Linden Tree Leaves

Genealogy and Ancestry Explorations

Review: Genealogy Roadshow on PBS

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I heard about this show via an email from my PBS station and, since I love history and genealogy and have even seen just about every episode of Antiques Roadshow there is, I tuned in to see whether it was as promising as it sounded.

The format of the show is a lot like a mix (sort of) of History Detectives and Antiques Roadshow. It moves location each week and people bring in questions about their family heritage for the two staff genealogists to research. The questions have, so far, ranged from a man wondering why he had a rare blood component to a lot of people who had always been told they were related to some famous person and wanted to know if it was true.

They actual research results are usually interspersed with “learning segments” about some person, place or event that featured in the research.

I generally like the show but have mixed feelings about some aspects of it.

I like that it encourages people to be curious about their heritage and where their families came from. I love history so I like it when the show delves into the causes and reasons why things happen or a person is in a particular place at a particular time.

What I don’t like partly due to the show format and partly due to, well, it’s a tv show.

When presenting their results, the genealogists gloss over a lot in order to quickly present the answer to “the question”. They don’t really say much about what they looked at or why they chose the resources they did. I think the show goes through six or eight stories in 60 minutes and that includes introducing the guest, asking the question and some background to it, then the genealogist rehashing that again as they sit them at a table with a standing audience to answer the question, then a post-answer interview. Also add in about three to four educational segments that are about 3 minutes long.

For my tastes, i want more details than just the “yes, here’s a pedigree chart we researched that shows you are related to Celebrity Figure.” One of the things I love about genealogy is looking at the whole picture – how does the person, the place, the time, the circumstances all go together? What is this person’s life like? I would love to see way more of this insight in Genealogy Roadshow.

While the DNA results are interesting, mostly in a “everyone is a shade of brown” way, they just don’t mean much to me. Maybe that’s my generation but just knowing I have some Sub-Saharan African blood doesn’t make any difference to me or who I think I am. Now if you can tell me how that entered my bloodline in times when, certainly, mixed race relationships were at least frowned upon if not illegal – then you have my attention. I’d be interested in that but otherwise it’s really nothing much to me.

The after-reveal interviews are pretty much a waste of time in my eyes. I’d really rather than time be spent on the story.

The show does suffer from the “famous relative” issue as well. No one dreams of being related to the scullery maid or a hard-dirt farmer. So all the stories tend to be about more famous people as relatives. I did enjoy the third episode and the research into the Texas War of Independence and the role of Tejanos in it. Nice history there and I enjoyed learning more about it.

All that said, it’s certainly a show I’ll continue watching and I can hope it will spark more interest in genealogy among its viewers.

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