Among genealogists, across North America at least, NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? is scoring as a hit. In a recent, admittedly unscientific Facebook poll, Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak reported that 82% of the respondents rated the show an “A.” The television ratings numbers seem to be suggesting something similar – week #1’s 6.9 million viewers was surpassed by week #2’s 7.15 million viewers.
In week #1, Sarah Jessica Parker’s family story was featured including the historical highlights of the California Gold Rush and the Salem witch hunt. Week #2 offered an extraordinary glimpse into African American genealogy and the dark times of the slave trade as NFL Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith’s family history was featured. Tonight’s third episode features Lisa Kudrow who is also a producer of the show. Following the airing of each episode, the genealogy blog world and social networking sites like Facebook have been filled with various comments and critiques on the positive genealogical elements of the show and areas where improvement was suggested.
There is merit in much of the commentary that has been offered but I think there is something that is missing or has been forgotten. Ultimately, Who Do You Think You Are? is entertainment and in this, it succeeds. Each of our ancestors has a story to tell – the achievements, the failures, the good and not so good decisions made, the joy and the heartbreaks of their lives. Who Do You Think They Are? is capturing that essence and doing it in a one-hour network timeslot.
There are moments in each show when I hope that a particular family line or document search will be explored further but I remind myself that the show is not a genealogy instructional video even though, it has thus far captured the basics quite well. Each of the two episodes has started with the guest celebrity speaking with their older family members and developing the hints and clues that allow them to begin their family history quest.
The discovery of their family history affects each celebrity subject just as the continuing discovery of mine affects me. The show is, and I suspect will continue to be, about raising awareness. The increased traffic on the Ancestry site since the show’s premiere isn’t a coincidence – awareness of genealogy and history in general is quite apparently the result being achieved. I hope that continues for the show’s success can be a driver to making life as a genealogist that much easier (well, except for the slower response times on the Ancestry site following each episode!).