Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Genealogists Make News Again
Prime time television is going all out for genealogists this year. NBC's popular Who Do You Think You Are? will begin a new season at 8:00 p.m. beginning on Friday night February 3rd.
Several well-known celebrities will be featured this year on the show's longest season to date. The 12 stars featured include Jerome Bettis, Paula Deen, Edie Falco, Helen Hunt, Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, Reba McEntire, Martin Sheen, Jason Sudeikis, Marisa Tomei, Blair Underwood and Rita Wilson. "We're very excited about the stories we have this season," producers of the show said in a statement announcing the news. "This fantastic group of people we have will take us to countries we haven't visited before which is thrilling and gives us glimpses into crucial details of history that not only shaped their families, but our world. This is what we love about this series; it's so enriching for us the viewer, as well as the participants and their families."
The following month starting on Sunday evening, March 25, Henry Louis Gates Jr. returns for a fourth season on PBS with Finding Your Roots. This series features twelve well-known persons also, two on each show. They are: Kevin Bacon, Tyra Banks, Cory Booker, Angela Buchdahl, Geoffrey Canada, Margaret Cho, Harry Connick, Jr., Robert Downey, Jr., Sanjay Gupta, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend, John Lewis, Branford Marsalis, Yasir Qadhi, Condoleezza Rice, Michelle Rodriguez, Kyra Sedgwick, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters and Rick Warren.
The PBS series places greater emphasis on genetic discoveries this run. Among the surprises found during the filming is the link as cousins between Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, presumably a first for celebrity roots on television. It looks like we'll be having a new burst of enthusiasm for ancestor hunting this spring.
Who Do You Think You Are? is a British import now in its ninth season in the U.K. After running successfully for a few years, it spread to several other countries and finally took off in the U.S. in 2010. Dr. Gates has hosted several similar shows on PBS in the past, including African American Lives in 2006 and 2008, Faces of America in 2010, and a special in 2007, Oprah's Roots.
On another more serious track, California genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick was approached by the King County Sheriff's Office (Seattle) to help with an unsolved 1991 murder case. She was sent a DNA sample taken as part of the evidence found on the body of 16 year old Sarah Yarborough. The victim was assaulted and killed in her high school parking lot early on a December morning near her parked car as she waited for the bus to take her to a cheerleading competition.
Fitzpatrick compared the profile to DNA results in genealogical databases and found a close match to the family of Robert Fuller. In 1630 Fuller settled in Salem, Massachusetts, following relatives who had come earlier on the Mayflower. "Since the DNA trace follows male descendants, there is a high degree of probability that the man police are looking is named Fuller," according to Fitzpatrick. She told CNN the most important thing is that authorities now have a last name in addition to a physical description of the killer provided by witnesses.
She noted that DNA tests are "really hot these days for genealogy." The results of DNA testing are used to link to other family members and/or attempt to solve ancestral problems that defy traditional research techniques. The DNA test results Fitzpatrick used for comparison to the criminal's came from one of several major collections of genetic profiles, most available online.
It may be difficult to pin down a suspect however, as after the passage of nearly 400 years there are likely thousands of Fuller descendants.
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24 January 2012