During the first season of Who Do You Think You Are?, I wrote an episode by episode review of the shows, just like many others in the genealogy community. I thought that this season I would resist the temptation. Okay, so I lasted a week before breaking down and wading into some of the current dialogue.
Who Do You Think You Are?, the NBC network’s genealogy related television show (shown in Canada on the City TV network of stations), tells the story of a celebrity in each episode as they trace their family history. It appears that the producers of the show heard the collective voice of the show-supporting genealogy community loud and clear on two matters. Unlike season 1 episodes, the two episodes of season 2 to air so far have not been slowed by recaps following each commercial break. In addition, genealogists and historians appearing on the season 2 episodes have been careful in their handling of delicate, original documents by wearing gloves or using similar techniques to avoid hand touching the records.
Episode one of season 2 featured the ancestry quest of Vanessa Williams while episode 2 featured the story of country singer Tim McGraw’s family. Both episodes can legitimately be criticized for making genealogy look a lot easier than it is for us mere mortals. The shows seem to lack an acknowledgment that it took hours of research by a team of experts, assembled just to research the celebrity’s family, for a document of interest to be found.
Vanessa Williams was generally thought to be more engaged than Tim McGraw in the family history process and discoveries. I’m not convinced that Vanessa’s note-taking meant she more engaged in the process. I’ve seen The Blind Side and Tim McGraw seems to be a natural displaying a muted persona. My friend and terrific genealogy blogger Marian Pierre-Louis, author of Marian’s Roots and Rambles in her blog post In Defense of Tim McGraw, makes the case that while the Tim McGraw episode may not have been as good as the Vanessa Williams episode, it was still still really good. The McGraw episode perhaps would appeal more to men than the Vanessa Williams episode that might appeal more to women.
My conclusion: both episodes achieve the result they set out to achieve, that is, they are entertaining. They are certainly not technically correct in their presentation. In the Tim McGraw episode, it is fair as genealogy ‘technicians’ to criticize an eight generation jump that happened with a single brushstroke. It is even easier to criticize the broad sweeping assertion that McGraw’s ancestors were connected to Elvis Presley’s because both sets of ancestors were Palatines who came to what is now the USA around the same time. If it were that easy, I would have my fully sourced research completed back to Adam and Eve including connections to 45th great Grampa Hadden who liked to paint things on the walls of caves and from whom cousin Michelangelo got his artistic flair.
I try as best I can to recognize that these television shows are about engaging the viewing audience and providing an hour of entertainment. On that level, they succeed. They are not instructional videos. Whether or not they should be more instructional is a different debate, perhaps for a different time. For now, I’m content to sit back and be entertained by the family histories.