Friday, March 5, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Episode 1 - My Thoughts

Well the first episode of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? just finished about an hour ago here in Chicago and I wanted to put my impressions down in a blog post.  I'm encouraging my other genealogy blogging colleagues to do the same or if you don't have your own blog, add your comments below.

  • PLUS: After having watched Faces of America over the past month, it was refreshing to have an hour-long program focus on just one person.  This is not meant to disparage Faces of America - they are both different shows and I think target different audiences.  I just think that WDYTYA is trying to be true to the original BBC format.
  • MINUS: The constant recaps, "coming up" and other devices used in American television shows gets annoying after a while.  This is why I love Generations Project right now - it is 59 minutes of uninterrupted television focusing on one person - and a non-celebrity at that!
  • PLUS: I think the producers tried to make the process of finding ones ancestors as realistic as possible.  I loved the shot of Sarah Jessica Parker having to wait at the Massachusetts Historical Society for a document to be pulled.  This is the reality for many of us who do this type of research day in and day out.
  • MINUS: Why doesn't MHS have anything on their homepage about WDYTYA? Nothing.  Nor can I find a Facebook or Twitter link.  Talk about a missed opportunity.  While I am having trouble right now connecting to Ancestry and NEHGS due to high traffic, it is a breeze getting to MHS.  I wonder why.
  • PLUS: Parker seemed actually interested and engaged in the process and the history.  I don't think this was acting skills on display.  I also loved how she interacted with her mother.  Each time she walked in the door and yelled "Mommy?" - well let's just say that got to me for some reason.  I found it very endearing that a woman in her mid-40s still calls her mother "Mommy."  Beyond cute.  What I wouldn't give to be able to do that right now . . .
  • MINUS: I wish time was spent explaining the process a bit more in terms of research.  When they discussed John S. Hodges and his appearance in the 1850 US Census, it made it seem like: "Poof! His name is here it must be him!  Now let's get you off to California!"
  • PLUS: Showing an original source like a 300 year old warrant put out for Parker's ancestor - how great was that?
  • MINUS: Where are your gloves young lady? Didn't your mother ever tell you not to handle a 300 year old document without a pair of archivist gloves?
  • PLUS: Increased exposure to genealogy will not just benefit the genealogy community and various service providers, but I hope it will enrich the lives of the newcomers who decide to look for their own ancestors.
  • MINUS: Be prepared for long connect times on your favorite genealogy research sites - at least for the time being - as well as an increase in genealogy-related spam.

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee


Anonymous said...

Loved your blog and I agree with all plus and minus.. Very exciting nite. I also would love to see more of "regular" folk done in a show, but my husband doesn't think it would get the viewership. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your blog's plus and minus statements. Great job I think over all, getting the exposure out there.

Would love to see ordinary people on a show, but not sure if it would get the viewship needed.


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Excellent recap and comments, Thomas, as usual. Really appreciate getting your insights. Very enjoyable... and, there will be a change in "our community" from these TV programs!


Abba-Dad said...

Great Recap Thomas!

I wonder how we can find out how many people watched the show last night.

Greta Koehl said...

Great summary. I also loved the "Mommy!" part and the way SJP was excited about sharing the information with her mother. Though both of my parents have been gone for years now, every time I make an exciting new discovery I have a little "mental conversation" with them about it. I would like to have seen some mention of a few searches that didn't pan out (forgive the pun) - not so many as to lose viewers' attention, but just to show that not every search produces positive results. For instance, one of the first things I would have done after the 1850 census for California would be to check the 1860 census for John Hodge, because there were some gold-miners who ended up abandoning their families back East. Overall, this show seems to be a lot more in the History Detectives vein, which I really enjoy.

Lynn Palermo said...

Good insights Thomas. Everybody wants to see ordinary folk, but as I commented on another blog, Sarah Jessica is an ordinary girl who acts. Her fame has afforded her this opportunity, and we need her fame to draw an audience to join in our passion. Certainly there are many ordinary people with ordinary jobs that will have very fascinating histories but for now we need the star power.I think they did a great job at downplaying her celebrityness. Looking forward to future episodes.

Lynn Palermo said...

Great observations Thomas. I know many are looking for ordinary people, however I disagree. Sarah Jessica Parker is an ordinary person who acts. I think they did a great job of down playing her celebrityness and portraying her as you and I. Certainly her fame has afforded her this opportunity but I also believe we need her star power to draw an audience to showcase genealogy, for now. I love the show and look forward to the upcoming episodes.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Hey, Thomas. I agree with most of your points. But I'm being a devil's advocate on a few blogs to point out that the use of archival gloves is a subject of debate and that some of the highest-end archives don't require them. I spent the month of May 2008 doing research at the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain, and at no time during our handling of 16th and 17th century Spanish documents were we required to wear gloves. The only time I used the white cotton gloves I had taken with me was in handling some of the Papeles de Cuba which had been attacked by mold a hundred or two years ago. Even though they had been treated, there was still considerable dirt on them to the point that when I paged through with the gloves on, the gloves turned black. So in this instance it wasn't to protect the documents that the gloves were in order, but to protect me.

The pencil hovering over that old warrant, however, was a definite no-no!