Friday, March 26, 2010

who are you?

I'm a geneaology geek, so the thinly veiled promotional, Who Do You Think You Are? would have had me at hello, anyway. What has been more surprising is how much I have been enjoying it on an entertainment level. The bits of history that are being told through each celebrity's ancestors has been quite interesting, and in some cases, affecting.


I knew I would watch the first episode, which featured actress Sarah Jessica Parker, as she was going to research and discover a link to the Salem Witch trials. I embarked on a very similar journey this summer, when I discovered that one of my ancestors, Sarah Averill Wildes, was among the first group hanged in Salem on July 19, 1692. And how did I discover this? While looking up some other links on The service, if you pay to see the records, isn't free, but it isn't more expensive than hiring a genealogist, which my grandmother did in the 60s. And you can find some interesting stuff. Parker's discovery had a "happier' ending than mine, as her ancestor had been accused of witchcraft, but the court of oyer and terminer was dissolved before she could go to trial, so she was released. She also traced another ancestor to the Great Gold Rush. Her family took part in American history. Most of our ancestors have had a part in their country's history, but we never knew their names, their stories. That's what I dig about genealogy—the chance to discover some of these stories.


The next episode featured football star Emmitt Smith and his search to find his slave ancestors. It was amazing to see how far back they were actually able to get, as records of slave families are spotty at best. Smith also opted to do a DNA swab to trace his roots back to what part of Africa his family came from. I haven't done this, but my uncle has, inspired by the wonderful book The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes.

This past week actress Lisa Kudrow, who is also a producer of the show, traced her great-grandmother to a tragic story of the Holocaust. But she was also able to discover some surviving relatives and bring them together with her father.


In some ways the show is genealogy-lite, glossing over all the work (and frankly, obsession) that goes into finding these connections and more importantly, verifying them. But is a good start, and the show keeps its focus where it belongs—on the fascinating stories that make up all of our lives, and our predecessors'. I'm looking forward to seeing the next show this evening, which hints at Glory star Matthew Broderick finding a real-life link to the Civil War.


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