Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? Episode 2 - My Thoughts

Well the second episode of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are? with Emmitt Smith appeared last night 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: I loved the fact that the episode focused on Smith's slave ancestors and viewers learned about the difficulties and obstacles that genealogy research represents for African-Americans.
  • MINUS: While Smith did go to the Monroe County courthouse to do some research, the product placement was a bit much (when looking up the 1900 census for the Watson family).  I wished this had been done in a library setting (and many libraries allow free access to the library version of
  • PLUS:  Watching Smith talk to his parents about their own parents and grandparents was great - and it is how most of us started looking at our own ancestry.
  • MINUS:  I wish there were a quick 1-minute wrap up of tips at the end of the episode such as: "First, sit down and talk with relatives to see what they remember about parents and grandparents."
  • PLUS:  Smith was able to find out that his ancestor Mariah Watson was of mixed race and probably had been fathered by her owner.
  • MINUS:  The search seemed to stop with Samuel Puryear, who later gave Mariah to his son.  I know the concept of being descended from a white slave owner must have  been difficult for Smith, but genealogists understand that a search does not end because we find the ancestor's behavior abhorrent.  I think this sends the wrong message to beginners in the family history field.
  • PLUS:  I really appreciated how the producers tied in the horrors of modern-day trafficking of children into Smith's story when he traveled to Benin.
  • MINUS:  Flying Smith's wife to Benin to sit with him on a beach so he could tell his findings was disappointing.  I would much rather have seen him come home to a welcome from his family and then sit down and tell them about his trip and the ancestors and the ancestors' stories.

Overall I felt it was another good episode of WDYTYA - compelling, it had a good story line, it was authentic in terms of the research process, and brought forth the issues and obstacles involving African-American genealogy.

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee


Moonshadow said...

My biggest complaint is something that most beginning genealogist have a tendency to fall into, a kind of tunnel vision. Because this one line was more easily traced all others were forgotten. When he got the DNA results and it was found that he had indication of Native American background, there were three other lines that had not been traced that this could have come from. Also I don't recall them ever speculating as to who fathered Mariah's children. My husband asked me about accessing the information on and I told him he'd have to buy a membership. I think they should have mentioned that if they were going to plug it. Or, as you suggest, they should have gone to the library. I don't have a lot of pleasant things to say about Ancestry. I was a member when they first set up their online website. After having combed through all the info they had and with little more being added and fees going up I dropped my subscription. I hesitated sending them my GEDCOM and was glad I didn't send it when I found I would have to pay to access it and they would get paid by others for my work. Just sayin'...

Russ said...


RE: your second Minus

I agree that it is a minus, but, what we have seen so far, (2 for 2) both SJP and Emmit Smith started at home. Also, Megan's book starts the same way. Start with what you know, start at home.

Perhaps we'll "get it" if we hear it enough.

Very nice review.

Thank you,


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

Thanks for another good review, Thomas.

Bill ;-)
Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"