Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thoughts on "Who Do You Think You Are?" episodes: Chris O'Donnell & Cindy Crawford

I feel like this season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" on TLC is just flying by! Last night was the Cindy Crawford episode; last week we saw Chris O'Donnell. Just some random thoughts on these two eps:
  • Chris O'Donnell always seemed like a nice guy by the roles he played. Obviously, just because you play a nice guy doesn't mean you are in real life - hence, the acting. But on his episode, he still came across as nice, family-oriented, and down-to-earth. It's always nice when people turn out to be the way you always imagined them. Chris talking about not knowing what love was until he had children and tearing up while talking about his dad? Heartwarming...
  • Once again, so jealous that, like Chelsea Handler's grandmother's memoirs about post-WW I Germany, O'Donnell has a relative who wrote a memoir, this time a great-grandfather remembering his time helping others through the St. Louis cholera epidemic. Such a great way to learn not only a part of your personal history, but putting that personal family history into the context of world history. 
  • Love that Chris had to go to his niece to learn about the McEnnis family line - young genealogists unite! Somebody has to carry on the research for this generation! :)
  • Loved that for Chris, his ancestors Michael McEnnis and George McNeir were "heroic" not for their military participation but for choosing to leave the military and return home to care for their families.
  • I know I always get excited when I come across a photo of one of my ancestors, so it was exciting for me that Chris found photos of Michael McEnnis.
  • Learned a little bit about our American history, as I'm not well versed in either the Mexican-American War or the War of 1812.
  • The only two things I know about the War of 1812 - that the British burned Washington D.C. on my birthday, August 24; and what the episode was building up to as Chris was standing in Fort McHenry and learning about the battle his ancestor took part in - that this was what inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that eventually became our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. I was surprised Chris didn't see that one coming. I thought everyone knew about that...
  •  Okay, onto the Cindy, she looks incredible still! Even if she's had work done, it's very natural looking...
  • Couldn't get over that Cindy knew many of her great-grandparents...I hope she realizes now how rare that is and how lucky she was. 
  • I could identify with A LOT of her story - I, too, consider myself an American mutt. When your family has been here so long that you have to go back past your great-grandparents to get to an immigrant ancestor, you really can't help but just feel American (although my great-grandfather Timothy Cronin WAS born in Ireland and I do identify with my different ethnic backgrounds on different days...but one of those "ethnic backgrounds" I sometimes identify with is American...). And she didn't know anything about her ethnic background. We might like being "American," but like she said, everybody came from somewhere, and it's nice to know where.
  • Nice to see that she actually is related to Ernest Hemingway, if only as a distant cousin. I wish Ernest Hemingway was my distant cousin...
  • I thought it was very typical that she was hoping to find somebody famous on her tree - I think everyone does at some point or other, and especially those who don't really do genealogy. But I appreciated her amending that statement to say that really she wanted to know her personal history in the context of history on a whole, that by learning about someone on her tree, that it personalizes world history and makes it more interesting. I totally agree. Finding people on my tree makes me interested in what was going on in that time and place in general.
  • Love that Cindy had to go to the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. That place is a great resource for anyone with New England ancestry, and the genealogists working there are very knowledgeable. They've featured the Society in past seasons, but since those episodes aired, I've been there myself with Cousin April and it was cool to see the building and rooms where we had actually been...too bad Cindy Crawford wasn't in the house then!
  • Another reason I could identify with Cindy's story is I also have Great Migration ancestry. The Raynors, of whom I speak much, and the various families who married into the Raynors, were Great Migration families.
  • My Raynors, like Cindy's Trowbridge ancestors, also left the Massachusetts Bay Colony because they were unhappy with the state of affairs there re: people's religious convictions. My Raynors also went to the New Haven Colony, where they were one of the founding families of Stamford, Connecticut, before once again leaving and eventually settling in Hempstead, Long Island, New York (well, that's where my ancestor, Edward, finally put down roots - his wanderlust-suffering uncle, Thurston, uprooted one more time before settling in Southampton, Long Island). But anyway, that parallel between her family and mine was pretty cool.
  • I did not like how they skipped over whole generations, like 300 years worth, to focus on Thomas Trowbridge, because I hated seeing all those names and dates with no further information leading back to Thomas - but Cindy's question was about where her family had come from, and they had to skip over all those generations to answer her question. 
  • Then talk about skipping generations, when she went to London and was handed that scroll of her family tree all the way back to Charlemagne! Cousin April and I have an inside joke that just once, while researching our family tree, we'd love to go someplace and just be handed a scroll of our family tree, without having to do any of the work for the information!
  • It was very cool that Cindy, who knew nothing about her family's origins, was able to trace her family back to Charlemagne. I would've liked the episode to address the fact though that this wasn't really anything special - okay, it's special, but it's hardly unique. Charlemagne had 20 children. If even only half of those children had children who had children...well, you can see why many, many, many, many, MANY people of European descent can count Charlemagne as one of their ancestors. The key is to be able to trace your family back to someone of nobility - once you have that in, it breaks everything wide open. If you're related to one noble person from back then, you're related to them all, and you can almost definitely count Charlemagne as one of your forebears. I am actually one of those lucky few...I mean, millions. (Hey Cousin me! We'll compare notes on Great-granddad Charlie! :)) 
  • I DID like the first person account Cindy got to read describing Charlemagne. Like she said, it put a human face on an almost mythical historical figure - and that's really what she was looking for, a personal connection the history.
Next up: Trisha Yearwood. It's hard to discern from the promos, but her family tree story sounds like it includes some colorful, law-breaking characters - and let's face it, we all have these rascals hidden somewhere! So it should be interesting!

"Who Do You Think You Are?" airs on TLC Tuesdays at 9 p.m. (Repeats from the previous week air at 8 p.m. prior to each new episode, which is great because my DVR keeps cutting off the last 30 seconds or so...grrr)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thoughts on the first four episodes of Who Do You Think You Are this season

So, so far we've seen Kelly Clarkson, Christina Applegate, Chelsea Handler, and Zooey Deschanel research their family trees (or, more accurately, they've had their trees researched for them) - This show is always a little spotty for me. Some episodes just don't interest me, although they still usually make me cry by the end - I'm a sucker, what can I say? - but some episodes are just so full of emotion and soul-searching and thought provocation and just show what genealogy can really be all about. Anyway, thoughts so far:

  • Despite my own Civil War ancestry, Kelly Clarkson's episode just didn't really grab me. I guess a lot of times, I relate to the reactions of the celebrities and she just wasn't all that emotional about what she found out. And despite Isaiah Rose's time spent in the Andersonville POW camp, which sounded absolutely horrific, his story just didn't do it for me. I can't even describe or explain it...emotions are arbitrary like that. 
  • Christina Applegate's episode was possibly one of the best episodes and stories I've ever seen on this show. What a tearjerker. And usually I don't get pulled in to stories that go back only one or two generations, but Christina's empathy for her father's troubled upbringing and her horror and sadness as she learned more and more as her grandparents' story unfolded, the closure she was able to bring to her father regarding his complete lack of knowledge about his mother and her life and death, and how it seemed to bring her and her father closer together...ugh. Talk about a compelling story. I think this is an episode everybody interested in genealogy should see. We all want to find the heroes and royalty that we're related to, but we forget that genealogy is really a study of the lives of normal, everyday people, people who were flawed, who made mistakes, who hurt people, who were just trying to get through each day and live their lives. I think I also related to the gravesite with no headstone. That's the story of just about everybody on my dad's side of the family. But as you can see in this episode, even without a headstone, you can still find out who is buried in the plot - cemeteries are great resources!
  • Chelsea Handler. Eh. She doesn't do it for me as a comedian, and her story had the potential to be so compelling, researching her grandfather's past in Nazi Germany - so many ordinary Germans who weren't necessarily Nazi sympathetic but actively or passively participated in a great evil to protect themselves and their own families...makes you question what you yourself would've done in that situation. This episode is an example I guess of how one or two generations back doesn't usually interest me. I guess I also don't always love when the celebrity goes into the show with a burning question about one particular ancestor they already know about - although, as you can see by my reaction to Applegate's episode, I don't always hate that. I guess I'm just more drawn in usually by the episodes where the celebrity doesn't really have much knowledge about their tree, or only knows rumors and stories, and gets drawn along for the ride, the discovery. Anyway, I think the most interesting parts of this episode were the translation of Handler's grandmother's memoir about everyday life in post World War I Germany - that was a fantastic family find. We should all be so lucky to have relatives who did that! - but also the Jewish-American soldier Chelsea talked with in France who recounted his war story and his personal thoughts on the enemy soldiers he was fighting. I also didn't know about the World War II POW camps here in America, so that was an interesting historical factoid to pick up. But Handler didn't really seem all that emotionally invested in her grandfather's story and so I guess I wasn't either.
  • Zooey Deschanel. Her story had the potential to be blah like Kelly Clarkson's, but I actually rather enjoyed her journey. I found it a little heartbreaking that she didn't begin looking into her family until after her granny died, but I guess it's those life events that usually prompt us to begin the journey. I don't like when people are LOOKING for a specific person or personality, a la Zooey's "long line of strong women," but rather when they FIND that this is the case, but I did like when these people really start to identify with a specific ancestor. Loved hearing Zooey say that she felt protective of Sarah Henderson Pownall. I also loved that even though she was handed a tree back to Sarah and her parents, that Zooey stated that as she went on her journey, she discovered Sarah's identity - genealogy for me is always about more than collecting names, dates, and places. It's discovering the people themselves, and Zooey realized that. I was also particularly intrigued by the Quaker history she was researching. I did not realize that Quakers were quite so progressive on all equal rights fronts, and it was interesting hearing her family's personal connection to Underground Railroad activity. I actually have Quaker ancestry as well, which I know very little about, so this has made me interested in finding out more about that. I will post what I do know in an entry as soon as my little girl lets me (she's sitting in my lap right now trying to type this blog post with me...genealogist and blogger in the making!!)