Is Genealogy Ready for Primetime?

Well, this is the week that has been all the buzz for quite some time. When would NBC finally include Who Do You Think You Are? in their broadcast schedule? After numerous false alarms and ‘any day now’ promises, the American version based on the British hit takes to the airwaves (I guess that depends on whether you use cable or satellite dish) on Friday, March 5th at 8:00 PM EST. In hour long episodes, the show will follow the journey of seven celebrities as they discover their family roots.

This show, not really new to North America but certainly to mainstream USA, is following quickly on the heels of the popular Faces of America series that concludes tomorrow evening, March 3rd, on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Hosted by Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the show explores the immigrant impact and experience in America through the roots of twelve well-known American (including one transplanted Canadian) celebrities. Extremely well-produced, the hour long episodes truly show the historical impacts of events on families. The first three episodes are available for viewing on-line so you don’t need to ‘receive’ a PBS station in order to see this terrific program.

In the United Kingdom, the show Who Do You Think You Are? has become such a ‘hit’ that a whole secondary industry associated with the show and genealogy has bloomed. More than 50 episodes over the past six years have regularly drawn more than six million viewers.

So then, what if Producer Lisa Kudrow’s American version of the show becomes as popular? Is the genealogy community ready for the onslaught? I suspect that many think they are and, in fact, hope that they get to test their state of preparedness. I have heard and read in some blogs and articles that a few local genealogy societies have readied themselves by having their ‘beginner’ level classes dusted off and ready to be delivered.

As an individual, here are a few tips that I think might help you make a difference within your community or sphere of influence:

1. Be ready to answer lots of questions! Remember back to all the questions you had starting out, and maybe you still have in many areas.

2. Be ready with printed charts – pedigree charts and family group sheets can really help someone understand how family information can be easily organized.

3. Be ready with some software recommendations – unlike even a few years ago, there are some great free downloadable versions of the more popular genealogy software products (like RootsMagic Essentials and Legacy) that can help new genealogists get a running start.

4. Be ready to suggest a membership in your local genealogy society and don’t forget to point out the classes that are offered.

5. Be ready to share recommendations for favourite Internet sites including message boards and subscriptions sites, like, that you use and are familiar with.

6. Be ready to share your favourite podcasts by directing new genealogists to sites like the Genealogy Gems podcast and the Genealogy Guys podcast.

My experience has been that many friends and family are interested in knowing something about those from whom they are descended but aren’t certain about where or how to start the exploration. As Meryl Streep points out in the Faces of America series, “We are the sum of all the people who lived before us.” Many are likely going to want to know who they are the ‘sum of so, be ready to help – maybe by adding to my list!

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