Saturday, March 6, 2010

Who do you think you are?

Ok, I wanted to post this entry before last night, since I've known the show "Who Do You Think You Are?" was coming for months now, but stupid NBC doesn't have a way to link to Blogger and I got lazy. Then I figured I'd watch it first to see what I thought before telling everyone to go out and watch it.

Well, I watched it this morning. So go online and watch it. Now. And record it next Friday.

This family history show is a British import - I think they just completed their seventh series over there - and it follows celebrities as they trace their family trees. Now for many people, including one reviewer I read, that may sound incredibly boring. Why do you care about somebody else's family history? And while you're slaving away doing your own research, these people sweep in with their hired professional genealogists and historians. All good points. But you should watch it anyway.

Maybe it's because I'm fascinated by history and genealogy in general, not just my own, but I thought the show was fascinating. As someone with my own colonial, honest-to-God American roots, I loved seeing Sarah Jessica Parker follow her own, from her relative who died in the Gold Rush to the one who was accused of witchcraft in 17th century Salem. My brother caught a part of the episode as SJP was saying she couldn't stop thinking about her Gold Rush ancestor and he remarked that he thought that sounded silly, but I told him I knew exactly what she was talking about, because there comes a point where that person becomes real to you. To be honest, I was moved to tears as I watched. Now, maybe it was just hormones, but maybe it was seeing SJP moved to tears herself by the people she discovered.

Anyway, even if the celebrity family tree angle doesn't interest you, I thought it was helpful just for tips on how to go about researching your own family tree. I was kinda wary before it aired about the information they would use and the sources they would go to for it, but they seem to have used only reputable genealogical and historical sources and experts and relied mostly on primary sources, which was a relief. Some of the sources, such as the records on Ancestry, I already know about, but even for my own family history, I learned about the New England Historic Genealogical Society's Great Migration Study Project, which is piecing together what I assume would be reliable biographical sketches of many of the immigrants to America in the years following the Mayflower landing (this period of time is known as the Great Migration). A search of the index of people they already have research on lists my immigrant ancestor, Edward Raynor, and that in addition to the index of their holdings is leading me to consider joining their society. So, something I learned from this show.

It was also a reminder that while the internet has put a lot of reliable records right at our fingertips, that there are so many more out there if we're just willing to do a little digging and a bit of some actual fieldwork. I don't want to be a lazy genealogist, giving up on something just because it's not available on my computer screen. So I'm resolved to start doing more real life hunting.

I just get excited when people get excited about finding out where they came from. Not that I don't think you can't know who you are without knowing where you came from, but we all are where we are because of the lives of the people who came before, so...I think it helps to be able to connect to something. And someone.

So I'm excited to see the rest of the stories to come. And in the meantime, it has stoked the fires of doing my own research. Every now and then, especially when you get discouraged, you need that. And you need something to remind you how much you love doing this.

So...who do you think you are? Fridays at 8 p.m. on NBC. Watch it!

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