I really enjoy the program “Who Do You Think You Are?” I have even gotten my non-genealogy enthusiast husband to watch it with me each week. I know there is some controversy about the program only highlighting “famous” persons and how these people can handle all these wonderful old documents, with white gloves on of course. They fly to the places their Ancestors came from and visit the places they lived and where they were buried. All in all it is a good show. The bonus is it is bringing more of the younger generations into the Genealogy fold.
So why am I writing this blog? Because, no matter how good the program is, there are some drawbacks to it. Let me explain. My husband comes from a very large family. They are spread out across the country from Alaska, to New York to Florida and even down into Mexico. I have been working on his family’s genealogy for over 5 years. I put together a private family page on Facebook and have posted my findings. I even put together a beautiful book for my in-laws which included photos, documents and stories. Several of my husband’s siblings have asked for copies and the word that I am a Genealogist has gotten out.
One of my husband’s cousins, who I only met once at her Grandmother’s funeral, recently contacted me. She had heard about the Facebook page and asked if I could let her have access to it. Then she asked if I could maybe find some information about her father’s side of the family. After a couple of days she asked me if I could also find anything on her maternal Grandfathers side. She gave me what little information she had about them so I faced the challenge and felt pretty good about what I discovered. Then a week later she asked if I could also research her husband’s family. Again she only had limited information about them. I was amazed at how diverse their families were. Her father’s Ancestors came over from Ireland in 1865. Her maternal Grandfathers side came from Mexico, Poland and Germany! Her husband’s family emigrated here in 1967 from Italy.
So where is the problem? After giving me the sparse information that she had about both her family and her husband’s family, she contacts me 3 days later and is upset that I hadn’t found more data. I had traced her husband’s family back to the mid 1800’s in Italy; her father’s Ancestors back to 1834 in Ireland and her mother’s paternal side back to 1845 Germany. I told her it could take years to find and document these lines; it can’t be done in a week. Her response? “Well, on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ they can find it faster than that.”
After I quit laughing, dried the tears from my eyes and counted to 10, I let her in on a little secret. It is a television program! We have no idea how long it actually took to find the information they have. They also have a large staff and researchers working on the tree. We also don’t know if they screen the “famous” people to make sure their Ancestors are the easier ones to find. I also told her, that as much as I would love to, I really couldn’t afford to fly to Ireland, Germany, Poland or Mexico to do research. I explained that I could throw a tree together for her if she really didn’t care about having proof that these people belonged to her. Thankfully, she understood what I was saying and told me to take my time and do it right.
So, from where I am sitting I can see some of the problems this wonderful television show can cause for us. We already live in an instant gratification world. Everything should be quick, easy and available on the internet. By showing how a person can find not only their Ancestors, but documentation, stories and photos in a one hour program, people are lead to believe that this is how it is. Maybe there should be a “disclaimer” included in either the opening or closing of the program that explains that in real life it takes longer than one hour to create your family tree. In the meantime, I will just hope that future clients will be open to the fact that genealogy does take time and is a lot of work.
I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.