancestry.com), which abstracts monthly meeting records.

Also search the Quaker genealogy websites we list on FamilyTreeMagazine.com.

Our guide to researching Quaker ancestors, from our Religious Records series, is available in ShopFamilyTree.com.

If you missed Zooey Deschanel's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" it's available for viewing on the show's website.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Church records | Research Tips
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 10:24:57 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Zooey Deschanel's Quaker Roots
Posted by Diane

I've been looking forward to tonight's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" with Zooey Deschanel.



I never got into her show "New Girl," but she and her sister Emily (who's on the show "Bones," which I love) are two of my favorite actresses.

Deschanel will go to Pennsylvania for a journey into her Quaker roots.

Can't wait till tonight to know more? About.com Genealogy blogger Kimberly Powell blogged about those roots and other branches of the Deschanel family tree here.

Watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight at 9/8 central on TLC. If you can't watch or don't have cable, the episode will be available for viewing on the show's website.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 1:10:55 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Chelsea Handler on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Tracing German Roots
Posted by Diane

From the beginning of last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?," Chelsea Handler knew her mother's father had been a German soldier in WWII. She just wanted to know the extent of his involvement. Her Jewish heritage through her father's family heightened her curiosity.

If you missed the episode, you can watch it on the TLC website.

The Leistungsbuch ("performance book") mentioned in yesterday's post and seen here:



wasn't a military service record after all. Rather, it was a record of the grandfather's scores in the Nazi party's Sports Badge Program, part of the mandatory labor service program and a way to provide military-style training without violating the Treaty of Versailles.

A few things I liked about this episode:
  • It shows the importance of learning the historical context in which your ancestors lived. Knowing about post-WWI life in Germany helped Handler understand why many Germans supported Adolf Hitler when he first came to power. Finding out about her grandfather's experience in the Camp Algona (Iowa) POW camp revealed his likely motivation for later moving his family to America.

  • It showed a side of WWII history—the lives of ordinary Germans during that era—that I didn't know much about. 

  • The WWII historian who met Handler on the beach, and who was there serving in the Army the day her grandfather was captured. I bet he could tell some stories!
Foreign archives and languages makes the research in this episode more difficult for the average person than Kelly Clarkson's Civil War research or Christina Applegate's 20th-century research in New Jersey.

But if your German ancestors, like mine, immigrated to America in the 1800s, church records will be your main source of information in Germany. Chances are you can find German church records yourself. I know this because the October/November 2013 Family Tree Magazine will have Rick Crume's step-by-step guide to German church records. I'll let you know when it's available.

Because so many Americans have German ancestry, we have a number of German genealogy guides in ShopFamilyTree.com
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | German roots | Research Tips
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 11:29:12 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, August 06, 2013
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Chelsea Handler's Roots in Nazi Germany
Posted by Diane

This evening's "Who Do You Think You Are?" promises to reveal more disturbing family news from the not-too-distant past (we blogged last week about the troubled life of Christina Applegate's grandmother).

This teaser for tonight's episode gives you a glimpse of actress and talk show host Chelsea Handler's quest for information about her German grandparents' involvement with the Nazi regime:



The booklet you see in the clip is titled Leistungsbuch, which translates to "performance book." Possibly a German military record? I guess we'll find out tonight.

Watch this season's "Who Do You Think You Are?" at 9/8 central on TLC. (And if you have other plans or don't have cable, TLC has been putting full episodes on the show's website the next day.)


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | German roots
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 11:47:50 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, July 31, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Tips to Find the Genealogy Records Christina Applegate Used
Posted by Diane

Last's night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" with Christina Applegate is a good example of how much you can learn even if you start with very little information. All she had to begin her search for her paternal grandmother was her father Robert's birth certificate and his mother's name.



Robert thought he remembered a few other details, such as when his mother died, but those vague memories turned out to be wrong. At one point he even said "I thought I was older."

Yes, I teared up at the end of the show when Robert appeared devastated to learn of the violence in his parents' marriage and his mother's death caused by tuberculosis and alcoholism. And then when Christina comforted him by pointing out how he's had a positive life despite having every reason not to. And again when he left flowers at his mother's grave, knowing she had wanted him buried by her side.

Genealogy can be healing.

Documents consulted in the episode include: 
  • Birth, marriage and death certificates. Almost all states had mandated keeping these by the early-to-mid-20th century. (A few leave marriage records to counties.) They're generally available from state vital records offices, but often access is limited to immediate family for privacy reasons. Download our free chart of statewide vital record-keeping dates from here.
I liked how the archivists helped Applegate examine documents for clues beyond just names and ages. In the 1940 census, for example, they looked at the years of schooling for each household member as well as the months out of work. They put those details into the context of the lingering Great Depression and what that meant for the family.

If you missed the episode, keep an eye on the "Who Do You Think You Are?" website for a link to watch it online.

To find Family Tree Magazine guides and video classes for doing genealogy research in vital records, the census, newspapers and other records, visit ShopFamilyTree.com. You can use the search box at the top of the site or browse the Genealogy Records category.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | census records | court records | Newspapers | Research Tips | Vital Records
Wednesday, July 31, 2013 10:15:01 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, July 30, 2013
It's "Who Do You Think You Are?" Night!
Posted by Diane

Remember to sit yourself down in front of the TV or set your DVR tonight for "Who Do you Think You Are?" with actress Christina Applegate. It airs at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on TLC (and it looks like each episode will become available for viewing online).

I look forward to Tuesdays now not just because genealogy's on TV, but also because I get to pick what we watch. "It's for work" is a pretty good excuse.

In this preview video for the episode, Applegate is surprised to learn her grandparents had a troubled relationship and separated before her father was born.



"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 9:29:59 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, July 24, 2013
You Don't Have to Be Kelly Clarkson to Research Your Civil War Ancestor
Posted by Diane

Did you watch “Who Do You Think You Are?” last night?



In the season premiere on TLC, singer Kelly Clarkson traced her third-great-grandfather Isaiah Rose from Marietta, Ohio, to his imprisonment at the notorious Andersonville Civil War prison, and back home after his escape. There, he served as county sheriff and a state senator.

The story is common: Lots of Americans have Civil War soldier ancestors, many of whom were held at Andersonville and other prisons. The genealogy research is very doable—and you don’t have to drive around the country like Clarkson did, or meet with a slew of Civil War experts.

It’s neat for "WDYTYA?" viewers to see the original historical records, but the same records Clarkson used are available online or by ordering from repositories. For example: 

Note that many public libraries and FamilySearch Centers offer patrons the use of Fold3 and Ancestry Library Edition for free.

These are just a few of the available resources for tracing your Civil War ancestor. You'll find many more Civil War genealogy resources, tools and how-to information in Family Tree Magazine's Civil War Genealogy Value Pack, which happens to be on sale now—click here to learn more about it.

All that driving from place to place adds historical interest to the show, but it's not realistic for most of us. Thank goodness it's also not necessary for researching in Civil War records.

PS: TLC shared on Facebook where you can watch the whole episode online.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Civil War | Libraries and Archives | NARA
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 9:59:15 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, July 15, 2013
Watch the "Who Do You Think You Are?" Kelly Clarkson Episode on iTunes
Posted by Diane

The US show "Who Do You Think You Are?" doesn't debut on TLC until July 23, but you already can watch the first episode, featuring singer Kelly Clarkson, on iTunes. Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers tells you how (you'll need to sign up for an Apple ID if you're not already on iTunes).

This morning I watched along as Clarkson traced her Civil War ancestor Isaiah Rose from Ohio to Georgia, where he was imprisoned at Andersonville, and back.

Kelly Clarkson is a hugger. It seems weird to me to hug the archivists and historians at the library, but then I'm not a big hugger in general. If you're learning remarkable and humbling new stories about your ancestors, maybe hugging would be part of your genealogy happy dance.

I don't want to give too much away before the episode airs. So all I'll say is that viewers get to visit the Andersonville National Historic Site, see historical illustrations and photos (including a shocking image of a man who was held there), and hear a contemporary account from a prisoner. To me, that's the best part of the show—you learn about the history that might have affected your own ancestors and that shaped our country.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, July 15, 2013 4:33:30 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Tuesday, July 09, 2013
Watch a Preview of "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC
Posted by Diane

Excited for the fourth season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" premiering July 23 on TLC? Here's a video preview.

It's longer than the teaser that was released at the end of June, and drops clues to the family history surprises in store for some of the celebrity guests. You'll see them in the video: Kelly Clarkson, Zooey Deschanel, Chris O'Donnell, Christina Applegate, Jim Parsons, Cindy Crawford, Trisha Yearwood and Chelsea Handler. (We posted here about who these people are.) 



"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Tuesday, July 09, 2013 12:23:45 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Thursday, June 27, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?" 2013 Celebrity Lineup (Bazinga!)
Posted by Diane

TLC has announced the full lineup of starpower on the fourth season of "Who Do You Think You Are?," which premiers Tuesday, July 23. TLC picked up the series after NBC dropped it last year.



These are the season's celebrity guests. I added a bit of info on where you might recognize them from and on their ancestry:
  • Zooey Deschanel: You may know this actress (she's pictured in the screenshot above) and musician as the quirky title character of “New Girl” on Fox. Her surname comes from her French paternal grandfather; she also has Swiss, Dutch, English and Irish roots.

  • Chris O'Donnell: As his parents’ surnames—O'Donnell and Rohs von Brecht—would suggest, this “NCIS: Los Angeles” actor (he also was on the big screen as Robin to batmen Val Kilmer and George Clooney) has Irish and German ancestry.

  • Christina Applegate: This “Married … with Children,”  and “Samantha Who?” actress was born into the business: Her parents are record company executive Robert W. Applegate and singer and actress Nancy Lee Priddy

  • Jim Parsons: The episode featuring this "Big Bang Theory" star (trademark line: "Bazinga!") is the one I'm most anticipating. BBT is a favorite in our house, and I'd love to see what Parsons is like when he steps out of the role of Sheldon Cooper. The Houston native reportedly has English, Scottish, French and German heritage.

  • Cindy Crawford: German, English and French make up the bulk of this supermodel’s ancestry. She was “discovered” by a newspaper photographer as she detasseled corn in her DeKalb, Ill., hometown. Her appearance at the Connecticut State Library in May clued us in that she was filming for WDYTYA?

  • Trisha Yearwood: This country singer does it all: She's also an actress, cookbook author and host of her own cooking show on the Food Network. She was born in Monticello, Ga.
  • Chelsea Handler:A comedian, actress and talk show host from Livingston, NJ, Handler has a German Mormon mother and a Jewish father.
TLC's "Who Do YouThink You Are?" website is here.

Watch a short teaser for "Who Do You Think You Are?" season 4 here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Thursday, June 27, 2013 10:21:55 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, May 22, 2013
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Premieres July 23 on TLC
Posted by Diane

It's official: Ancestry.com has confirmed the rumors that "Who Do You Think You Are?" is coming to TLC.

The show will premiere July 23. Eight episodes will feature celebrities including actresses Christina Applegate and Zooey Deschanel, and supermodel Cindy Crawford.

Ancestry.com's announcement didn't name Singer Kelly Clarkson, but a Clarkson sighting in Andersonville, Ga., sparked rumors she'll also appear.

As a sponsor, Ancestry.com provides family history research on the featured celebrities. The US version of the celebrity-genealogy show, produced by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky of Is or Isn't Entertainment, aired for three seasons on NBC and was canceled after the 2012 season.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots
Wednesday, May 22, 2013 8:36:11 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Monday, May 21, 2012
Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Paula Deen
Posted by Diane

On Friday's final episode of the NBC genealogy show "Who Do You Think You Are?" TV chef Paula Deen crisscrossed the state of Georgia tracing her maternal roots.

Deen's parents died when she was a young woman, so not much family information had made its way to her. The show focused on her third-great-grandfather John Batts, a slaveowning planter and member of the Georgia legislature from 1857 to 1860.

Batts' son William (brother to Deen's great-great-grandmother Eliza Batts) fought for the confederates in the 12th Georgia regiment during the Civil War. The Georgia Archives actually had letters he'd written home, as well as letters from his commanding officer. These missives gave Deen an intimate view into William's experiences and his family's reaction after he was killed in action.

At Fold3—the first time I can remember this subscription site being shown on WDYTYA?—Deen finds John Batts' application for a pardon from the US government. Most of the South was covered by President Andrew Johnson's blanket pardon, but wealthy planters like Batts had to swear loyalty and provide documentation they'd freed their slaves.

Tax records at Emory University show John Batts' fate. Things went downhill for the family after an economic depression in 1873. Deen and a researcher note declining values of John's personal and real estate until 1879, when the records show all zeros. A newspaper article reveals that John, sadly, had committed suicide.

Although "Who Do You Think You Are?" won't be returning next season, GeneaBloggers reports that for the first time this season, the episode came in first for viewership in its time slot and was the third-most-watched show for the evening.

These two short videos show research not included in Friday's episode, about Deen's fifth-great-grandfather Joel Walker, an early Georgia settler in the Savannah area.


You can watch the full episode about Paula Deen's family history journey here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Civil War | Fold3
Monday, May 21, 2012 9:27:01 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, May 16, 2012
This Weekend's Genealogy TV Season Finales
Posted by Diane

This week's season finale of "Who Do You Think You Are?" is also the series finale, at least on NBC. In the show, chef Paula Deen learns about her family history in the Deep South. She discovers a senator, slave owners and family letters. Here's a short preview:



Watch the show at 8 p.m. ET/7 CT on NBC.

Sunday at 8 p.m. on PBS' "Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr." actors Michelle Rodriguez and Adrian Grenier and author/journalist Linda Chavez explore their Latino roots.  All share Spanish colonial roots, yet they self-identify differently differently: as American Indian, Puerto Rican, Dominican or simply Latino.

Here's a video preview of Rodriguez's discoveries.

Watch Michelle Rodriguez's Puerto Rican Roots on PBS. See more from Finding Your Roots.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 1:06:56 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Sunday, May 13, 2012
NBC Won't Renew "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Posted by Diane

Next week's "Who Do You Think You Are?" season finale with Paula Deen has turned into a series finale: NBC opted not to renew the show for a fourth season.

We still may be able to catch the show elsewhere on TV. In a statement on the cancellation, Tim Sullivan--president of Ancestry.com, a partner in the series--said that his company and the show's producers, Is or Isn't Entertainment and Shed Media, are looking at other avenues of distribution.

See what shows were canceled here.

NBC's 2012-2013 lineup is here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?"

Sunday, May 13, 2012 10:15:46 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [39]
# Saturday, May 12, 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Not All Family Legacies Are Happy
Posted by Diane

The young woman I bought coffee from this morning (before heading to our booth at the National Genealogical Society conference in Cincinnati) was talking about last night's "Who Do You Think You Are?" and how she wants to check out the exhibit hall today. Which is what we hope the show will do--be the spark that takes someone's interest in family history and turns it into action.

So, the show: Actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis researched his dad's paternal line, discovering a legacy of sons who grew up without their dads.

A death record told Sudeikis his dad's dad, Stanley, died young, at age 32, from a fall, and shared a residence in Chicago with an unknown woman who was the informant on the record. A coroner's investigation shed more light on the situation: The woman was a cousin who testified that Stanley abused alcohol and slept in the park.

Court records showed Sudeikis his grandmother had filed for a legal separation from her husband because he'd abandoned the family. He'd never met Sudeikis dad.

It turned out he was living what he knew. In census and marriage records, Sudeikis found that Stanley's father, Stanley Sr., had abandoned his first wife (Sudeikis' great-grandmother) and married another woman in Connecticut. There was no record of a divorce from the earlier marriage.

Stanley Sr.'s father died in Pennsylvania in a mining accident when his son was a boy.

Not all family legacies are positive, but I like how this episode shows family history can be rewarding even when you're learning some sad truths. At the end of the episode, Sudeikis honors his dad for breaking a cycle, and being a great father even though he didn't have a model to follow.

You can watch this show online at the "Who Do You Think You Are?" website.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots

Saturday, May 12, 2012 11:52:20 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, May 11, 2012
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Jason Sudeikis
Posted by Diane

Actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis, known for his performances on "Saturday Night Live," is the guest on this week's "Who Do You Think You Are?" on NBC. Episode promos promise "one shock after another" in Sudeikis' family tree.

Here's a video sneak peek at the show:


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos

Friday, May 11, 2012 2:58:07 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, May 02, 2012
This Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Rashida Jones
Posted by Diane

This Friday on NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" actress Rashida Jones (you might recognize her from "Parks and Recreation") uncovers her maternal family history from Manhattan to Eastern Europe—and finds answers to her grandmother's missing years.

Here's a little preview:

Watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 Central on NBC.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Wednesday, May 02, 2012 3:15:20 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, April 30, 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Rob Lowe and His Revolutionary War Ancestor
Posted by Diane

In Friday's "Who Do You Think You Are?" actor Rob Lowe learned about his Revolutionary War-era ancestor.

FindMyPast.com's Josh Taylor helped Lowe find him in the Daughters of the American Revolution Genealogical Research System, which lets you search online for a Revolutionary-era ancestor on which a DAR member's application is based, or for people named in the lineages in DAR applications.

(You can download our tutorial on searching the DAR database on sale for just $1.59 from ShopFamilyTree.com.)

But something was wrong: The application had been "closed" because it was discovered that Lowe's ancestor John Christopher East had been mixed up with a similarly named soldier.

Previews hinted at a twist in this episode. It came when a historian showed Lowe his ancestor on a list of prisoners who'd been part of Rohl's Regiment. A sparkle in the historian's eye hinted that he knew something, but only when he showed Lowe George Washington's personal papers did Lowe realize Rohl was a commander of German Hessian troops.

East (listed under his German name, Oeste Cristophe) was among the troops Gen. Washington defeated in the Battle of Trenton, when his soldiers crossed the Delaware River to surprise the Hessians at Christmas.

I remember learning in grade school about these 30,000 men the British hired to fight the Americans, and we kids thought that was pretty bad.

But Lowe's research revealed Cristophe as a sympathetic figure: Among the youngest of eight children, he wouldn't have inherited land or even had the means to marry in Germany. He took a risk in leaving for America at age 22—then staying (as about 15 percent of the Hessians did) after his release from prison.

This story has a happy ending. Taylor's researchers found Christophe on a list of Americans who paid a tax levied to raise money for the war. Lowe is descended from a Patriot after all and he was invited to apply for the Sons of the American Revolution lineage society.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy societies | German roots | Social History
Monday, April 30, 2012 9:03:33 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Thursday, April 26, 2012
This Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Rob Lowe
Posted by Diane

In the first new "Who Do You Think You Are?" in a few weeks, this Friday's episode has actor Rob Lowe exploring his roots. I've heard whisperings that this is a great episode with some surprising stories.

This promo video sure has a lot of superlatives:

Watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" Friday on NBC at 8 Eastern/7 Central.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Thursday, April 26, 2012 11:58:13 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, April 20, 2012
Genealogy News Corral, April 16-20
Posted by Diane

  • Military records subscription site Fold3 has added records relating to the Sultana disaster. That's the steamboat whose boilers exploded April 27, 1865, killing 1,700 (mostly Civil War Union soldiers recently released from Confederate POW camps). The ship was carrying 2,200 passengers—far more than the 376 she was built for. Records include lists of former prisoners who survived and those who died. The records are free to search, at least for the time being.

  • The Center for Jewish History (CJH) has announced a partnership with Jewish genealogy expert Miriam Weiner's Routes to Roots Foundation (RTRF). CJH will incorporate RTRF’s Eastern European Archival Database and Image Database into its online catalog, expanding access to genealogy resources from Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine. Weiner will serve as senior advisor for genealogy services at CJH's Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute.

  • Besides adding 1940 census records and coordinatng the 1940 Census Community Project, FamilySearch has continued adding other records to the free FamilySearch.org. The new resources include seignorial records from the Czech Republic; city records from Nördlingen, Bavaria, Germany; church records from Estonia, Portugal and Slovakia; and marriages from New Jersey. See the updated colelctions and click through to them here.

  • Remember to watch "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr." this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on PBS, which will feature actors Robert Downey Jr. and Maggie Gyllenhaal. The European-immigrant stories in both stars' pasts are common to many Americans.

  • NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight will repeat the popular Reba McEntire episode. Next Friday will be an all-new episode featuring actor Rob Lowe.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Civil War | FamilySearch | Fold3 | Jewish roots
Friday, April 20, 2012 12:41:19 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Friday, April 06, 2012
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Edie Falco
Posted by Diane

Tonight on NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?," (8p.m./7 Central) Edie Falco—the actress who played Carmela on "The Sopranos" and the title role on "Nurse Jackie"—explores her roots.

In this preview, she tries to find out the identity of an unknown figure on her family tree.

Here's another preview:


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Friday, April 06, 2012 8:21:02 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, March 30, 2012
"Who Do you Think You Are?": Rita Wilson
Posted by Diane

It was a teary episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” with Rita Wilson tonight, as she visited Greece and Bulgaria in search of information about her father Allan’s mysterious past.

This is a more-recent search than in most episodes, which made it closer to home for the celebrity.

Wilson’s father, who passed away a few years ago, was born in 1920 in Oraion, Xanthi, Greece.

There was a lot to be sad about in this episode. Bulgaria occupied Xanthi dring World War II. Required to serve in the military, Allan was imprisoned for a petty crime.

After he was paroled and settled in Bulgaria, he married and had a son, Emil—news to Wilson. His wife died when the baby was three days old, and Emil died at four months.

After attempting to leave the country, Allan was detained by the occupying Communists and sent to a labor camp. This information was in a file in the “Secret Files Commission.” A guard’s report detailed his escape.

When Wilson traveled to Greece to meet her father’s brother for the first time, he gives her a letter Allen wrote from America. He was making good money, going to school and having fun. It was the perfect hopeful ending for a tearful show.

If you missed it, you'll be able to watch it on NBC's website.

Got Greek roots? Here's our free online Greek Genealogy Toolkit. You'll find more Greek research advice in the May/June 2012 Family Tree Magazine, which starts mailing to subscribers in April.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, March 30, 2012 9:06:44 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Thursday, March 29, 2012
This Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Rita Wilson
Posted by Diane

This Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?", Rita Wilson explores her roots in Greece and Bulgaria.

In this preview video, shot in Plovdiv, Bulgaria (also part of the historical region of Thrace, which I learned about while editing the May/June Family Tree Magazine article on Greek genealogy), Wilson uncovers a secret about her father's past:

 

Here, she meets her uncle for the first time. Word of advice: Grab a tissue.


Incidentally, Bulgaria can be a difficult place to research genealogy, as we pointed out in the September 2007 Family Tree Magazine. If your ancestors hail from there, this show may hold some valuable tips.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:03:45 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, March 26, 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Helen Hunt
Posted by Diane

In Friday’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Helen Hunt explored her father’s side of the family tree. I caught parts of it between severe weather updates, and finally yesterday I was able to see the whole thing on Hulu (shortly before watching "Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.").

Hunt's family tree seemed full of distinguished ancestors. She starts with her great-grandmother Florence Rothenburg—a name later changed to Roberts, which a historian explains would’ve made life easier for the Jewish-American family—in New York City in 1900.

After her husband died, Florence took her four small children to Pasadena, Calif., a move that seemed strange for a newly widowed woman. But it turned out that California was home for Florence.

Florence’s father was one of the Scholle brothers, clothiers who started out in New York. Florence’s father (Hunt's great-great-grandfather) William Scholle opened a branch in San Francisco to serve the Gold Rush pioneers.

He built the business to the point he was listed in a newspaper article about local millionaires. In 1890, he was an investor, along with Isaias Hellman, Levi Strauss and others, in the Nevada Bank (it merged with Wells Fargo in 1905).

That was Hunt’s dad’s mother’s family. Next, in Portland, Maine, she learns about the paternal side. Her great-great-grandmother was Augusta Hunt, a local leader in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

Hunt was almost reluctant to learn more—her impression of the WCTU was that of a group of teetotalers who wanted to restrict everyone else’s freedoms. But a historian explained the extent of alcohol abuse at the time and the suffering it caused, particularly for women and children.

As part of the WCTU, Augusta supported a variety of causes, including female suffrage—and she lived long enough to see the 19th amendment passed. An obituary stated she was the first woman in Portland to cast her vote.

I noticed Hunt's voice-overs in this episode would say “I’m meeting so-and-so, whom I’ve asked to research my ancestor so-and-so.” Past episodes have been presented more as a collaboration between the celebrity and researcher (whether or not that was actually the case), with the celebrity doing more active searching. I wonder if this is a new approach?

I appreciated all the history in this episode and the lesson to learn historical context before making assumptions about your ancestors. Ironically, early on we learned that Hunt’s grandmother—Augusta’s daughter-in-law—was killed by a drunk driver when Hunt’s dad was 5 years old.

The scene in which Hunt goes home to share everything she learned with her dad didn’t make the final episode. For those who love this part of the show, here’s the deleted scene:

If you have New York City ancestors, check out our New York City Research Guide, a digital download in ShopFamilyTree.com.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, March 26, 2012 9:52:20 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, March 23, 2012
Genealogy News Corral, March 19-23
Posted by Diane

  • Looks like I'll be parked in front of the TV for a fair portion of the weekend. Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?" watch actress Helen Hunt explore her roots. Here's a video preview:

  • Archives.com has hired genealogist Megan Smolenyak as its Family History Advisor. She'll start immediately, talking about the 1940 census. Smolenyak was formerly chief genealogist at Archives.com competitor Ancestry.com.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Archives.com | Celebrity Roots | FamilySearch | Genealogy Events
Friday, March 23, 2012 9:09:23 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Saturday, March 10, 2012
"Who Do you Think You Are?": Jerome Bettis
Posted by Diane

It was fun watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” in the company of other genealogists during our Family Tree University Virtual Conference live chat. (The conference is taking place this weekend.) 

In this episode, former Pittsburgh Steelers player Jerome Bettis visits Kentucky to learn about his mom’s roots. He didn’t trace as many generations as in some other episodes, but I liked the attention spent on each person.

Bettis, an African-American, turned to newspapers for details not documented in official records. He found references to court cases for his great-grandfather being struck by his boss, and in a separate incident, his great-great-grandfather being hit by a train.

The deck was stacked against each man in his case, but Bettis discovered in court records that his great-great-grandfather Abe Bogard won his complaint against the Illinois Central Railroad. Bettis actually got to talk to someone who remembered hearing about the case from men employed by the railroad at the time.

One of my favorite aspects of this episode was the way a Western Kentucky University history professor showed Bettis how to trace his family into slavery. Presuming that the name Bogard was taken from a former owner, Bettis found a white Bogard family in the area and checked will records and slave dower lists (reports of slaves women had inherited).

They found a Jerry and Eliza, with a son Abe. I can’t imagine the feeling that would hit you when you see a record showing that your family members were owned by other people, and monetary values placed on their heads.

The owner, Joseph Bogard, willed Bettis’ ancestors to his wife. After she died, Abe and his parents were sold off to separate owners. The good news is that the 1870 census, the first US census to name former slaves, showed the family was reunited.

Here’s a Western Kentucky University article about the professor’s work with Bettis

Here’s a FamilyTreeMagazine.com article about making the jump from freed slaves in the 1870 census to enslaved ancestors in the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules

Update: For those of you wondering why Burnett Bogard, Jerome's great-grandfather, abandoned his family, part of the answer is in this deleted scene about a rift in the family's church:




"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Saturday, March 10, 2012 10:17:27 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Thursday, March 08, 2012
This Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Jerome Bettis
Posted by Diane

Tomorrow night on "Who Do You Think You Are?" we'll see retired football player Jerome Bettis explore his roots.

I'll be watching as part of our Virtual Conference viewing party (even though Bettis played for the Cincinnati Bengals rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers).

In this video, Bettis visits the land where his enslaved third-great-grandfather lived and worked.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots | Family Tree University
Thursday, March 08, 2012 8:56:21 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, March 05, 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Reba McEntire
Posted by Diane

Friday’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” was pre-empted around here due to coverage of the severe weather Friday. Our immediate area was lucky to come through unscathed. Not so for many of our neighboring communities, and our hearts go out to those people.

I watched the show online, which is a bit of a problem for me because I want to sit there and do research, so then I had to watch it again. The ratings are already out and apparently this episode did the best of any so far. Who doesn't love Reba McEntire?

Here’s the full episode if you still need to watch it:

She started the show at her family ranch in Oklahoma and traveled to Aberdeen, Miss.; Raleigh, NC; Oxford, NC; Tappahannock, Va.; and England in pursuit of her mom’s family tree.

I was surprised to see Josh Taylor (formerly of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), now of FindMyPast.com) walk into the library in Aberdeen. This scene was in the clip I posted Friday, but I had assumed they were at the NEHGS library in Boston.

One theme is McEntire’s discovery of her family’s slave-owning past. When she’s confronted with her fourth-great-grandfather’s life as a slave trader, I like what the archivist says, that slavery is part of all of our histories.

Later, she learns the same ancestor’s grandfather (McEntire’s sixth-great-grandfather) came to the country as a 9-year-old indentured servant. He was one of the fewer than half of all indentured servants who lived long enough to become free citizens—and became successful enough to purchase land.

When she learned the boy’s father put him on the ship, McEntire cautions herself against drawing early conclusions. Good for her: Before making judgments about an ancestor’s actions, it’s a good idea to learn the context of their lives.

I like the variety of records used in this episode (though we didn’t see where Josh found his information). Censuses, obituaries, land records, tax records, newspapers (she used GenealogyBank at the Granville County courthouse, but they didn’t show the name of the site), slave bills of sale, deeds, baptismal registers and more.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, March 05, 2012 8:40:29 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [7]
# Friday, March 02, 2012
Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Reba McEntire
Posted by Diane

Tonight on "Who Do You Think You Are?" country music superstar Reba McEntire learns how her family came to America.

You can read a litle about McEntire's ancestral journey in this Tulsa World article (McEntire grew up on a ranch in Chockie, Okla.).

Here's a preview of the show in which McEntire learns family information from D. Joshua Taylor, formerly of the New England Historic Genealogical Society and now chief genealogist at FindMyPast.com.

Taylor explains a bit about why names appear spelled differently in historical records and hints at some "very interesting things" happening in one of the counties where an ancestor of McEntire's lived—I guess we'll have to watch the show to find out what those things are.

And here's McEntire in Chesire, England, searching for records on an ancestor who was baptized there in 1688—and seemingly sent away to the American colonies at just 9 years old.

Watch "Who Do You Think You Are?" on NBC tonight at 8 /7 Central.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, March 02, 2012 8:40:37 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Saturday, February 25, 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?": Blair Underwood
Posted by Diane

I caught last night's “Who Do You Think You Are?” Blair Underwood episode on Hulu (we went to my nephew's basketball game).

This was my favorite episode so far. More of it took place in libraries and archives than the previous episodes, with lots of looking at records and historians guiding us through their meaning. Second, the profound impact this research had on Underwood really came across.

After taking an Ancestry.com DNA test to help trace his paternal side (which his brother Frank has researched in genealogical records—I wonder if Frank has read Family Tree Magazine?), Underwood crisscrossed Virginia from Richmond to Lynchburg and back (and forth again) to trace two branches on his mom’s side.

Among his discoveries in censuses and registers of free “negroes” was a free African-American ancestor, Samuel Scott. Scott owned two slaves, who we learn were probably his own parents.

Due to an 1806 law regarding freed slaves, the parents would’ve had to leave the state or risk being sold back into slavery if Samuel had not purchased them. This shows how important historical context can be when you’re interpreting historical records about your family.

(PS: This website has more information and some transcribed indexes of free African-Americans in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.)

In another branch was an ancestor, Sawney Early, who was institutionalized in the 1900 census. From newspaper articles, we learn about Sawney’s disputes with white neighbors who’d arrived after the war. Sawney was described as wearing odd clothing and believing himself to be the “second Jesus.” He shot a man’s cow that had wandered into his corn, and was himself shot several times. A historian explains Early was likely a “conjuror”—a spiritual leader and healer in slave communities.

At the end, the DNA test results come in and Underwood’s Y-DNA is a match to a man in Cameroon, so he and his father visit their African cousins. The cousin said he took a DNA test in 2005 for a project to connect people in Cameroon to families in America (I wonder if this was the National Geographic Genographic Project). 

A couple of things I want to point out: The DNA testing was very appealing and made it look easy, but I wonder what the chances are of finding such a clear match.

And the show seemed to give up when Sawney Early couldn’t be found in the 1860 census, when he was probably a slave. There are strategies to trace slaves using the 1850 and 1860 censuses, even though they’re not named, and you also can use resources such as wills and estate records and African-American genealogy websites such as these. (Perhaps the researchers tried these methods and came up empty-handed.)

The episode showed that African-Americans can have success tracing their roots in records and through DNA, and it showed how meaningful the journey can be.


Related resources from ShopFamilyTree.com:


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Saturday, February 25, 2012 11:14:48 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [28]
# Friday, February 24, 2012
Genealogy News Corral, Feb. 20-24
Posted by Diane

  • Findmypast.co.uk today announced a project to digitize the 3.5 to 4 million historical records from the Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies in England. The records cover parish churches and bishops' transcripts, spanning 1538 to 1990 (1910 for baptisms and 1928 for marriages).

Findmypast.co.uk also added 359,000 records of UK merchant seamen records covering the years 1835-1857. Its sister site findmypast.ie added Petty Sessions order books—court records from the lowest courts in Ireland—from 1850 through 1910.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots | FamilySearch | Free Databases | Military records | UK and Irish roots
Friday, February 24, 2012 2:36:25 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Thursday, February 23, 2012
This Friday on "Who Do You Think You Are?": Blair Underwood
Posted by Diane

After last week's "Who Do You Think You Are?" hiatus, I'm looking forward to this week's episode featuring actor Blair Underwood. I've admired him ever since "L.A. Law." (I don't have to be a special fan of the celebrity to enjoy an episode, but it does add that extra element.)

In this preview clip, a genealogist guides Underwood through finding family in the 1860 census on Ancestry.com—and Underwood realizes his African-American ancestor Delaware Scott was free in 1860, and owned real estate.

And check out this article, in which Underwood talks about filming the show and meeting relatives in Cameroon.

The episode airs at 8 p.m. Eastern/ 7 p.m. Central on NBC.

If you're researching African-American roots like Underwood, you'll find expert research advice in our African-American Genealogy Value Pack, on sale in ShopFamilyTree.com during Black History Month.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Thursday, February 23, 2012 8:52:57 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Friday, February 17, 2012
Genealogy News Corral, Feb. 13-17
Posted by Diane

  • Archives.com has added new records including FamilySearch community trees dating back to around 1500, and 1930 census images (the majority of the 1930 census images are now available, with more images from this plus the 1920 and 1920 censuses coming online over the next several weeks).
The additions bring the count of records available on Archives.com to more than 2 billion.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Archives.com | census records | FamilySearch | Genetic Genealogy | MyHeritage | Public Records
Friday, February 17, 2012 12:43:32 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, February 10, 2012
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Marisa Tomei Episode
Posted by Grace

Spoiler alert! Don’t read if you don’t want to know what happened on Marisa Tomei’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on NBC.

I missed some of tonight’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” and here’s why:

But I did see that she started out at home in New York, where her mother retold the family legend about how Marisa’s great-grandfather Leopold was killed in a bar by a jealous husband or someone he owed money to. That was the story Tomei wanted to find out about.

In Italy, Marisa was at first thrown off track by a cemetery record that said Leopold had died of an illness. That would have been a major bummer after all the murder mystery buildup.

But later (after the part I missed except to notice the beautiful Italian scenery and Marisa Tomei’s enviable wardrobe), newspaper articles and court records show that Leopold was killed by a business partner who'd been fired. The man hired a fancy lawyer and got off with a minor charge, then disappeared.

I think my favorite part of the episode was the letter a cousin wrote to Marisa to share memories of Leopold’s wife Adelaide. What a dream that would be.

If you missed this episode, you can watch it on the show's website.

See our "Who Do You Think You Are?" page for beginning research resources including our free downloadable Getting Started Cheat Sheet, plus show news and tweets.

If you have Italian roots to research, consult our $4 downloadable Italian Genealogy Guide and the book Finding Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans by John Philip Colletta.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Italian roots
Friday, February 10, 2012 9:57:28 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
Tonight on "WDYTYA?": Marisa Tomei Explores Her Italian Roots
Posted by Grace

Tonight on NBC's “Who Do You Think You Are?” actress Marisa Tomei explores her roots in Italy and tries to unravel a murder mystery in her family.

Here’s a preview video of Tomei receiving a letter from her 83-year-old Italian first cousin twice removed.

Of course we'll blog about the episode right here.

Ready to research your own Italian roots? Consult our $4 downloadable Italian Genealogy Guide and the book Finding Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans by John Philip Colletta.

And see our "Who Do You Think You Are?" page for beginning research resources including our free downloadable Getting Started Cheat Sheet, plus show news and tweets.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Friday, February 10, 2012 8:48:52 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, February 03, 2012
“WDYTYA?”: Martin Sheen
Posted by Diane

Spoiler alert! If you don’t want to know what happens in season 3, episode 1 of “Who Do You Think You Are?” stop reading right now.

I got Leo settled into bed just before 8, so I got myself settled on the sofa to watch the premiere episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” season 3, featuring Martin Sheen.

Sheen’s Irish-born mother died when he was 11. I was kind of hoping this show would start like others, with a trip home—Sheen grew up in Dayton, Ohio, northern neighbor to my Cincinnati hometown—but we moved right into the stories of Sheen’s two revolutionary uncles.

His mother’s brother was an activist during the Irish Civil War of 1922 to 1923, but, it turns out, not on the side Sheen thought: He was opposed to the Irish Free State and the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Sheen’s father’s brother Matias stood up against Gen. Francisco Franco for the Spanish republic in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939.

Sheen visits prisons where each man was held. The show draws strong parallels with Sheen’s own social activism.

Next, Sheen delves farther back into his father’s family. He learns the names of his fourth-great-grandparents—and that his fourth-great-grandfather had several children with another woman (prompting a “Whoops!” from Sheen). The man also was a judge prosecuting a young woman in the community who’d had an affair, probably with a cleric.

And the better-than-fiction twist: This young woman’s descendant married the judge’s descendant –branches on the family tree from which Sheen sprang.

If you share Sheen’s Irish heritage, check out our Irish Heritage Research Guide digital download or the Irish Research 101 and 201 Family Tree University classes. 

Your ancestors hail from Spain, like Sheen’s paternal branch? Consult our Spanish and Portuguese Research Guide digital download.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, February 03, 2012 10:01:15 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Premieres Tonight With Martin Sheen's Roots
Posted by Diane

Tonight's the night! Season 3 of the genealogy-reality series "Who Do You Think You Are?" debuts on NBC, with a look at actor Martin Sheen's Irish and Spanish roots.

Here's a quick preview of season 3 (I know that's not Martin Sheen below):

I was already excited about the season, but even more so after a media conference call with Sheen on Monday. He was brimming over with enthusiasm about the ancestors he discovered through the show. You'd think he met them in person.

I asked about the location where he felt most connected to his roots, and he spoke about the cathedral in Tui, Spain. (You can see it here.)

"That is a place that I have visited many times since 1969, when I made my first trip to Spain and to visit my father's community. And I only learned during this last trip with "Who Do You Think You Are?" that my great- great-great-great-grandfather is buried in that cathedral," Sheen said. "And I never knew that.

"In fact I used to walk over his burial spot in the cathedral. Everybody did. You are just walking along. And when I got to the show—I don't think it is included in the show—but they showed me where it was. I was not aware until we did the show of how intricately connected my heritage was with that town and specifically that cathedral."

The Martin Sheen episode starts tonight on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (check your listings for local times). If you miss it, you'll be able to catch it on Hulu and on the show's website (which is probably how I'll see it, unless a certain one-year-old observes his bedtime to the minute).

Of course we'll be blogging all about it. Keep up with this season and get our beginning genealogy guidance—for yourself or for friends who get inspired watching "Who Do You Think You Are?"—on our "Who Do You Think You Are?" landing page.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Videos
Friday, February 03, 2012 9:49:03 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, January 06, 2012
Martin Sheen, Helen Hunt Among Season 3 Celebrities for "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Posted by Diane

NBC has named the celebrities who'll research their roots on season 3 of "Who Do You Think You Are?," according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Actors Martin Sheen, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood, Rob Lowe, Helen Hunt, Rashida Jones, Jason Sudeikis, Rita Wilson and Edie Falco; musician Reba McEntire; former NFL running back Jerome Bettis; and TV chef Paula Deen will be featured this season.

The premiere is Friday, Feb. 3, at 8 p.m. on NBC.

You can see the full press release on the GeneaBloggers blog.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, January 06, 2012 3:20:11 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, December 14, 2011
TV Time!
Posted by Diane

Hello, "Who Do You Think You Are?" fans: NBC's mid-season 2012 schedule has the show debuting Feb. 3 from 8 to 9 p.m. ET. We've heard that actors Marisa Tomei, Martin Sheen and Blair Underwood are among the celebs who'll appear.

In other genealogy-TV news: The Ancestry.com blog reported that tonight's (Wed., Dec. 14) episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" will have a genealogy theme. The victim is a genealogist (ouch) who uncovers a dark family secret, and one of the genealogists questioned in the case connects a CSI's family to famous historical folks.

The show airs at 10/9 Central on CBS. If you missed it, you can catch it on CBS.com.


"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Wednesday, December 14, 2011 12:46:17 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, October 07, 2011
Genealogy News Corral, October 3-7
Posted by Diane

  • New records on FamilySearch this week include five million civil registration images from the Philippines from 1945 to 1980, plus records from Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy and Spain.
US additions include Sebastian County, Ark., births and deaths; San Mateo County, Calif. Italian cemetery records; Florida Confederate veterans and widows pension applications; Clark County, Idaho, records; Indiana marriages; North Carolina estate files; Columbia County, Ore., records; and Utah probate records. Remember that not all collections are indexed yet, so you may need to browse record images by date or place.

Go here to see details on the additions and link to each updated collection.

  • This one’s for anyone who has worn or is planning to wear a wedding gown: The Wedding Gown Project is sponsoring a writing competition for stories about buying, making, fitting, wearing, storing or passing down your wedding dress. The deadline is Nov. 30, and three cash prizes will be awarded. Author and documentarian Donna Guthrie will compile the stories for a documentary in 2012. See The WeddingGownProject.com for entry details.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | FamilySearch | Genetic Genealogy | saving and sharing family history
Friday, October 07, 2011 1:02:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, April 11, 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 8 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Ashley Judd's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Actress Ashley Judd has proud southern roots. Her mother Naomi Judd and sister Wynonna Judd are country music superstars, and Ashley is an eighth-generation Kentuckian on her Judd line. So she got a few surprises when exploring her father's family.

Judd began her search by meeting with her father Michael Ciminella in Louisville, Ky. While looking at a photo album, Ciminella tells Judd about Elijah Hensley, an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Judd searches for Elijah on Ancestry.com, discovering Hensley served in 39th Kentucky Infantry for the Union.

This leads Judd to the State Archives in Frankfort, Ky., where she finds Hensley's muster cards, indicating he enlisted at age 15 and was captured 32 days later. He was held for about five or six months in a prison in Richmond, Va., and was released in a broad exchange of Kentucky prisoners. He was later wounded in the Battle of Saltville and taken prisoner a second time. He was discharged in 1865 because of disability.

The search continues in Saltville, Va. Muster cards indicate Hensley's right leg was amputated on the battlefield by medics. An historian demonstrates what the amputation would be like, horrifying Judd. He also explains that Hensley's regiment would have retreated at the battle and left those injured to be taken prisoner by the Confederacy. Judd then reads a brief write-up about Hensely, indicating he worked as a farmer in Kentucky after he was honorably discharged. (For more on tracing your Civil War roots, see our Ultimate Collection.)

Judd then heads to New England Historical Society in Boston, Ma., to research her paternal great-grandfather William H. Dalton. Death records indicate Dalton's grandparent were E. & E. Brewster, a long-standing New England surname. NEHGS researches trace the Brewster lineage back 12 generations to William Brewster, who was born in 1566/7 England and was bailiff to the Archbishop of York. He immigrated to America in 1620, coming over on the Mayflower and signing the Mayflower Compact. (For more on Massachusetts research, see our state bundle.)

The travelers on the Mayflower were fleeing religious persecution, so Judd travels to York, England, to find out more about Brewster and the Pilgrims. She discovers William Brewster was a gentleman who attended Cambridge and looked after the archbishop's affairs.

Around 1607, Brewster became a central figure of the Puritans, a group of religious radicals who wanted to separate from the Church of England. He was summoned to court for speaking out against the Church of England and tries to flee the country. He first travels to Boston, England, and is soon jailed. Judd looks in his cell where a plaque dubbing him the "pilgrim father" hangs.

Brewster was imprisoned for months; upon his release, he traveled to Holland, where there was some degree of religious freedom. About 10 years later, Brewster obtained a charter from King James to settle Plymouth.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Civil War
Monday, April 11, 2011 10:56:32 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Friday, April 08, 2011
Genealogy News Corral: April 8
Posted by jamie

Kodak has sold assets of its microfilm products and equipment business to Eastman Park Micrographics. Kodak will continue supplying current microfilms, as well as to provide service and support for microfilm equipment and Eastman Park Micrographics will take over Kodak’s data conversion services business, which converts data between analog and digital formats. Read more on Kodak.com.

The Cincinnati Railroad Club is digitizing its 70,000-item collection, a project estimated to take three years to complete. Most non-copyrighted materials will be available online, including geomapping of the library’s thousands of original photographs. Read more on BizJournals.com.

Newport Beach Library is considering a revamp that would maintain the most of the library's current services, but ditch the books. The proposal is a reflection of the economy and patron habits. Read more on the LATimes.com.

The city of Chicago is relocating about 1,200 graves from the 161-year-old Bensenville cemetery to expand O'Hare International Airport, but not without controversy. The city hired a genealogist to track down the closest living relative for those currently occupying the graves, but isn't contacting every descendant, leaving some family members in the dark about their ancestor's final resting place. Read more on the ChicagoTribune.com.
 
Season one of "Who Do You Think You Are?" is now available on DVD. Re-watch all your favorite celebrities discover their roots on NBC's family history hit. Read more on BroadwayWorld.com.

If you missed any of the simulcast RootsTech conference sessions, you can now watch them on-demand at RootsTech.org. Bonus video interviews with conference speakers are now on the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel.
 


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Cemeteries | FamilySearch | Genealogy Industry | Genealogy Web Sites
Friday, April 08, 2011 3:02:08 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Saturday, April 02, 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 7 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Gwyneth Paltrow's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

The daughter of actress Blythe Danner and producer/director Bruce Paltrow, Gwyneth Paltrow has Hollywood roots. But the actress looked past her famous family to explore her ancestors' extraordinary stories during her episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Gwyneth began by researching her mother's side of the family at the New York Public Library. She finds an obituary for her great-grandmother Ida May Danner, which lists her parents as David and Isabel Stoute Yetter. Isabel's death certificate indicates her a full name is Rosamond Isabel Yetter, born in Barbados, West Indies, and she worked as a domestic servant.

Using this information, Gwyneth finds Isabel and her sister Martha on a passenger list for a commercial sailing ship traveling from Barbados to America. The pair are the only two passengers on this voyage, somehow managing to travel on cargo ship instead of a passenger ship. Isabel is age 18 when she immigrates to America.

Gwyneth then travels to Barbados to find out more about her great-great-grandmother Isabel. At the department of archives, she searches baptismal records, discovering Isabel's father was a merchant clerk — a respectable middle class occupation. She then searches a burial register, finding Isabel's mother and father were both dead by the time she was 13 years old. (For more on searching vital records, see our on-demand webinar.)

During Isabel's time in Barbados, females greatly outnumbered males, so marriage prospects were very limited. Job opportunities were also in short supply for unmarried white women because free black women in Barbados would work for lower wages. And without family ties except each other, Gwenyth concludes the sisters moved to the United States to see what opportunities awaited them there.

Gwyneth then researchers her paternal grandfather Arnold "Buster" Paltrow's family. Buster often spoke ill of his mother Ida Hymen Paltrow's parenting skills, and she seemingly exhibited signs of a severe depression. Gwyneth wanted to know more about Ida and what may have caused her depression.

Ida attended Hunter College, known as Normal College in 1897 when she studied there. The school was a teacher's college, the top profession for a New York woman. Ida was often absent, according to student registries, and she was discharged from the school in 1898. Death certificates for Ida's mother Rebecca Paltrow and Ida's brother Samuel Paltrow indicate Ida attended to them as they died months apart in 1897, explaining her absences from college.

Gwyneth continues her search at the New York City Municipal Archives. The 1920 census lists Ida's family with the surname Paltrowitz. Ida's oldest daughter Helen Paltrowitz, who was 1 in the 1910 census, is not found in the 1920 census. Gwyneth then searches death records, discovering Helen died at age 3 when she was run over by a wagon. Gwenyth concludes these tragedies contributed to Ida's depression.

Gwyneth then focus on one last ancestor, Ida's husband Meyer Paltrowitz. She discovers Meyer's grandfather was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Pelterowicz, a master of Kabbalah, a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal and mysterious creator and the mortal and finite universe. Books about Hirsch indicate he was regarded as an extremely holy man and a miracle worker. (For more on tracing Jewish roots, see our guide.)

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Research Tips | Vital Records
Saturday, April 02, 2011 10:51:17 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Sunday, March 27, 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 6 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Steve Buscemi's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

 "Who Do You Think You Are?" has been on hiatus for a few weeks, so I've really been jonesin' for the NBC family history hit. And Steve Buscemi's episode delivered a one-two punch of drama and mystery that had me on the edge of my seat.

Buscemi, a native New Yorker, began his genealogy journey by meeting with his parents. His family wanted to know more about his mother's ancestry because Amanda Van Dine, Buscemi's mother's mother, took her own life in 1928, leaving a void on in the family tree.

The death certificate of Amanda Van Dine's mother, Jane Van Dine, reveals her parent's names, Julia Vanderhof and Ralph Montgomery, as well as her address when she died. Coincidentally, the address is now a restaurant Buscemi frequents.

The 1880 census lists Jane Montgomery as an 11-year-old live-in servant in Camden, N.J. A researcher explains to Buscemi that it was common for children to enter the workforce, especially poverty stricken families.

Buscemi then searches Ancestry.com's user-uploaded family trees to find more on Jane Montgomery's parents. Another user has posted a tree with information about Ralph Montgomery, who was born in 1834 in Milton, Pa. Buscemi contacts the person who made the tree, to get more info from them.

In the mean time, he heads to Harrisburg, Pa., to visit state archives. Ralph Montgomery is listed as a dentist in tax records, but the 1860 census indicates he was a grocer and married to woman named Margaret with two young children. Buscemi is stunned to learn his great-great grandfather had a family before he married Buscemi's great-great grandmother Julia Vanderhof.

Buscemi then takes to microfilmed copies of the Pennsylvania Telegraph to try to learn more. He discovers a small snippet about a suicide note signed by Ralph Montgomery found near the Susquehanna River. Clearly, he did not complete suicide, but this must have been a particularly trying time for Ralph Montgomery.

Court records reveal Ralph Montgomery was charged with assault and battery in 1859, but the charges were later dropped. He disappears from tax records in 1861, the year the Civil War began.

This leads Buscemi to search military records. Muster cards reveal Ralph Montgomery enlisted in Pennsylvania's 91st regiment. He deserted June 1962 in Alexandria, Va., a common occurrence for a citizen army, and returned August 1962. He fought in the Battle of Fredericksburg, a bloody loss for the Union. After fighting another battle, he deserted for the last time. (For more on the war between the states, see Life in Civil War America.)

The special Civil War veterans schedule of the 1890 Census lists Ralph's first wife Margaret as a widow; she assumed Ralph was dead when her husband never came home.

Buscemi then get a hold of Ralph Montgomery's New Jersey death certificate. The document indicates he was a dentist and died of tuberculosis. He was buried in strangers row, where indigent or unknown people were buried in unmarked graves.

Buscemi then returns to Brooklyn to meet the person who posted the Ancestry.com family tree. Carol Olive, Buscemi's third cousin, reveals Julia Vanderhof, Ralph Montgomery's second wife, remarried to Charles Brandenburg. Her children who were working as servants, including Jane, are again living with their mother in Brooklyn in the 1892 New York census. (For more on Empire State ancestors, see our on-demand webinar.)

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.

And if you haven't already, check out the bonus scenes for each episode of "WDYTYA?" on Hulu.com.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Civil War
Sunday, March 27, 2011 10:39:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Saturday, March 05, 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 5 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Lionel Richie's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Singer-songwriter Lionel Ritchie explored his great-grandfather's history on his episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

Richie began his journey at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where his mother, father and grandmother were professors. Gathering clues with his sister, Richie uses his grandmother's Social Security application to find her father's name — John Louis Brown.

He heads to his grandmother's birthplace of Nashville to learn more about J.L. Richie searches an old marriage registry and finds J.L. married Volenderver Towson on April 6, 1890. An archivist then shows Richie a copy of a divorce complaint, revealing J.L. was 50 when he married the 15-year-old Towson. A judge grants the divorce because J.L. abandoned his young wife for over two years.

Perplexed, Richie searches city directories from the 1880s, which list J.L. as a member of a black fraternal organization Knights of Wise Men. The group, founded in 1879, offered financial benefits to all members for illness and death. The Knights of Wise Men was a prototype of modern organizations that propelled the Civil Rights Movement, and J.L. was the national leader of the group.

According to an 1891 Chattanooga, Tenn., newspaper article, the Knights of Wise Men eventually collapsed because the group had to pay out a large amount of death benefits at once during a small pox epidemic; the treasurer then ran off with what was left of the money. For more on researching African-American ancestors in newspapers, see our Family Tree University independent study course here.

A 1929 Chattanooga city directory reveals J.L. was caretaker at a black cemetery, Pleasant Gardens. J.L.'s death certificate indicates he was buried in that cemetery. The document also lists J.L.'s father as Morgan Brown and his mother as unknown.

Richie visits Pleasant Gardens, distraught to see the graves overrun by weeds and grass. J.L. is buried in the pauper section of the cemetery, where most of the graves are unmarked.

Richie then finds J.L.'s pension application. At first he thinks J.L. was a soldier in the Civil War, but he was actually body servant — a butler to soldiers. Slaves were hired out for this dangerous job, and free blacks did it for low pay. J.L.'s owner was listed on the pension application as Morgan W. Brown, meaning J.L. could have been a slave and his owner could have also been his father. Learn more about tracing slave ancestors here.

At the Nashville Public Library, Lionel discovers there are two Morgan Browns in the area: Dr. Morgan Brown and his son Morgan W. Brown. Dr. Brown's journal reveals he owned a working slave plantation and one of the slaves, Mariah, gave birth to a son, Louis, in 1839, an unusual notation for a master to make in his journal. Dr. Brown was about 80 years old when Louis was born, but his son Morgan W. Brown was 39 at the time. It is still unclear which Morgan Brown is J.L.'s father.

Dr. Brown wrote his will during Mariah's pregnancy, granting Mariah and her child freedom, land and money for education of the child upon Dr. Brown's death. It is unclear if the executor of the estate, Morgan W. Brown, carried out Dr. Brown's wishes. For more on researching African American ancestors, see our guide here.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Civil War
Saturday, March 05, 2011 11:15:03 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Friday, March 04, 2011
News Corral: March 4
Posted by jamie

Genealogy has gone prime time. NBC gave "Who Do You Think You Are?" the green light for a third season. "Faces of America" will return to PBS for another season. And on this week's "Top Chef All-Stars," contestants traced their family treed and competed at Ellis Island, cooking up dishes based on their family's heritage. Read more about the genealogy TV trend here.

GenealogyBank is offering a yearly subscription to its newspaper collection for 75 percent off. This offer is good through March 14, and you can learn more on GenealogyBank.com.

Family Tree Firsts blogger Nancy Shively discovered her great-grandfather suddenly came into money and lost it all, and she's determined to find out more. Read her full story on FamilyTreeUniversity.com.

The last living World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died Sunday. Buckles drove an Army ambulance in France in 1918, after lying about his age to recruiters. He was 110 years old. Read his full story here.

The National Archives at Atlanta will present a Civil War Symposium, a day-long program commemorating the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The event features scholars and historians from leading archival and academic institutions, as well as an exhibit of 19th century African American newspapers. The symposium is slated for April 16 and costs $20 to attend. Visit NARA's website for more information.

Don't forget about our Ultimate Family History Starter Collection. This multimedia bundle brings you our most invaluable tips, tricks and how-tos to help you jump start your genealogy research. There are only 150 copies of this collection available through the end of March. There's more information in this Genealogy Insider blog post.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Family Tree Firsts | Genealogy Events | Genealogy fun | Genealogy Web Sites | Newspapers
Friday, March 04, 2011 3:49:53 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
# Thursday, March 03, 2011
Our Last Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Winner
Posted by jamie

We celebrated the return of NBC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" with a giveaway. While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we wanted to give you the opportunity to explore your own family history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

Each week in February, readers entered the sweepstakes by commenting on the Genealogy Insider blog and our Facebook fan page. Our last lucky winner:

So what's the prize? Four lucky winners received Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook — a $205 value.

We loved interacting with you all on Facebook and the blog. And while the sweepstakes is over, we hope you keep in touch.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun
Thursday, March 03, 2011 9:41:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Who Do You Think You Are? Live Wrap-up Report with Lisa Louise Cooke
Posted by Lisa

Once again, the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show in London attracted thousands of eager visitors anxious to learn more about their family tree. It was my great pleasure to not only participate as a speaker this year, but also to report on the event for the Genealogy Insider.


The exhibition hall was packed for WDYTYA? Live.

According to Else Churchill, genealogist for the Society of Genealogists in the UK and organizer of the society’s workshops at the event, BBC Magazines Bristol has purchased a major share of the show from Brand Events, who has organized it for the last five years. The new owners will be managing the event from this point forward, and they are already busy making big plans.

I was very excited to bring a technology topic to the event with my Make Google Work Harder for Your Family History workshop. On the heels of RootsTech, WDYTYA? Live will be looking toward technology and social media and their role in genealogy, expanding those topic areas next year.


Lisa teaching her Google workshop at WDYTYA? Live.

Churchill and her team worked tirelessly to organize the Society of Genealogists workshops, and their Ask the Expert booth, spearheaded by Lori Weinstein, was a big hit once again. I participated in a 2 hour shift on Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed working one on one with eager attendees.

Visitors also really appreciated the expanded gallery area upstairs and from what I could see, they made very good use of it. They found more room to roam in the military and photographic exhibit areas, plenty of tables and seating (where my husband and I held an impromptu family reunion with three other distant British Cooke cousins!), and even a pasty pie stand (which, of course, I felt obligated to taste test – yummy!).

One of the unique aspects of WDYTYA? Live is the inclusion of celebrities profiled on the BBC TV series "Who Do You Think You Are?" Monty Don ("Gardener’s World"), Hugh Quarshie ("Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace"), and celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott kept audiences riveted as they recounted their personal family history journey.

Additional News:

  • The British Library announced its digitization of the India Collections
  • Deceased Online has added Scottish MIs
  • FindMyPast.co.uk will be adding transcriptions of Scottish census records only
  • The Genealogists is adding war memorials

And here's a few more photos from the event:

Ancestry.com scanning booth

Lisa with Photo Detective Maureen A. Taylor.

Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives booth


Lisa interviews a representative of the Western Front Association.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Genealogy Events | Podcasts | UK and Irish roots
Wednesday, March 02, 2011 9:14:25 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Saturday, February 26, 2011
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 4 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Kim Cattrall's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Actress Kim Cattrall set out to solve a 70-year-old mystery and explore her British heritage on her episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

George Baugh, Cattrall's grandfather, disappeared when her mother, Shane, was 8 years old. When George left, he tried to bribe Shane to accompany him, but she decided to stay behind with her mother. Shane never saw him again, and her mother and two sisters lived in extreme poverty in Liverpool.

After meeting with Shane and her two aunts, Cattralls discovers through a newspaper clipping that George had a sister Edna. Cattrall visits an address listed for Edna, and when no one answers, she knocks on a neighbor's door. The neighbor instantly recognizes Cattrall and tells her that Edna and George's other sister Amy are still alive; she gives Cattrall their address.

When she meets with Edna and Amy, she learns that George had a history of running away and was unhappy with his marriage to Cattrall's grandmother. The sisters also show Cattrall family photos, but none of them are of George.

Cattrall returns to the hotel where a package from a researcher is waiting for her. It contains a copy of George's marriage certificate to woman that was not Cattrall's grandmother. The document indicates he remarried less than a year after he left the family without divorcing his first wife.

With his new wife, Isabella Oliver, George moves to Durham County where the couple has three children during the 1950s -- Penelope Isabella Baugh, John Oliver Baugh and George William Baugh.

Isabella's brother, William Oliver, and his wife Maisie lived next to Isabella and George in Durham County. Cattrall finds Maisie in a phone book and meets with her and her daughter. (For more on tracing ancestors using city directories, see our how-to guide.)

Maisie explains that George met Isabella in Manchester in 1938, and they had a daughter, Irene, there before moving to Durham County. His new family with Isabella didn't know anything about George's previous family.

Maisie also tells Cattrall that George and his family picked up and moved to Australia in the 1960s. After traveling Down Under, Cattrall discovers George died in 1974 and Isabella in 1990. She decides not to track down their children in Australia.

After her journey, Cattrall returns to Liverpool to share everything she learned about George with her mother Shane and her aunts. After hearing the story, the sisters decide to contact their half siblings in Australia.
(For more on tracing British subjects in Australia, see the March 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine on newsstands now.)

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Saturday, February 26, 2011 11:00:13 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
An Insider Look at Who Do You Think You Are? Live by Lisa Louise Cooke
Posted by Lisa

In this edition of my guest post for the Genealogy Insider I’m reporting from the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event in London, which runs Friday, Feb. 25, through Sunday, Feb 27.

While I could spend time telling you about the huge booths and displays of the genealogy giants like Ancestry.uk, FamilySearch or Find My Past, I think it would miss the mark on conveying what is truly unique about this particular event. It’s the “little guy” – the local society, volunteer organization and fledgling online start-up – that fills the vast majority of the exhibit hall. Here are just a few that stood out as I made way up and down the aisles:

Discover Ireland
“Genealogy butler” and professional genealogist Helen Kelly sat down with me at the Discover Ireland booth to talk about the countless number of people they have helped trace their Irish ancestors and then make the journey to the homeland. Their free booklet “Tracing Your Ancestors” in Ireland walks family historians through doing research on their own in the U.S, heading online to tap into digital records, hiring professional help as needed, and tips for making the trip and walking the green grass of Ireland in person.

“We have to be quiet sometimes,” says Kelly, “…we have to sit in the landscape and then the stones can speak to us.” Kelly made a compelling case for making the journey “back to the community that nurtured your ancestors.” While many things have changed, you can still experience the accents, landscape and culture that enveloped your ancestors.

Kelly summed it up this way, “We are not just part of our people, we are also part of our landscape.” Stay tuned to my Genealogy Gems podcast, where you will hear my entire conversation with this inspirational expert on discovering Ireland.


Lisa talks with Helen Kelly about tracing Irish roots.


Western Front Association

If you have an ancestor who served during the Great War, the Western Front Association may have just the resources and expertise you are looking for. Founded by historian John Giles in 1980, the association has grown to include thousands of members around the world. Their historical information officer is available to help with research questions, and their publications and unique record holdings make them an ideal resource.

War Memorials Trust
As I approached their booth, a woman named Nancy welcomed me and explained the simple yet vital purpose of the War Memorials Trust: to monitor the condition of war memorials and to encourage protection and conservation when appropriate. They also strive to provide expert advice to war memorial projects across the UK, to act as the specialist organization for war memorial conversation issues and to facilitate repair and conservation through grants. I was pleased to see organizations in attendance that play a vital role in empowering all of us to help preserve our precious history.

Friends of the MPHC
Do you have a bobby in your background? If so, the Metropolitan Police have a resource for you! The Met Collection encompasses artifacts previously hidden from view. The permanent public display at the Met Collection heritage center rotates from the 17,000 items that make up the collection including uniforms, photos, police equipment and a vast database of records. You can visit the collection in person at The Annex, Empress State Building, Empress Approach, Lillie Rd., London SW6 1TR (a 2 minute walk from the Brompton tube station) or visit them online at the Friends of the MPHC website.

With such a variety of fascinating topics and experts to learn from, it’s no wonder that over 17,000 people have bought tickets to attend the three-day event. Next week I’ll have a complete wrap up for you on the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event. 

FindMyPast.co.uk's booth at Who Do You Think You Are? Live.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Events | International Genealogy | Military records | Podcasts
Saturday, February 26, 2011 6:22:50 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Our Third Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Winner
Posted by jamie

We're celebrating the return of NBC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" with a giveaway. While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we want to give you the opportunity to explore your own genealogical history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

Each week in February we will announce a lucky winner on our Facebook fan page and the Genealogy Insider blog. Our third lucky winner:

So what's the prize? Four lucky winners will get Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook—a $205 value!

You can enter each week in February, by doing one or both of the following things:

  1. Comment here on the blog during "WDYTYA." You could write about a technique or resource you learned about from the show, or (if you missed the show) something you're looking forward to learning about your own genealogy.
  2. "Like" Family Tree Magazine on Facebook, and comment on or "like" our statuses about "WDYTYA."

We'll pick a winner each Monday and post their name here and on Facebook. 

This contest will run until Feb. 27, 2011. Official rules can be found here.
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 5:00:31 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [18]
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 3 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Rosie O'Donnell's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Rosie O'Donnell often asked her grandmother about a specific photo hanging in her house, but her grandmother was tight lipped about the woman. O'Donnell knew she was somehow related to her, but didn't know much beyond that. So she began her "Who Do You Think You Are?" journey by researching the mystery woman.

She starts looking in the 1900 census, finding her great-grandparents Michael and Ellen Murtha. The census indicates Michael was born in French Canada and his parents were born in Ireland. O'Donnell steps back father to the 1880, but shows Michael living in Brooklyn with a different woman — his first wife Anna.

This leads O'Donnell to Manhattan, where she finds the death certificate for Anna Murtaugh, a variation of the Murtha surname. The cause of death is listed as an explosion of an oil lamp. O'Donnell searches neighborhood newspapers for write-ups about the incident, discovering Anna was holding her infant daughter during the explosion.

Catholic church baptismal records revealed Anna's daughter to be Elizabeth Murtha, who lived through the accident and eventually had many children and grandchildren. Tracing the line forward, O'Donnell is reunited with Elizabeth's grandchildren, her second cousins. They confirm that the mysterious photo is Elizabeth's mother Anna.

After solving that mystery, she travels to Quebec to search parish records for Anna's husband and O'Donnell's great-grandfather Michael Murtha, listed as Michael Murtaugh in baptismal records. Michael's parents are listed as Andrew Murtaugh and Anne Doyle. O'Donnell searches a local newspaper to find the obituary for Anne, which lists her birthplace as Kildare, Ireland. For more on searching newspapers, see our Finding You Family in Old Newspapers on-demand webinar.

O'Donnell then heads to Ireland to find out more about the Murtaughs. Many people emigrated from Ireland at the height of the potato feminine, and Andrew and Anne were among them.

Searching Poor Law Union minute books for a mention of the family, O'Donnell discovers two men sponsored the Murtaughs passage to Canada. The Poor Law Union only provided assisted immigration for severely impoverished families during the feminine. To qualify for assisted immigration, a family would have to live in a work house for at least a year. For more on tracing your Irish roots, see our Irish heritage research guide.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are sweepstakes!


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Church records | Female ancestors | Newspapers
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 10:48:38 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Monday, February 14, 2011
Our Second Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Winner
Posted by jamie


We're celebrating the return of NBC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" with a giveaway. While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we want to give you the opportunity to explore your own genealogical history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

Each week in February we will announce a lucky winner on our Facebook fan page and the Genealogy Insider blog. Our second winner:


So what's the prize? Four lucky winners will get Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook—a $205 value!

You can enter each week in February, by doing one or both of the following things:

  1. Comment here on the blog during "WDYTYA." You could write about a technique or resource you learned about from the show, or (if you missed the show) something you're looking forward to learning about your own genealogy.
  2. "Like" Family Tree Magazine on Facebook, and comment on or "like" our statuses about "WDYTYA."

We'll pick a winner each Monday and post their name here and on Facebook. 

This contest will run until Feb. 27, 2011. Official rules can be found here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun
Monday, February 14, 2011 3:23:22 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [7]
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 2 Recap
Posted by jamie

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Tim McGraw's episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Country singer Tim McGraw, after looking at his birth certificate as a teenager,  discovered the man he thought was his father was not his biological father. His birth certificate named baseball star Tug McGraw as his father, who he then forged a relationship with as an adult. Tug passed on without revealing much about the McGraw family tree, so Tim explored the paternal line of his ancestry on "Who Do You Think You Are?"

After gathering a few clues from his uncle, McGraw travels to Kansas City, Mo., to find out more about his great-grandparents Andrew and Ellie Mae McGraw. He views Ellie's death certificate and discovered she was a member of the Chrisman family, who settled that area of Missouri.

This led him to Virginia, researching sixth-great-grandfather Isaac Chrisman. Using surveying records and historical maps, McGraw discovers Chrisman lived on the boarder of Indian territory in colonial Virginia. Through a report made by a militiaman, McGraw discovers Chrisman was attacked by Indians and died.

Issac Chrisman's grandfather is Jost Hite, a German immigrant. He traveled to the colonies as an indentured servant with the Pressler family — ancestors of Elvis Presley. Hite quickly worked his way out of servitude and was awarded a massive land grant in Virginia. McGraw views Hite's deeds, and heads to the beautiful Shenandoah Valley to see his land.

The Hite trail then leads McGraw to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. There an archivist shows him George Washington's teenage journal, which indicates Washington lodged at the Hite family home. McGraw also reads a letter written by Washington to his ne'er-do-well neighbor, in which he praises the Hites as a prime example of how one should live his life.

While McGraw had professional researchers to help him navigate land plats and Virginia records, our Family Tree University Land Records 101 course and our Virginia research guides to help you find your ancestors on your own.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are sweepstakes!


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | German roots | Land records
Monday, February 14, 2011 10:07:35 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [9]
# Tuesday, February 08, 2011
Behind the Scenes of Rosie O'Donnell's "Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode
Posted by jamie

Exploring ancestry can be a difficult experience, especially if the researcher's family history is riddled with hardships and pain. Actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell's genealogical journey on season two of NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" is no exception.

Her mother died of breast cancer when O'Donnell was still a child. After her death, the family never really spoke of her mother again, resulting in emotional pain and disharmony between O'Donnell's siblings. This led O'Donnell to focus on her mother's side of the family while filming "WDYTYA?" because she didn't know much about them.

She enlisted her brother Ed, the one sibling with whom O'Donnell is in contact, to help search for her family history. The experience of "WDYTYA?" was not only therapeutic and healed their relationship, but also gave her insight into her own life. "It definitely changed the view of my own history, my own childhood, and it also helped explain to my children where their grandmother was from and what she was about," O'Donnell said. "They have never met her, because she died when I was 10, and they often ask questions about her. It was nice to be able to fill in some of those blanks."

The information found in records about her mother is somewhat limited. O'Donnell really wants to know more about her adult life, so she is working with playwright Dick Scanlan to produce a one woman show about her. To find out more about her, Scanlan tracked down a few of O'Donnell's mother's friends and her classmates at Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School. "I’ve been able to sit down and talk with some of them and that’s been really interesting see my mother through adult eyes as opposed to a child’s eyes," O'Donnell said.

With the aid of professional genealogists, O'Donnell utilized photographs, work records, censuses, baptismal certificates and newspaper articles in her research. "It was a pretty intensive research project, and I was very impressed with the staff [at Ancestry.com] and what they were able to find—things that I couldn’t believe that they found," O'Donnell said. "It was pretty intense and pretty surprising for me to know that many details still exist."



On the show, O'Donnell was also able to explore her Irish heritage. She compared her Irish ancestors living conditions to that of Frank McCourt's in his memoir Angela's Ashes. The extreme poverty and hardships endured by her family shocked O'Donnell, changing the view of her own history and completely reframing her life.

"I didn’t know the history of my family and the struggles that brought them to the United States and what they had to endure," O'Donnell said. "You take your own reality and put the frame around it as the most difficult thing that anyone can survive, when you come to find out that your life is pretty blessed comparatively."

O'Donnell's episode of "WDYTYA" airs Feb. 18, at 8 p.m. EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | UK and Irish roots
Tuesday, February 08, 2011 2:53:43 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [6]
Our First Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Winner
Posted by jamie

We're celebrating the return of NBC’s "Who Do You Think You Are?" with a giveaway. While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we want to give you the opportunity to explore your own genealogical history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

Each week in February we will announce a lucky winner on our Facebook fan page and the Genealogy Insider blog. Our first winner:

So what's the prize? Four lucky winners will get Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook—a $205 value!

You can enter each week in February, by doing one or both of the following things:

  1. Comment here on the blog during "WDYTYA." You could write about a technique or resource you learned about from the show, or (if you missed the show) something you're looking forward to learning about your own genealogy.
  2. "Like" Family Tree Magazine on Facebook, and comment on or "like" our statuses about "WDYTYA."

We'll pick a winner each Monday and post their name here and on Facebook. 

This contest will run until Feb. 27, 2011. Official rules can be found here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun
Tuesday, February 08, 2011 10:04:49 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [30]
# Saturday, February 05, 2011
“Who Do You Think You Are?” Episode 1 Recap
Posted by Grace

Spoiler Alert: If you don't already know what happened during Vanessa Williams’ episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” you are about to find out.

Actress Vanessa Williams’ ancestors’ lives make for an interesting episode of NBC’s “WDYTYA.” She traces her roots back to two of her great-great-grandfathers, exploring their remarkable lives.

Williams starts her research by visiting her father’s grave in Oyster Bay, NY. She jots down information she finds on the headstones of her father’s family, including that of David Carll, her great-great-grandfather and a member of the 26th New York Colored Infantry in the Civil War.

According to the 1870 census, Carll was a free mulatto married to a white woman named Louisa. Williams is absolutely amazed that her ancestors were an interracial couple in the post-Civil War era.

Her research then jumps to National Archives in Washington, DC, where Williams gets her hands on Carll’s Compiled Military Service Record. National Archives researcher Vonnie Zullo pulls out an original tintype from Carll’s CMSR, saying it's the only one she's come across in her 20-plus years at the depository.

From Carll’s pension record, Williams learns he was never a slave and that he worked as a crew member on steamships. Zullo then explains that he was taking a big risk enlisting in the Union Army, as the Confederacy would put a captured black Union soldiers in slavery.

Carll was deployed in Beaufort, S.C. Williams continues her search there, meeting with Hari Jones, curator of the African American Civil War Museum. They tour the site of the Battle of Bloody Bridge, where Williams is shocked to hear her great-great-grandfather’s regiment enforced the Emancipation Proclamation, liberating slaves in the South.

Williams then heads to Baltimore to visit her Uncle Earl, looking for more clues about her father’s side of her family. He directs her to Tennessee to pursue John Hill Williams, her great-grandfather.

In the 1910 census, Williams finds her great-grandfather’s wife’s name, Mary Williams. She then reads Mary’s obituary, which reveals her father’s name -- William A. Fields. The 1880 census indicates Fields was a “mulatto” schoolteacher.

Heading to Nashville Williams meets with Kathy Lauder, archivist at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Lauder shows Williams a bust in state legislature building devoted to early African American legislators, and Williams is shocked to find Field’s name engraved on it.

Fields served in the Tennessee legislature from 1885 to 1886, drafting an education bill that would require all children age 7 to 16 to attend school. That bill, and bills similar to it, died in committee. Lauder also shows her Fields’ photo in the legislature composite and where he sat in the chamber.

Williams wonders how Fields could have been elected so soon after the Civil war. Lauder explains that slaves made up about 40 percent of the population of Tennessee; once they were freed, some districts had more black residents than white, and they elected black politicians.

“And here they come, right out of slavery, no one even believes they are human yet -- there are people who don’t think that they’re people.” Lauder said to Williams. “It was a spectacular thing to have black people in the legislature.”

Fields was one of the last black lawmakers in Tennessee, as white men composed the legislature from 1888 to 1965. Tennessee changed its constitution to make it more difficult for blacks to vote with poll taxes, literacy tests and residency requirements.

Through court records, Williams later discovers that Fields was born a slave. Williams finds Fields’ story to be similar to her father’s she breaks down in tears before traveling home to relay her new-found roots to her family.

"WDYTYA" airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode, and post a comment to be entered to win in our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Saturday, February 05, 2011 9:06:58 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [8]
# Friday, February 04, 2011
Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes Opens Tonight!
Posted by Grace

You're watching NBC’s new episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" tonight, right? While celebrities explore their genealogy on the show, we want to give you the opportunity to explore your own genealogical history with our Discover Who You Are Sweepstakes!

So what's the prize? Four lucky winners will get Discover Your Roots Kits, which include a bookazine for genealogy beginners, a Family Tree University course, a subscription to Family Tree Magazine, our State Research Guides CD and the Family Tree Pocket Reference eBook -- a $205 value!

You can enter each week in February, by doing one or both of the following things:

  1. Comment here on the blog during "WDYTYA." You could write about a technique or resource you learned about from the show, or (if you missed the show) something you're looking forward to learning about your own genealogy.
  2. "Like" Family Tree Magazine on Facebook, and comment on or "like" our statuses about "WDYTYA."

We'll pick a winner each Monday and post their name here and on Facebook. Good luck, and happy watching!

This contest will run until Feb. 27, 2011. Official rules can be found here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy fun

Friday, February 04, 2011 2:13:25 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [59]
# Monday, January 31, 2011
"Who Do You Think Are?" Returns Friday
Posted by jamie

The second season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" debuts Friday, and the first episode features Vanessa Williams exploring her father's ancestry.

Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Rosie O'Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie and Ashley Judd will also add new branches to their family tree this season. Through these celebrities' ancestries, "WDYTYA?" will tell the stories of a slave liberator, a colonist, a bigamist, a miracle baby and a Civil War prisoner, to name a few.

Before you watch the show, check out our "WDYTYA?" episode one sneak peek, and our Q&A with Williams and show producer Lisa Kudrow. After the episodes, join the discussion on our "WDYTYA?" forum.

"WDYTYA?" premieres Friday, Feb. 4, at 8 p.m. EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.


"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Monday, January 31, 2011 4:11:42 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Preview of "Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode One
Posted by jamie

Following our media conference call with "Who Do You Think You Are?" producer Lisa Kudrow and season two, episode one celebrity Vanessa Williams, we were able to screen the first episode.

While we won't reveal all the juicy details of Williams' ancestry,  here are a few things to look forward to in her "WDYTYA?" episode:

  • Civil War history buffs, rejoice! This episode is chock full of Civil War and Reconstruction history, including the effect of slavery and Jim Crow laws on Williams' ancestors.
  • Williams made history as the first African American crowned Miss America, but she isn't the only noteworthy person in her family tree. She delves into the astonishing history of one of her former slave ancestors.
  • On a trip to Washington, D.C., National Archives researcher Vonnie Zullo stumbles upon a rare genealogical find while researching Williams' great-great grandfather David Carll. The item is so unheard of, Zullo says it's the only one she's come across in her 20-plus years at the depository.
  • If the first episode is any indication of what's to come on "WDYTYA?", expect more air time devoted to original documents and what goes into tracing your roots.

"WDYTYA?" premieres Friday, Feb. 4, at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots
Wednesday, January 26, 2011 1:49:05 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Monday, January 24, 2011
Q&A With The Folks Behind "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Posted by Diane

A little bit ago, editorial assistant (and soon-to-be frequent blogger here) Jamie Royce and I participated in a media conference call with “Who Do You Think You Are?” producer Lisa Kudrow and Season Two, Episode One celebrity Vanessa Williams.

Each journalist on the call got to ask two or three questions. When our turn came, we wanted to know whether Kudrow and Williams would have pursued genealogy to such an extent themselves, had they not been on “WDYTYA?”

Williams, who learns on the show that her African-American ancestors served in the Civil War and in the Tennessee legislature after Emancipation, is a bit of a history buff and had actually already set up a family tree on Ancestry.com (a partner in the series). She had the interest, she said, but not the necessary knowledge or access to the information.

Kudrow’s dad was way into in genealogy, as you might remember from last season’s "WDYTYA?," and had spent a lot of time at the FamilySearch Center in Los Angeles. He had a many names and dates, and Kudrow was able to flesh out that information and get in touch with living relatives through the show.

We also mentioned how hungry Family Tree Magazine readers are to see more of what goes into the research—how researchers uncover the records, what archives they visit, what the records look like—and asked whether this year we might see more of that detail in the episodes or even on the "WDYTYA?" website.

Kudrow acknowledged your desire to know more of the nuts and bolts of the research. Earlier in the call, she had noted how painful it is to have to cut video from each episode due to the 42-minute running time. “There just isn’t time,” she lamented.

So you probably won’t see much more nuts-and-bolts research in the episodes, but we’re hoping NBC will put more of that behind-the-scenes content on the website. Ancestry.com posted research recaps to its blog after each Season One episode, so we'll look for more of those, as well.

Thomas MacEntee of Genea-bloggers also was on the call—see the answers to his questions and other notes from the call here. Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems was there, too—keep an eye on her blog for her take

Kudrow talked about the value of personalizing history with stories like those featured on the show. You might think history was just something that happened to strangers a long time ago, but when you see how it affected your family, it has so much more impact.

“I hope it’s a history lesson for people, and I hope it inspires them to ask questions,” Williams said.

"WDYTYA?" premieres Friday, Feb. 4, at 8pm EST on NBC.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com
Monday, January 24, 2011 4:23:22 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [3]
# Wednesday, December 15, 2010
NBC Reveals "WDYTYA" Season 2 Celebrities
Posted by Diane

NBC has revealed the celebrity lineup for the upcoming season of its “Who Do You Think You Are?” celebrity-genealogy tv series.

Friday evenings starting Feb. 4, you can watch country music star Tim McGraw; pop singer Lionel Richie; comedian and activist Rosie O’Donnell; and actors Ashley Judd, Steve Buscemi, Vanessa Williams and Kim Cattrall trace their roots.

The series is produced by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky of Is or Isn’t Entertainment. You can read more “Who Do You Think You Are?” news and Season 1 recaps here

Update: A press release today added actress Gwyneth Paltrow to the list of celebrities appearing on season 2 of the show, and promised that "From the trenches of the Civil War to the shores of the Caribbean, and from the valleys of Virginia to the island nations of Australia and Ireland, “Who Do You Think You Are?” will reveal the fabric of humanity through everyone’s place in history."


"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Wednesday, December 15, 2010 8:50:52 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [6]
# Tuesday, November 16, 2010
"WDYTYA?" Season 2 Debuts Jan 21
Posted by Diane

The genealogy tv show “Who Do You Think You Are?” returns to NBC for its second season Friday, Jan. 21 at 8 pm (7 central), according to the NBC website. It’ll help fill open slots during a mid-season shakeup that'll rearrange the schedule and cancel a few shows. 

No details on which celebrities will trace their roots on air in season 2, but you can see Family Tree Magazine readers’ suggestions on our Forum.


"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 8:58:38 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, August 27, 2010
Genealogy News Corral: Aug. 23-27
Posted by Diane

  • The Federation of Genealogical Societies has re-launched its Society Hall online directory. If you think you know the name of the genealogical society, historical society, family association or library you want to contact, you can search by keyword; otherwise, choose a state from the drop-down menu for a list of societies in that state (note that the directory might not include every society in the state).
  • An Irish library and museum website called Ask About Ireland has posted an important Irish record group free online: Griffith’s Primary Valuation is an accounting of property values in Ireland that took place between 1847 and 1864. You can search by a family name and place, or use the Place Name search to search by just a place. 
Each result contains the family name, the first name, county and parish. Click links to see details for the individual (landlord and tenant names, location, and publication information for the original map), the person’s residence plotted on a map, and a copy of the original Griffith's Valuation page entry.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Free Databases | Genealogy societies | UK and Irish roots
Friday, August 27, 2010 2:42:33 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, August 13, 2010
Genealogy News Corral: Aug. 9-13
Posted by Diane

The New England Historic Genealogical Society and Ancestry.com will hold a Family History Day Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center Boston. The day includes lectures, consultations and document scanning. Attendance costs $38. Learn more and register here.

GenealogyBank has updated more than 1,800 newspapers and added new titles. In addition, the site will add 400,000 digital newspaper pages (11,633 issues from 48 newspapers) in September. You can get a peek at the list on the GenealogyBank blog.

Aug. 14 marks the 75th anniversary of Social Security, the federal program that gave us the Social Security Death Index and the SS-5 (Social Security application). On FamilyTreeMagazine.com, you can learn how to access these two great genealogical resources. You also can view the Social Security Administration’s history pages.

Ready to share your family history knowledge? Geneabloggers blogger and High-Definition Genealogy founder Thomas MacEntee has published an e-book called Approaching the Lectern: How to Become a Genealogy Speaker that will help you become a more-effective speaker at conferences, society meetings and other venues. You can download it as a PDF for $8.99, or order it in print form for $12.99.

The Genealogy Gems Podcast is among the first 1,000 shows available through the new BlackBerry Podcasts, a free app that lets BlackBerry users (running BlackBerry OS v4.6 or higher) listen to free audio and video. You can get the app at BlackBerry App World.

If you missed NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” this past spring—or you just want to relive the thrill of seeing celebrities do genealogy on prime-time network television—you can watch the reruns Friday nights from Aug. 13 to Sept. 3 at 8/7c on NBC.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites | Newspapers | Podcasts
Friday, August 13, 2010 12:08:23 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, August 06, 2010
Ancestry.com Acquires Research Firm ProGenealogists
Posted by Diane

Subscription site Ancestry.com just announced it has acquired Salt Lake City-based professional genealogy research firm ProGenealogists.

The acquisition adds to the research services business Ancestry.com launched last year with Expert Connect.

ProGenealogists has been operating for 15 years and employs a roster of more than 30 researchers including Natalie Cottrill, Kory L. Meyerink, Kyle J. Betit and Judith Wight. You may remember some of these names as the researchers who helped celebrities find their roots on the NBC television show “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Ancestry.com, a partner in the show, “will continue leveraging the expertise at ProGenealogists for similar initiatives in the future,” according to a press release.

The press release also stated that ProGenealogists will “continue to provide premier family history research to its existing clients while extending the Ancestry.com reach across the genealogy value chain.”


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Genealogy Industry
Friday, August 06, 2010 2:37:58 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Saturday, May 01, 2010
WDYTYA? Recap: Spike Lee Episode
Posted by Diane

We’re at Ancestry.com’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” viewing party, watching the season finale with a few hundred of our best genealogy friends at the National Genealogical Society conference.

Here are a few of them:




First, we hear some behind the scenes info on the season from Anastasia Tyler, who coordinated the research for the show:
  • 6,300 hours of research went into the series

  • An average of more than 425 hours of research went into each show

  • Researchers did preliminary work on more than 20 trees, then whittled that down to 7 due to the celebrities’ schedules

  • A core team of 30 genealogists worked on the episodes, aided by scads of others who visited archives, did record lookups and more.

  • Places the crew researched around the world that didn’t make it into the show include Germany, England, Ukraine, Russia, Ireland, Korea and Canada

  • Repositories visited included the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Massachusetts Historical Society and other state archives, local courthouses, public libraries, churches in New York City and France, and synagogues in Ukraine.

  • Filming all seven episodes took 9.5 months
Curtains up and the show begins. Director Spike Lee says his mother’s side of the family is a mystery. This show starts with Lee visiting his mom, but this episode is different from previous ones: He’s at her gravesite. Jacqueline Shelton Lee died of cancer when Spike was 19.

His grandmother “Momma” put him through college and helped him start his career. She died at 100 in 2006. Lee says he “squandered” opportunities to ask her about her family. “Being a filmmaker, I should’ve been filming her … you take stuff for granted” and let yourself believe that the person will be around forever.

Momma’s grandmother Lucinda Jackson was born into slavery. Lee looks for her death records in Dublin, Laurens County, Ga., with help from African-American history expert Melvin Collier. From Georgia death records on Ancestry.com, we learn Lucinda died in 1934.

Next is an obituary search in newspaper microfilm—a successful one. From Lucinda’s obituary, Lee is surprised to learn Lucinda had three sons, Isaac, Phillip and Wilson. But there’s no mention of the boys’ father.

Phillip’s death certificate reveals the answer: His father’s name is Mars Jackson. Spike recalls that when he called Momma to ask for a character’s name for his film She’s Gotta Have It, she suggested Mars.

Next, Lee heads to the Georgia State Archives to meet historian Mark Schultz. They search the 1880 census on Ancestry.com and find a Mars, a farmer in Twiggs County. The family has all the right first names and ages, but they’re under the name Woodall. Schultz says this could be the name of a former slaveowner.

On to earlier censuses, now searching for the slaveowning Woodall family. In the 1860 census, they find the only white Woodall family in the county. This is likely Mars’ owners. Woodall’s 1860 slave schedule, which enumerates slaves by age (not by name), probably includes Lee’s ancestors.

Because Mars was listed as a farmer in 1880, Schultz and Lee look in the 1880 agricultural census. They discover Mars owned land—80 acres of tilled land, plus 50 of wooded land, plus 75 acres of “other” land. Schultz says that when positive relationships existed between former slaves and owners, the freedman may have used those ties to get a start. Perhaps Woodall lent Mars the money to purchase the land.

Lee uses a map to find the acreage Mars owned. He puts on his Mars necklace from the film. “It all started here,” he says. He digs up some Georgia red clay and puts it in a TJ Maxx bag to take with him.

Now we look for Lucinda, starting with her death certificate. Her parents were Wilson and Matilda Griswold. In the 1870 census, Matilda, listed as mulatto, is a cook living with an Ebenezer and Eliza Grier in Griswoldville. There’s no Wilson.

Genealogist Daina Berry presents a contract for several slaves, including Wilson, to be hired out to work in a Samuel Griswold’s cotton gin factory. Berry points out that the fact that the slaves were named means they’re probably highly skilled. Another document (we don’t hear what it is) says that in 1865, Gen. Sherman’s troops destroyed the business and carried away five “negro” men.

Did Wilson go with Sherman? Was he killed? We head to Griswoldville, which has a plaque where the factory once was. The cotton gin company’s plant had been converted to a pistol factory to supply the Confederate Army—hence Sherman’s attack. Local historian Bill Bragg drives up with some records and a pistol that was manufactured at the plant. It was the biggest pistol manufacturer in the Confederacy. “My great-great-grandfather built this pistol…” Lee says. “Which was used to kill the people who were coming to liberate him,” finishes Braggs. The irony.

We see a picture of a grim Samuel and Louisa Griswold in 1860. Lee wants to know if he could be related to James Griswold, perhaps through Matilda, who was listed as a mulatto in the census. Certainly, Bragg says, it’s a possibility.

Berry says that Griswold’s daughter Eliza married Ebenezer Grier, and Matilda was probably gifted to her. Often, children of owners and slaves were sent away to another household. Circumstantial evidence points to Griswold as Matilda’s father.

Berry finds a descendant of the Griswold family on ancestry.com. Guinevere Greer is a great-great-granddaughter of Wilson Griswold, so she may be a third cousin twice removed to Lee. They sit on the couch and have a conversation. What do you say to someone whose ancestor your ancestor owned? You should definitely watch this part of the show. Watch the whole thing, but definitely this part.

“My grandmother, maybe she knew a lot, but she didn’t tell us because we didn’t ask,” says Lee. “I hope my children know they’re on the shoulders of great people.”

I thought this was the most educational episode because it seemed to offer more explanation about the records we were seeing. This episode also has a lot of humor in it--Spike lee's a funny guy.

You can read more about this episode on Ancestry.com.  You can watch the show on NBC’s website.

"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Saturday, May 01, 2010 2:12:54 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Friday, April 30, 2010
Genealogy News Corral, April 26-30
Posted by Diane

Tonight’s season finale of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” features director Spike Lee’s search for his roots. Tune in at 8/7 central.

UK genealogy website Findmypast.co.uk just added75,000 new WW1 records to its subscription databases with the release of the Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-1920. The lists of Royal Marines who received medals for their WWI service provide name, rank, service branch, service number, a description of where or to whom the medals were issued, and sometimes more. You can search the index and click to see the record image.

Archives.com has added more than 30 million California vital records, enhanced its family tree tool, added videos to help you use the site, and added to its Expert Series of how-to articles. This is in addition to the announcement earlier this month about the free search of the records on FamilySearch’s Pilot Record Search site

Subscription pedigree site OneGreatFamily launched a free genealogy-oriented bookmarking site called GenealoGee.com. It works like Digg: You can click to "Gee" an online genealogy article and share it on Facebook or Twitter. Genealogee.com visitors can vote for and comment on the article. You must register with GenealoGee.com to Gee an article; anyone can vote.

At the National Genealogical Society conference, we came across a site called ShipIndex.org. It indexes historical resources that refer to ocean and river vessels. If you search or browse on the site to a page for a vessel, you’ll get citations to find more details in resources such as Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia by Lincoln P. Paine. You can subscribe to the site for additional resources.

I also learned about a free online tool called Hi-Lite that lets you highlight information on websites. You register for a Hi-Lite membership, and use a toolbar to highlight information on webpages. That adds the passage and a citation to your Hi-Lite account.

Pennsylvania researchers might want to check out the Ancestor Tracks website, which has free township warrantee maps for many counties and other resources for learning about early Pennsylvania landowners. You can get the full maps, atlases and more on Ancestor tracks’ Early Landowners of Pennsylvania books and CDs.

The National Archive sand Records Administration opens its new Civil War exhibition, Discovering the Civil War, today at 10 a.m. Opening day features a free outdoor concert, noon lecture by historian and author Robert V. Remini, and a screening of "Glory" For more on the exhibit, visit the archives' website.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Events | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives | UK and Irish roots
Friday, April 30, 2010 1:47:13 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, April 23, 2010
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Recap: Susan Sarandon Episode
Posted by Diane

I’ve missed my little Friday night get-togethers with WDYTYA?, so I was excited about watching actress Susan Sarandon’s search for her roots.

She was already into family history, but faces a mystery: What happened to her grandmother Anita, who disappeared when Sarandon’s mom Lenora was 2? Family rumors paint Anita as a bad mother who spent time running numbers and hanging out in jazz clubs. Susan—the self-identified “black sheep of the family”—feels a connection to this “colorful character.”

Sarandon visits her mom, who’s been hesitant to try to find Anita. Lenora says her mother was a “showgirl” at a nightclub, and produces a fuzzy newspaper photo. Lenora found out when she was 9 or 10 that her mom was alive and eventually met her; both are in a photo taken in a funhouse mirror. But that was the extent of their relationship.

We go to New York City, where Sarandon knows Anita lived around 1929, to meet with genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak. We see Anita’s birth certificate naming her mother Angelina and her father Mansueto Rigali, whose occupation was “statues.” The couple was from Italy, and they had nine children before Anita—but only two of them were still living when Anita was born.

Their mother had died by the time Anita was 12. Smolenyak presents a marriage certificate for Anita. The groom was 21 and the bride was 15—no, wait, make that 13! She claimed to be older, but doing the math from Anita’s birthday puts her at barely teenaged. Sarandon recalls that Anita must have been pregnant, because her uncle was born six months after the wedding.

Sarandon meets Italian immigration historian Mary Brown at St. Joseph church. The Rigalis lived at 35 Madison Street in a crowded Lower East Side tenement neighborhood Brown calls a “death trap.” I llike the interwoven history lessons.

Cut to Sarandon and her son Miles at the New York Public Library, where they search an Italian website for Anita’s surname. I love that her son’s getting involved! They’re from Tuscany, so of course, this is Hollywood and that’s where they go.

Ahhh, Florence. Genealogist Cinzia Rossello produces records of the family, including a military conscription document showing Mansueto was from a small town, Coreglia, and owned land.

Sarandon goes to Coreglia, where Rossello shows her the family’s baptismal records. Mansueto’s record has his father’s and grandfather’s name. We can get back 10 generations, to 1640, just in this church’s baptismal register. “I’m from Tuscany,” Sarandon says. “It’s gone from being something abstract to being very concrete.”

Next she meets Gabriello Cabrese at Coreglia’s statue museum—the town was famous for its figuremaking. We learn that in 1888, at age 32, Mansueto was one of the first sculptors to go to the United States. That year, 98 figuremakers left.

Back in New York, Sarandon visits the cemetery where Mansueto is buried. He died at 72. He and his children—except Anita—are on the burial register, but they have no markers.

Still in search of Anita’s story, Sarandon meets Burton Pereti, an expert on New York nightclubs. He suggests she was active at speakeasies in New York, which were magnets for young women who worked as dancers and singers. There’s little documentation of Anita in nightclubs, he says, but he presents an October 1932 marriage license showing Anita’s marriage at age 25 to a Ben Kahn. The document reports no previous marriages. “Nothing seems to add up,” Sarandon says.

Pereti tells her the show’s researchers were unable to find a record of a divorce from Sarandon’s grandfather, the man Anita married at 13. After a commercial, Sarandon says her grandfather didn’t divorce Anita until after that photo in the funhouse.

Sarandon and Miles visit the New York library to use city directories. They find Anita on West 78th Street and a possible Ben on 74th. Were they already separated the year after they married?

Next, they search Ancestry.com for Anita's death record. It’s not under Kahn, so Miles suggests not using a last name. Clever kid! They find an Anita Fiorentini who died in 1984—wrong name, but everything else fits.

At the library in Rockland County, NY, where Anita Fiorentini died, Sarandon finds her obituary. The details fit, down to the parents’ names, except that Anita’s birth date makes her younger. Anita had married a man named Dominick.

Sarandon goes knocking on doors in her grandmother’s neighborhood, and learned a lot about what she was like from a neighbor who didn’t want to talk on camera. Sarandon next visits Dominick’s nieces. “If you can tell me anything…” Sarandon says, and the nieces say “We can!” They tell her Anita and Dom were happy and show pictures of them.

This was the least tearful WDYTYA?, but still touching. “As this journey unfolded, I became more and more compassionate to her and more forgiving and my heart went out to her,” Sarandon says. “Now my mom has some closure.”
"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, April 23, 2010 9:26:47 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [2]
Genealogy News Corral: April 19 to 23
Posted by Diane

This week certainly flew by, and it's already time for another roundup:
  • Tonight is the first new episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” in a couple of weeks. Tune in to NBC at 8/7 Central for actress Susan Sarandon’s family history journey. (Check your local listings—we’re hearing the show’s airing at different times in some areas.)
  • A call to action is circling the blogosphere regarding the possible closure of the Boston Public Library’s Microtext Department and Newspaper Room. The contents would be distributed to alternate locations within and outside of the city’s Central Library. Blogger Dick Eastman, who’s based not far from the library, has more details and suggestions for taking action.
We'll post next week's news corral from the National Genealogical Society conference in Salt Lake City. Typically, genealogy companies save juicy announcements for a conference, so stay tuned right here.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Libraries and Archives
Friday, April 23, 2010 4:29:49 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, April 09, 2010
Genealogy News Corral: April 5 to 9
Posted by Diane

  • The Georgia Historic Newspapers site has added a free Atlanta Historic Newspapers Archive with digitized pages from 14 newspapers published in Atlanta from 1847 to 1922. You can keyword-search the full text of the whole collection or an individual title, or browse issues by title and year. (You may need to download the DJVu Plugin to view articles.)
  • The Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research in Houston, considered one of the country's best public libraries for genealogical research, is facing a reduction of operating hours due to budget cuts. Hours will likely change to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and closed Friday and Sunday. (Current hours are Monday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Web Sites | Libraries and Archives
Friday, April 09, 2010 9:06:18 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, April 06, 2010
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Gets Second Season
Posted by Diane

Woo-hoo! NBC has given “Who Do You Think You Are?” the green light for a second season.

From the NBC press release:
"Who Do You Think You Are?" from executive producer Lisa Kudrow is averaging a 1.6 rating, 6 share in adults 18-49 and 6.8 million viewers overall in "most current" results for its season thus far. In preliminary results for last Friday, "Who Do You Think You Are?" won the 8-9 p.m. ET hour in adults 18-49, marking the first time any regular competitor in this slot has beaten an original episode of CBS's "Ghost Whisperer" in 18-49 rating since November 17, 2006. "Who Do You Think You Are?" has improved the time period by 23 percent in adult 18-49 rating versus NBC's average for the traditional 2008-09 season in "live plus same day" results.
You can watch “Who Do You Think You Are?” episodes on NBC.com.


"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Tuesday, April 06, 2010 7:56:57 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #  Comments [13]
# Friday, April 02, 2010
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Recap: Brooke Shields Episode
Posted by Diane

Spoiler alert! This post reveals details about the Brooke Shields episode of “Who Do You think You Are?” so don’t watch if you haven’t seen the episode and you want to be surprised.

The theme tonight: how genealogy can help you understand—and forgive—your ancestors, and how it can give you a sense of belonging.

Tonight I sat back on the couch and flipped open the laptop in preparation for learning about Brooke Shields family history. At the beginning (after the annoyingly long series promo), Shields talks about her childhood: Modeling by 11 months old, then acting in movies. (Read more about her career on the “Who Do You Think You Are?” website.) Her parents, who divorced by the time Shields was 5 months old, she says, “were the antithesis of one another.” She describes her dad as aristocracy and mom as working class. “I never knew where I belonged,” she says.

She heads to Newark, NJ, where she was born but about which she has no early memories. Shields doesn’t know anything about her mom's parents, other than her grandma’s name, Theresa Dollinger, and the fact she had a sister.

“I think my grandmother was horrible to my mother and I started disliking her at a very young age,” Shields says. How sad.

She meets Michelle Chubenko, a genealogist specializing in New Jersey family history. They search birth certificates on microfilm. They find Theresa's and learn her mother’s name, Ida. Next, they look for the sister. Excellent strategy.

Surprise! Ida had two other children! Brothers John and Edward were born in 1910 and 1914. John died in infancy. But what happened to Edward?

Shields is eager to find out. “You feel like you’re a detective,” she says, which is exactly what I think so many people like about genealogy.

On a busy street, she meets historian Tom McCabe. He shows her a 1910 image of the same street, where Theresa Dollinger lived as a child.

Chubenko has more vital records to show Shields. Ida, Theresa’s mother, died of uterine cancer when Theresa was 10. Shields realizes her grandmother probably had to be an adult and a “parent” to her younger siblings at a young age.

Another tragedy: Edward died by accidental drowning at age 13—presumably while in Theresa’s care. Chubenko gives Shields an article about the drowning, and she goes to the spot where it happened. Local boys were bathing in the river on a hot day, and Edward couldn’t swim.

Shields' feelings toward her grandmother have turned to empathy. We’re seeing how understanding your ancestor’s lives can help you forgive them.

Next, we follow Shields to research her father’s family at the New York Historical Society, where genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts has prepared a family tree. Shields' father died in 2003, and she doesn’t know much about that side, but she believes they were well-off in Italy.

Giovanni Torlinia, her 5th-great-grandfather (I think; could be off by a great or two) who died in 1829. It’s thought Giovanni’s father Marino changed the family name to Torlonia. Shields wants to know what came before, and travels to Rome.

She visits the building where her ancestors had a bank, as a crowd gathers to gawk. Marino Torlonia was a cloth merchant who supplied the invading French, and he opened up the first private bank in Italy with branches in several countries. He became wealthy enough to buy properties, including one near Rome, and Shields tours Villa Torlonia. It’s an opulent palace filled with murals and sculpture.

We’re looking at a record (I didn’t catch what it is) showing Marino Torlonia’s origin in France.

She goes to the region of Augerolles and learns from another expert Marino was actually born in France as Marin Torlonias. An abbott who Marin worked for was exiled and Marin helped him escape to various places in Europe, ending in Rome. They’ve found THE house, a humble stone structure, where the family started. Shields feels a connection—she loves France and was a French literature major in college.

She explores another branch of her dad's family: Christine Marie, who has the tantalizing word “royale” after her name on a family tree. Shields searches Ancestry.com while on the train (I was beginning to worry the site wouldn't make an appearance!) and learns Christine was born in the Louvre, which used to be a royal palace.

She meets Charles Mosely, a expert on royal genealogy. He tells Shields she’s related to Henry IV through Christine Marie. In the Saint-Denis cathedral, they visit a chamber storing the hearts of many French kings. Shields climbs onto a shelf and touches the container with Henry IV heart, as Mosely stammers, unsure whether to stop her. Don't try this at your local museum, kids!

At Versailles, which Louis XIV built, Mosely tells Shields Louis XIV—grandfather of Henry IV—is her first cousin many generations removed. Mosely ticks off a list of other royals Shields is related to. She’s amazed.

“Being able to find your place in the grand scheme of things—there’s something empowering about that. By going on this journey, I feel more complete as a person.” I think even if your roots are a lot more humble and pedestrian than this—more like Shields’ mother’s side, perhaps—you’ll feel empowered when you know the people who came before you.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, April 02, 2010 8:17:25 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [5]
Genealogy News Corrral: March 29 to April 2
Posted by Diane

  • Tonight on “Who Do You Think You Are?” watch actress Brooke Shields reconnect with her royal past. Take note of the new episode schedule, which inserts a repeat and a bye week:
April 2: Brooke Shields
April 9: Sarah Jessica Parker (Repeat)
April 16: No episode
April 23: Susan Sarandon
April 30: Spike Lee
  • The Brigham Young University library has posted data from the Mormon Immigration Index CD (originally published in 2000) in a searchable database. Data come from immigrants’ accounts, passenger lists and other resources documenting Europeans (especially from the British Isles) who became Mormons and immigrated to the United States.
  • For those of you who are LDS church members, the subscription family tree site OneGreatFamily is launching a new web site called OneClickTempleTrip.com that taps into “New FamilySearch” for a quick and easy way to identify ancestors you can take to the temple for ordinance work. (New FamilySearch is a family tree site available to many LDS members; it eventually will become available to the public.)


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots | Free Databases | immigration records
Friday, April 02, 2010 11:41:28 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Tips for Researching Orphaned Ancestors
Posted by Diane

One thing that jumped out at me during last Friday’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” was when Matthew Broderick discovered his grandmother grew up in an orphanage.

I knew that my grandfather grew up in an orphanage from letters he wrote as an adult seeking his birth records, but through research I've been able to find out a lot more. His parents weren’t dead; rather, his father had gone to prison and I’m still trying to find out what happened to his mother (the family later reunited).

Fortunately, my grandfather seems to have had a positive experience. I’ve found newspaper articles about his hard-working ways and awards he won. Soon after his father retrieved him from the home, he returned to finish high school there.

Here are some of my tried-and-true tips for researching ancestors in orphanages:
  • Search census records. You may see an orphanage resident referred to as “inmate” in the census. The name of the institution is usually written at the top of the schedule that lists the residents. Typically, the census taker didn’t talk to each child. Instead, he’d transcribe names from the home’s records (which is why residents may be listed in alphabetical order).
If your orphan ancestor was around during the 1880 census, he or she may have been listed in the special schedule of “Defective, Dependent and Delinquent Classes.” You can download a PDF guide to finding these records from FamilyTreeMagazine.com.
  • Run a Google search on the name of the institution. My grandfather lived in the Corsicana State Home in Texas. From the online Handbook of Texas, I learned which entity has authority over the home—the Texas Youth Commission—so I visited the commission’s website and found out how to request records related to my grandfather. If you find the state home where your ancestor lived has been shut down, chances are any surviving records were sent to the state archives.
For an orphanage run by a religious group, search online for denominational archives. You also may find historical records of homes affiliated with churches or other private organizations at state and local historical societies, local libraries, or on Family History Library microfilm.
  • Follow request instructions. Orphanage records may be considered sensitive and more-recent records may be restricted. I included with my request copies of my grandfather’s death certificate and my driver’s license. I also provided his name, his parents’ names, and the years I believed he lived there. Months later, I received an envelope with his admission records.
  • Explore orphan trains. If you think your ancestor was on one of the trains that transported orphaned children from Eastern cities to adoptive families in the West, try these sites listed on Genealinks.
Related resources from Family Tree Magazine


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Research Tips
Tuesday, March 30, 2010 10:19:31 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, March 29, 2010
Behind the Scenes of WDYTYA?: Matthew Broderick Episode
Posted by Diane

Last week’s episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” started with Matthew Broderick talking to his sister about their grandfather, but that didn’t actually happen until researchers had already begun their search.

A “behind the scenes” e-mail from Ancestry.com’s Anastasia Tyler said researchers started with only information the actor himself knew knew, and had a hard time at first pinpointing the right James Joseph Broderick in records.

Ancestry.com, a subscription genealogy website, partnered with NBC to create the series.

Here’s Tyler's full e-mail about researching Broderick’s family tree:
Matthew Broderick’s first step in this week’s episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" was to talk to his sister, who shared details about his paternal grandparents and started him on his journey. Information from family members can be priceless when researching family trees, but what happens when family members aren’t immediately accessible? That’s the scenario the research team faced when they started researching Matthew Broderick’s tree.
 One of the fantastic things about the format of Who Do You Think You Are? is that the celebrities really are starting out with what they know. We watch them on screen learning information from their families or from records for the first time. Likewise, the research team started out only with the information that the celebrity knew.
A Common Ancestor
For Matthew Broderick’s tree, the researchers had the name of his paternal grandfather, Joseph Broderick, and a few other clues about Joseph’s life. Using these facts, the researchers set out to discover more about Joseph Broderick.
They quickly ran into somewhat of a brick wall. “When we started the research for Matthew’s tree, all we knew was that his paternal grandparents were Joseph Broderick and May Martindale,” says genealogist Krysten Baca of Ancestry.com. “We were quickly stuck; there were many Joseph Brodericks and not enough information to determine who the correct ancestral Joseph was.”
Don’t Overlook Anything
But Matthew was able to provide the research team additional clues – his grandfather Joseph Broderick was a postman in New Hampshire. The occupation was a small, perhaps seemingly insignificant detail, but in this case it broke down the brick wall. Immediately after learning this information, the team found a record for a James Joseph Broderick working in the Post Office in Manchester, NH.
This record matched Matthew’s tree in three ways: (1) the name Joseph Broderick, (2) the location of New Hampshire, (3) the occupation of postal worker. In addition, Matthew’s father was named James Broderick. Based on these pieces of information, the team hypothesized that James Joseph Broderick was the ancestral Joseph Broderick, Matthew’s grandfather.
Breaking through the Brick Walls
Focusing on this hunch, the researchers looked for additional records about James Joseph Broderick of Manchester, New Hampshire. The records they found matched the few additional details known about the ancestral Joseph Broderick and allowed the researchers to confirm that James Joseph Broderick was indeed Matthew’s paternal grandfather.
The records gave the team another brick-wall-breaking clue—an alternate name for Joseph’s wife. Previously the researchers knew her only as May; the additional records listed her as Mary. This information allowed further discoveries about Mary and her life before she married James Joseph Broderick.
Of course, Matthew’s sister held some of this information all along. But similar to many researchers’ experiences, sometimes research begins before family members can be consulted. “If this case proves anything,” says Krysten, “it’s that even the smallest clue could be the key to unlocking a family tree.”  
If you missed this week’s episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?", you can watch it online.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, March 29, 2010 8:01:00 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
# Friday, March 26, 2010
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode 4 Recap
Posted by Diane

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t yet seen the Matthew Broderick episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” and you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading.

Matthew Broderick start the episode with his dad’s line, and he visits his sister Janet to learn the basics. Their grandfather James Joseph Broderick (“Joe”), he finds out, was in the First World War. Janet had heard he received money because he’d breathed in poisonous gas during the war.

Broderick goes to the National Archives facility in New York City to research military records. Joe was in the 106th infantry, 26th division in France in March 1918. “I’m dying to know what happened,” Broderick says. Who among us hasn’t uttered those words?

He goes to France, to the battlefield where Joe, fought. A historian is describing the battle, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (also called the Battle of the Argonne Forest). Joe was the first responder to injured soldiers on the field. Joe received a Purple Heart for being wounded on Oct. 27, 1918.

Broderick and the historian visit the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, where more than 14,000 American soldiers are buried. He pays respects to those from his grandfather’s division, some of whom died the day Joe was injured.

Joe received a commendation for performing his duties with bravery. Good quote: “It’s because of his service and all of these men that our family has the life we do today…. It’s like learning there’s something different in your being than what you always thought.”

We switch to Joe’s wife Mary Martindale’s at the Connecticut State Archives. Broderick seems to be covering more branches than those in the other episodes—I like it.

It’s an Ancestry.com census search lesson. She lives in an orphanage in the 1910 census, which it looks like Matthew never realized. They go into the vault—I wonder how many real-life people get to do that.

Coroner’s records show Mary’s mother had died and her father was killed in 1908 in an accident while working for a railroad company.

Next we look at Mary’s father William in an 1870 census book for New Haven. William’s father isn’t listed with the rest of the family. They go to the 1850 census and find a 27-year-old Robert Martindale, William’s father. Matthew Broderick has found his great-great-great-grandfather. They’re all missing from the 1860 census. A logical explanation? The Civil War.

The archivist and Broderick look in a card index—in an old-fashioned library card catalog drawer—of those who served in the Civil War by town. On to enlistment records. He volunteered in 1862. There’s a physical description. The archivist seems concerned for Broderick. “It’s a lot to take in,” he says.

We see a shot of Broderick as Robert Gould Shaw in Glory, a movie I love. The archivist brings muster rolls, showing that his ancestor fought at Gettysburg, and survived. Broderick traces the regiment to Atlanta and the battle of Peachtree Creek in July 1864. He meets a Civil War historian on the field and learns Robert Martindale died July 23, 1864, with a musket ball to the head—a bloody but quick and painless death, the historian reassures him.

Another historian, Brad Quinlin (who, incidentally, appeared as an extra in Glory) meets with Broderick. They find the makeshift cemetery where the soldiers from the battle were buried.

After the war, many of the soldiers were reinterred in newly established national cemeteries. We visit Marietta National Cemetery, where 10,000 Union soldiers were buried. 3,000 of the graves are numbered but unidentified. Quinlan is able to study records for the entire regiment and figure out which numbered stone is Martindales: 2469.

Broderick is “gobsmacked.” I’m amazed they can track him nearly 150 years later. Quinlan is going to send the paperwork to the VA and the grave will be identified.

You can search burials in national cemeteries with the Nationwide Gravesite Locator.

I like that we heard so many stories in this episode, but it feels a little fast-paced to me, like the emotion hasn’t had time to sink in. Maybe it’s because last week’s episode was so emotional, and I’m typing the whole time and the dog is whining because I’m ignoring her. But I like how Broderick sums it up: “We’re all related to the generations that happened before us. What they went through shaped our time.”
"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Friday, March 26, 2010 8:28:32 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
Genealogy News Corral: March 22-26
Posted by Diane

Tonight is Matthew Broderick’s big night on “Who Do You Think You Are?” Looks like we’ll see some parallels between Broderick’s character, Robert Gould Shaw, in the 1989 movie Glory (which I love) and the actor’s real-life Civil War ancestors. Tune in at 8 pm/7 pm central.

You can follow the National Archives' upcoming Civil War sesquicentennial (I love that word!) exhibit on Twitter. Tweets will highlight people and stories of the Civil War and link to images of items in the exhibition. Part I will be open April 30 to Sept. 6; Part II will be open Sept. 10 to April 11 of next year.

The Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society is holding its 27th annual Gene-O-Rama Conference—themed Researching Your Female Ancestors—this weekend. You can register at the door for $40 (members) or $45 (non members). Get more information on the society’s website.

Ancestor Seekers, a company that provides research services and organizes genealogy trips to Salt Lake City, has started a fundraiser program for genealogical societies. Guests attending a trip can request to have 5 percent of the fee go to a participating society. Interested societies can contact Ancestor Seekers for more information.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Canadian roots | Genealogy Events | Genealogy societies | Libraries and Archives
Friday, March 26, 2010 1:09:56 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, March 19, 2010
"WDYTYA?" Episode 3 Recap
Posted by Diane

Spoiler alert! Don't read if you don't want to know yet what happend in "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode 3.

In tonight's "Who Do You Think You Are?" Lisa Kudrow explores her ancestry in Belarus. This is the episode she’s said in interviews is very tough emotionally, because it deals with the Holocaust.

This episode starts at home as the other ones did, with Kudrow talking to her dad. His parents are East European Jews. Her great-grandmother was killed during the Holocaust along with others from her shtetl. Many years later, her dad was deeply affected at the retelling of how he learned what had happened in the town from a boy named Yuri.

From the beginning, Kudrow is looking to explore this side of the family. Her great-grandmother was killed during the Holocaust along with others from her shtetl. Her dad was deeply affected even this many years later.

She’s headed to Minsk. Anyone remember the Friends episode when Phoebe’s boyfriend Max had to go live in Minsk? I’ve heard some people express frustration with the recaps after each commercial break, but I like the opportunity to catch up and digest what’s going on.

Imagine learning your ancestor suffered a terrible death--was “killed and burned,” like Kudrow’s great-great-grandmother. It’s hard to believe something like that could happen in the charming place where Kudrow’s grandmother grew up.

She hears the story from an old woman who witnessed the devastation, and tried but wasn’t able to save a young girl from the massacre. After the break, Kudrow reads how the community’s Jews were rounded up and killed in the marketplace. Yes, this is hard to watch.

It’s striking me that this episode is more personal and impactful than history classes I’ve taken.

Now Kudrow is in Poland in search of her cousin Yuri Barudin, who had told her dad what happened to his grandmother long ago. He’d changed his name to Boleslaw, one that sounds more Polish. She lets her fingers do the walking looking for his son. This is the “I think we’re related” scene in the promos—it’s a happy scene.

The family recognizes Kudrow from television. What would it be like if a TV star showed up at your door? Yuri didn’t witness the massacre, he had managed to get away and later learned of the story. Kudrow telling her dad about meeting Yuri is the happiest part of the show for me.

Dad and Yuri are Skyping, and we hear how Yuri left $50 long ago when he met Kudrow’s dad. This shows how even after tragedies rip families apart, family history can bring them together across oceans.

If you missed it, you'll be able to watch this episode on Hulu.


"Who Do You Think You Are?"
Friday, March 19, 2010 8:21:03 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [4]
Genealogy News Corral: March 8-12
Posted by Diane

  • The second week of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” increased its viewership by 13 percent in adults age 18 to 49, and 4 percent in total viewers. The show finished in the ratings within a tenth of a point of first place for the 8/7 central time slot in adults age 18 to 49, and is tied for No. 1 among the major networks in adults age 18 to 34.
Tune in to tonight’s episode as Lisa Kudrow searches for her roots in Belarus.
  • The UK’s General Register Office (GRO) has announced a restructuring of its charges for ordering birth, marriage and death records. Starting April 6, you’ll select from two instead of eight options, so it’s simpler, but the fees for standard service are going up from  £7.00 to £9.25 (about $10.60 to $14). See the GRO website for more information
  • Ancestry.com is offering a free webinar about using Family Tree Maker 2010. It’s May 19, 8 pm EDT (thanks to the person who commented below to let me know about the new date!). Watch as the experts demonstrate advanced features available in Family Tree Maker 2010. Read more and register on Ancestry.com’s website.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Ancestry.com | UK and Irish roots
Friday, March 19, 2010 11:27:44 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Monday, March 15, 2010
Behind the Scenes of "WDYTYA?": Researching Emmitt Smith's Roots
Posted by Grace

Ancestry.com's PR and events manager Anastasia Tyler offers this behind-the-scenes look at the second episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?":
Seasoned researchers know that discovering the slavery roots in a family tree can be time consuming and difficult -- perhaps even seemingly impossible. But, as Emmitt Smith's story shows on this week's episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?," African-Americans can discover their heritage. The genealogy team who worked on Emmitt's tree shares a behind-the-scenes look at how they made the jump from post-1870 records to pre-Civil War records as they documented Emmitt's enslaved ancestors.
 
Post-1870 Research
Vital records, census records and other primary sources allowed the research team to document Emmitt's family tree back to great-great-grandparents -- William Watson and Victoria Puryear. A 1900 census record from Monroe County, Ala., indicated William and Victoria were both born in Alabama during the Civil War. These facts suggested that William and Victoria could have been born slaves, and perhaps their parents as well.
 
Since Victoria and William were born in the early 1860s, it was likely that records created post-1870 could shed some light on their parents. Vital records were especially helpful here; Victoria's death certificate included the names of her parents, Prince Puryear and Annie McMillian.
 
The 1870 census added clues: Prince Puryear and his family (including young Victoria) were listed in Monroe County, Alabama. Additional Puryear households were also found on the same census page. The ages for the heads of the Puryear households made them potential brothers of Prince. These heads of households also had the same racial designation as Prince -- mulatto. Finally, one of the households listed a 55-year-old mulatto woman born in Virginia named Mariah Puryear. "Our first thought was 'Could Mariah be Prince's mother?'" says genealogist Joseph Shumway of ProGenealogists. If the answer was yes, if Mariah was Prince"s mother, then Mariah would be Emmitt's fourth great-grandmother.

Pre-Civil War Documentation
The research team needed to establish whether Mariah Puryear from the 1870 census was Prince Puryear's mother. Slave research involves looking at records pertaining to the slave-holding families. Vital records were not kept for slaves, but slaves may be mentioned in records created when the slave owner dies and in records pertaining to deeded transactions. So the research team first had to determine the identity of the slave-holding family. Once found, the family's records could reveal further information about Prince Puryear's family and his potential connection to the woman named Mariah.
 
Emancipated slaves, in general, didn't stray too far from their most recent owner's property. In addition, many former slaves retained the surname of the former slave holders. So the researchers turned back to the 1870 census, looking for white families in the same vicinity as Emmitt's Puryear ancestors. Interestingly enough, there was a white Puryear family living in Monroe County, Ala. This family, potentially, could have been the slave-holding family.
 
The Puryears, like many slave owners, had extensive real estate, so the team looked for the family's land records, deeds, and probate records. In the Monroe County probate records (on microfilm at the Family History Library), the researchers found probate records pertaining to the 1850-51 estate of Mary Puryear. The inventory of Mary's property was a key document. In it she listed Mariah and her children, by name: "Mariah and children Henry, Mary, McTom, Victoria and Prince Albert." Henry and Thomas were the names of two potential Puryear brothers who appeared on the same 1870 census page with Prince and Mariah. The inventory "matched the information we"d found in the census," says Joseph. "With the combination of names and location, there was no doubt."

Further records showed that Mary Puryear was the widow of slave owner Alexander Puryear and helped to solidify the connection between Prince, Mariah and the Puryear slave-holding family. "There are records out there," Joseph concludes. "Just be persistent."


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Monday, March 15, 2010 8:48:21 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
'Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode Two Recap
Posted by Grace

As I settle in with some popcorn to watch the show, I'm really interested to see if Emmitt Smith can make the jump from America to Africa like he's hoping.

Emmitt Smith gets a DNA test done and goes home to Florida to talk to his family. His dad mentions a cousin with a genealogy website -- that's real luck! Emmitt's next stop is Burnt Corn, Ala., where he stops at a general store and runs into a cousin.

It's so nice to see Emmitt taking notes -- it felt like all the info just fell into SJP's lap. We're getting into some heavy history at the Monroe County Courthouse as Emmitt encounters segregated turn-of-the-century vital records. The archivist says Emmitt's ancestor Bill Watson was born into slavery; another researcher determines Bill's wife's maiden name.

Now we're tracking down the name Prince Puryear -- was it the surname of a slave owner? We hope to find out by digging into the 1870 census, the first to list African-Americans by name, researcher Marjorie Sholes tells Emmitt.

Emmitt finds a slave-owning family named Puryear in the 1850 census. Letters reveal the man was a slave trader, even. Emmitt finds Prince Puryear in a will -- with a price. It's clear Emmitt is totally blown away by this. The researcher points out that the cemetery they're sitting in is only for white people -- Emmitt's black ancestors' graves are grown over and forgotten in the woods.

Going into Virginia to track down the Puryears seems like it's going to bear lots of fruit. Mecklenburg County, Va., was built by the Puryears, a historian says, and the slave trade was big business. They dig into the local records, and pull out deed book No. 22, which freaks Emmitt out! (His football jersey number was 22 through his entire career.)

Historian says the slave owners raised and bred their slaves like horses -- but they treated the horses better. His ancestor Mariah appears on a deed at just 11 years old. It seems that slave trader Samuel Puryear is Emmitt's fifth-great grandfather.

It seems that Mariah is as far back as Emmitt can go, as earlier records are difficult to find. But then Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak comes to the rescute with the results of Emmitt's DNA test. She says Emmitt's ancestry is about 81 percent African, 7 percent Native American and 12 percent European. She never sees people with 100% African ancestry, and his background is very strongly African.

Emmitt is going to Africa! Benin, specifically, part of West Africa's former "Slave Coast." But the past is drawn into the present -- he's told that trafficking of children is still happening in Benin. The orphans he's meeting were sold by their parents for money.

Emmitt visits the courtyard where Africans were held before the strong ones were loaded onto slave ships. He has a teary reunion with his wife on the beach, where he tells her what he's discovered. It's an amazing example of how bringing history to light can change your life. Emmitt says, "History is my story right now." That's a wrap!


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | African-American roots | Celebrity Roots
Monday, March 15, 2010 8:44:11 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, March 12, 2010
Genealogy News Corral: March 8 to 12
Posted by Diane


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Events | Vital Records
Friday, March 12, 2010 9:24:28 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Monday, March 08, 2010
Behind the Scenes of "WDYTYA?": Researching Sarah Jessica Parker's Roots
Posted by Diane

For those of you yearning to know more about how a small army of genealogists uncovered Sarah Jessica Parker’s Gold Rush and Salem Witch trial ancestry, shown Friday night in NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” premiere, Ancestry.com has provided a look at the behind-the-scenes research process.

I'll send you over to Geneabloggers, where Thomas MacEntee has posted it.

For even more details, see Kimberly Powell's About.com Genealogy post about a letter she found that mentions Parker’s ancestor John S. Hodge.

The show came in second in the ratings for the 8 p.m. time slot, with 6.85 million viewers—not bad for a Friday evening. If you missed "Who Do YouThink You Are?" you can watch on Hulu.

And set your DVR to record "The Oprah Winfrey Show" Tuesday, which promises to be a geneafest as Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon, Lisa Kudrow, Brooke Shields and Emmitt Smith talk about their family history finds for “Who Do You Think You Are?” Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. also will discuss his findings on the PBS series "Faces of America" and, it looks like from the video clip, touch on Gates’ July 2009 arrest for disorderly conduct (which occurred upon his return from filming Yo-yo Ma’s family story in China).


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Monday, March 08, 2010 10:49:48 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Friday, March 05, 2010
'Who Do You Think You Are?" Episode One Recap
Posted by Diane

We’ll be doing quick recaps of every “Who Do You Think You Are?” episode right here. So if you haven’t yet watched the Sarah Jessica Parker episode and you don’t want to know, stop reading this second.

Here are some of my thoughts (and Facebook posts) while I watched:

Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP) and her brother are joking about being related to a Mayflower passenger. I smell foreshadowing.

SJP's father is Eastern-European Jewish, but she has lots of questions about her mother’s side. Her mother born and raised in Cincinnati’s German Community (just like my mom’s dad). SJP visits her mom and learns her great-grandmother's last name was Hodge.

SJP goes to Cincinnati's Clifton Public Library, about 10 minutes from where I am right now, meeting with genealogist Natalie Cottrill. (Read more about her visit in this Cincinnati Enquirer article.)

SJP’s great-grandfather John Hodge is reported dead in 1849 in a newspaper article, but appears in the census in California the next year.

First Ancestry.com commercial.

Now she’s at the Museum Center, formerly Cincinnati’s Union Terminal train station (a great place to visit if you're ever in town), meeting with UCLA history professor Stephen Aron.

Hodge invested $200 in a gold-prospecting company. He left for California, leaving his wife (whom he may or may not have known was pregnant). It’s neat to see SJP’s genuine excitement and curiosity. Now off to California.

I’m concerned viewers will think you actually have to visit every place your ancestors lived in order to research. That might make it even more fun and exciting, but it’s definitely not required!

John Hodge did die after he arrived in California. Sad.

SJP says it's “extraordinary” to think your ancestor was part of such a profound event in history. That’s what I love about genealogy.

Now Josh Taylor from the New England Historic Genealogical Society is telling her about John Hodge’s family. 1849 to 1635 in 15 seconds flat.

Now we’re on to the Massachusetts Historical Society. (You can read more about the MHS visit here.)

SJP is looking at an online index and sees the word “warrant” by her ancestor’s last name. Cut to commercial!

I love the little review after every commercial break.

SJP’s ancestor Esther Elwell was arrested for performing witchcraft against her neighbor, Mary Fitch, causing Fitch to die. SJP is so surprised, she’s stammering.

Another commercial break!

Whew! SJP’s relative was arrested near the end of the trials, and ended up never having to go to court. She lived to age 82.

I feel like there should be a disclosure telling us how many hours and how many people all this research took. But, I really enjoyed watching someone else enjoy the process of genealogy. It was fun watching along with my Facebook genealogy friends. I think the show told a great story, introduced us to (or reacquainted us with) historical events, and got across how meaningful family history research can be.

Update: For more details on how the research into SJP's ancestry was done, see our March 8 post.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Celebrity Roots
Friday, March 05, 2010 9:20:21 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [8]
# Thursday, March 04, 2010
Easy Ways to Help Your Friends Get Started in Genealogy
Posted by Diane

So pretty soon, your friends who’ve seen “Who Do You Think You Are?” and know you’re into genealogy might start asking you how they can start digging into their family history.

Here are some beginner friendly resources:
Also don’t miss our “Who Do You Think You Are?” landing page, where beginning and experienced genealogists can learn more about the show, see the latest Tweets about it, discuss episodes on our Forum and get the lowdown on even more celebrities’ family trees.

Related resources from ShopFamilyTree.com:
  • Census Secrets CD with in-depth information on one of the most-used genealogical records


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Research Tips
Thursday, March 04, 2010 10:17:32 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Video: "Who Do You Think You Are?" on "Today"
Posted by Diane

Lisa Kudrow appeared on "Today" this morning to talk about “Who Do You Think You Are?” which premieres (in case you hadn’t heard) this Friday on NBC at 8 pm (7pm central).

She describes the episode about her own roots (airing March 19) as “relentless” because it deals with the Holocaust—but if you hang in there, she adds, there’s a "happy surprise" at the end. Kudrow also calls Emmitt Smith, whose episode airs March 12, a “great teacher.” Here’s the "Today" video:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Looks like the Today anchors, who’ve explored their own ancestries for television, plan to tune in.

See the Genealogy Gems blog for a schedule of upcoming “Who Do You Think You Are?” promotional appearances.

And here’s an episode lineup:
  • March 5: Sarah Jessica Parker
  • March 12: Emmitt Smith
  • March 19: Lisa Kudrow
  • March 26: Matthew Broderick
  • April 2: Brooke Shields
  • April 9: Susan Sarandon
  • April 23: Spike Lee


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Videos
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 1:23:44 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Friday, February 26, 2010
Genealogy News Corral: February 22-26
Posted by Diane

Here are some of this week's genealogy news bits:
  • Ancestry.com is holding an Ultimate Family History Journey Sweepstakes to help launch “Who Do You Think You Are?” The grand prize is $20,000 in travel money (!), expert help with your genealogy research, and Ancestry.com subscriptions. Twenty first prize winenrs get a World Deluxe Subscription. Enter at Ancestry.com (scroll to the bottom of the home page and click on the sweepstakes promo) before April 30, 2010, at 11:59 pm ET.
  • British subscription and pay-per-view site Findmypast has launched a London Collection with baptism, marriage and burial records dating as far back as 1538. It also has London and West Kent Probate Indexes from 1750 to 1858, and names of participants in the Matchworkers' Strike of 1888. (Many of these records are also in Ancestry.com’s London Parish Records collection, launched last year.)

Ancestry.com | Jewish roots | UK and Irish roots | "Who Do You Think You Are?"
Friday, February 26, 2010 3:10:04 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]
# Friday, February 12, 2010
In "Who Do You Think You Are?" News ...
Posted by Diane

Genealogy Gems podcaster Lisa Louise Cooke scored an interview with Lisa Kudrow, producer (and cast member) of the upcoming “Who Do You Think You Are?” tv show, premiering March 5 at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Their conversation will be in the free Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 81, available starting this Sunday, Feb. 14, on the Genealogy Gems website.

Ancestry.com, a partner in the show, created a webpage to encourage you to spread the word about it with downloadable flyers, an e-mail you can forward to friends, wallpaper for your computer and more.

Kudrow addresses genealogy enthusiasts in this video, which also contains the “Who Do You Think You Are?” trailer you may have seen.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Genealogy Events | Podcasts | Videos
Friday, February 12, 2010 12:12:05 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [1]
# Wednesday, February 03, 2010
"Who Do You Think You Are?" Website Now Online
Posted by Diane

I’ve been seeing “Who Do You Think You Are?” (WDYTYA) promo spots between shows on NBC, and now the show’s official website is available. Surf over to
  • Watch previews of the show
  • Read about and see photos of the celebrities who find out about their family trees, including Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emmitt Smith and others.

  • View historical photos of immigrants on Ellis Island.
  • "Start your family tree" by typing in your first and last name. (This opens a new window to start a family tree on Ancestry.com, a partner in creating the show.)
  • Click Exclusives and read articles about genealogy, start a 14-day trial of Ancestry.com's subscription records databases, or type in your surname to learn family facts (such as the distribution of your surname in various censuses—this also takes you to Ancestry.com)
  • Visit the WDYTYA section in NBC's community forum
I hope that once the episodes start, the site shows us some of the behind-the-scenes genealogy research and the historical records mentioned on-camera.

For more WDYTYA details, see our earlier blog post.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com
Wednesday, February 03, 2010 4:17:02 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [0]
# Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A Look at NBC's New Genealogy Show
Posted by Diane

The trailer for NBC's "Who Do You Think You Are?" a celebrity genealogy series premiering March 5, is now available. What do you think?



"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Genealogy Industry | Videos
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 1:00:42 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [27]
# Friday, January 15, 2010
Can Genealogy Save NBC?
Posted by Diane

The genealogy-reality series we’ve all been waiting for, "Who Do You Think You Are?" (WDYTYA), will help plug the gaps in NBC’s prime-time lineup after the poorly performing "Jay Leno Show" ends Feb. 12.

The new series premieres Friday, March 5, from 8 to 9 p.m. ET (the Winter Olympics airs Feb. 12 to 29).

According to NBC's announcement, WDYTYA will conclude by April 30, when "Friday Night Lights" returns early to take the spot.

WDYTYA is an adaption of the hit British show of the same name. NBC’s version will feature actors Matthew Broderick, Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields, producer Spike Lee, and football legend Emmitt Smith.

I got a chance to see a trailer last week while visiting Ancestry.com—which has a big stake as a partner in the series—and it looks like it could be good: poignant, suspenseful, historical, and filled with lovely scenery from the US and abroad.

There’s also celebrity appeal (though it’d be nice and perhaps even more powerful and surprising to see how average Joes off the street have great stories in their pasts).

Many professional genealogists had a hand in the series. At last Saturday's Ancestry.com-sponsored dinner, speaker and New England Historic and Genealogical Society researcher Josh Taylor recounted portions of his on-screen conversation with Sarah Jessica Parker (she later named her new twin girls after ancestors). Ancestry.com chief genealogist Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak has written a how-to book based in part on her WDYTYA work. A companion website will reveal more behind-the-scenes genealogical research.

Will the show be a success? For NBC to consider more episodes, it’ll have to attract viewers who aren’t already into family history and history in general. Many genealogists are hoping that’ll translate into a tree-tracing mania similar to the one after the “Roots” miniseries aired in 1977.

Some, I think, also look forward to the popular validation that genealogy is a perfectly acceptable and interesting way to pass time.


"Who Do You Think You Are?" | Ancestry.com | Celebrity Roots | Genealogy Industry
Friday, January 15, 2010 10:50:24 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #  Comments [2]