Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Genealogy on TV a Success
The long awaited debut of Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC captured an audience of over seven million viewers each week. Current plans are for NBC to feature another run of Who Do You Think You Are? in the fall at 8:p.m. on alternate Friday evenings in a time slot shared with a new reality education program, School Pride.
If you missed any episodes of the current series, you can view them on the Internet at http://www.nbc. com/who-do-you-think-you-are/. The links and interface are cumbersome so perseverance is needed.
While genealogists were skeptical of the series in the beginning most of us were hooked after the first episode featuring Sarah Jessica Parker. The Spring 2010 issue of American Ancestors, quarterly magazine of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), provides some interesting insights into the series. An article, "Genealogy Goes Primetime: Who Do You Think You Are?" by D. Joshua Taylor relates how NEHGS became involved in Ms. Parker's story. Members receive the magazine by mail or online at http://www.newenglandancestors.org/.
Most of Ms. Parker's ancestry was German, but NEHGS was contacted in 2008 about her New England line. When society researchers located her great great grandfather Eber Hodge in the Hodge Genealogy written in 1900, they began working to verify the connection. An abundance of printed material existed on the family, but as is so often the case, little documentation.
The society's professional genealogists pursued the links to Ms.Parker and found evidence that her ancestor Esther, wife of Samuel Elwell, was accused of witchcraft in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. The show's producers reviewed the research results, however, and decided what would be revealed and how it would be presented on the program.
When NEHGS staff member D. Joshua Taylor met Sarah Jessica Parker his dialogue with her was carefully scripted in advance. He was not to reveal the witchcraft information to her as that reserved for the next scenes filmed at the Massachusetts State Archives. How frustrating to know but not be able to share such an exciting find!
Taylor was impressed with Ms. Parker's interest in her ancestry and her understanding of what was involved in the search. She arrived at the library with a notebook and asked many questions. His biggest frustration was condensing four months of research into five hours of filming to be further condensed into a three to five minute segment on television.
The magazine also reports NEHGS, other genealogical societies, libraries, and archives have been "inundated" with phone calls, letters, and emails from wannabe family historians. The NBC Series has ignited new interest in genealogy and while it certainly simplifies the research process due to time constraints, it also demonstrates the intricacies of tracing a family back hundreds of years.
In the case of NEHGS, their appearance on the television program and at the Who Do You Think You Are? family history conference in London, England in the spring has resulted in the society's highest membership increase in its history with over 24,000 members now onboard.
As usual when a television series is a success, it's soon copied. The Travel Channel has announced casting for an "exciting" new series focused on the journey and process of locating missing heirs.
They are screening only professional genealogists at this time. Prospects must "have a proven track record of successful investigations resulting in the location of missing heirs - preferably internationally as well as domestically." They must also be charismatic and comfortable on camera and are required to submit photos and videos of themselves. Sounds like a pretty tall order!
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