Thursday, November 19, 2009

Genealogy Television Programs Sprouting Up

Last night while watching television, I came across advertisements for a new show on ABC which some would say is genealogy or family-history related.  Find My Family - from the makers of Extreme Home Makeover - seeks to reunite living family members such as children with their birth mothers, others who have become separated from their parents or siblings, etc.

As I watched the trailers for the show (both on television and here on ABC's website), something caught my eye:  the image of a lone tree (sometimes barren and sometimes with foliage) on a green grassy hill.  Hmmmm . . . where have I seen that image before?

I realize that Find My Family deals with finding living people (which as a reader of this blog, you know I love honing my research skills looking for the living), and some would say the genealogy angle is slight compared to   other shows.  There's no doubt that heartwarming (some would say heart-wrenching) stories sell and work better with living people.  While I stopped watching Extreme Home Makeover years ago (I thought it became exploitive and produced a mindset of people just waiting for a windfall to come their way), I will be watching Find My Family.  I'm interested to see just what methodology and research techniques are used to locate people and, more importantly, how and if they deal with the privacy issues involved in such a search.

* * *

With the American version of Who Do You Think You Are? set to premiere in January 2010, I'm wondering if the television world is finally catching up to the way in which genealogy and family history have continued to grow as a hobby especially on the Internet.  Or perhaps producers of these shows have finally figured out what many of us who pursue our roots already know: it is the stories behind the research that help illuminate our ancestors and allow us to make connections with them.

Are we looking at another explosion of interest in genealogy akin to what occurred in 1977 when the mini-series Roots premiered? Back then there was no Internet to turn to, but it was the libraries and archives which were inundated with folks making their first attempts at genealogy research.

Fast-forward 32 years and viewers are likely to go right to their computers once the show is over.  My hope is that the online genealogy community of bloggers, vendors and others can stress the importance of sound genealogical research practices while at the same time making the experience of finding one's roots enjoyable and educational.

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee


Herstoryan said...

Very interesting! I LOVE what you've done to your blog. Nice! :)

CMPointer said...


Great insight, and you make great points! That is exactly what I've been stressing on my blog. Trying to encourage people to discover their family history, and at the same time use sound genealogical research processes. As genealogists, in order for us to appeal to wider audiences, we have to break it down and not use phrases like, "sound genealogical research processes." ;) It has a lot to do with marketing. We have to attract people with the heartfelt and/or humorous stories, then show them how we found the stories. It can be done without using technical jargon, and most of all, it can be fun. After all, everyone has a story waiting to be found ~ just as heartfelt and/or humorous as the next person's family story.


Amy Coffin said...

You're way more optimistic than I am. I'm expecting methodology air time to be minimal. Must make room for product placement, you know.

But I will watch and be out there online, waiting to help anyone who wants to uncover their family history. The rewards are great and hope these shows portray that experience.

Gayle Gresham said...

I love what you wrote about "the stories behind the research." I may quote you when I spring my new direction in writing my family's cattle rustling story to my editor! As I've told the story over and over, it's become clear that my story of research has become a part of the story. There are also facts and interesting twists that don't necessarily fit in the narrative. So now I am working at weaving the narrative and my research journey together.

Lynn Palermo said...

I saw this very same commerial Thomas. I also wondered what is taking producers so long to realize that shows like Who Do You Think You Are? will have mass appeal. It certainly will encourage many to take a closer look a genealogy as a rewarding hobby. However, I believe those of us who are already knee deep can offer wonderful guidance to those who have yet to step into the pool. It can be at times overwhelming if your not familiar with the lay of the land.

Kathryn Doyle said...

This is the second article this month about a television show with a finding lost family theme. On November 4, Tracy at A Multitude of -sens wrote
TV for Genealogists: The Locator. I finally had time to watch a couple of
episodes and it is very much like Find Your Family.

I remember very well when Great Britain went gen-crazy over WDYTYA. American researchers were told to not to bother requesting records for a few months because the archives were inundated with new researchers and long queues. I think we may have a similar effect here if they ever actually air the NBC program. I think these two shows are a good sign. My fingers are crossed!

Tracy said...

I saw the TV ads for "Find My Family" and first thought "Ack! They're ripping off 'The Locator!'" But I suppose there's room for both in the TV lineup. I'm even more excited about "Who Do You Think You Are?"