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From My Soapbox: A Review of Who Do You Think You Are?

I didn’t really think I was going to do another review of this show but after watching last night’s show with Tim McGraw and then listening to Geneablogger's Radio last night and participating in the chat room, (by the way well done Thomas) I really felt the need to express my thoughts.

First let me start by saying I enjoyed the show. When I watched Who Do You Think You Are? I really try to take off my genealogy rose-coloured glasses and just enjoy it for what it is entertainment. I've done my share of reviews but have really decided to take a different approach to this show. 

This show needs to have two things to survive, viewers and sponsors. First, their major sponsor is Whose sole purpose for being part of this show is to sell memberships to the masses? How do they do that? By being part of a show that depicts genealogy as exciting, entertaining and intriguing and will make you want to start researching your own family. Period.

By selling more memberships, they make more money and can index more documents, and that makes all of us very happy.

Secondly, it needs viewers, and it needs more viewers than just genealogists to survive. There are many of us, but we are already among the converted, this is about attracting new people to our club passion. Therefore this show cannot be made and edited for the perspective of a seasoned genealogist.

When those of us who have been researching our family history for years if not decades start to pick apart every nuance of this show, I really feel we are doing ourselves a dis-service. When I say we I include myself.

Perhaps it was the influence of Curt Witcher’s presentation yesterday morning that has me all fired up. Wasn’t Curt telling us we have to relax and let others in the sandbox to play, once in the sandbox they will learn soon enough the etiquette of the sandbox? We have to move past depicting ourselves as members of some exclusive club. 

Some of the comments about last night’s show included the following:

8 seconds to trace 8 generations, Tim seemed disengaged not as involved as Vanessa last week, the whole white glove thing again and the Elvis Presley connection.

We have to remember ‘entertainment’, they have 40 minutes to get to the good stuff, hence jumping 8 generations, we all know it doesn’t happen in 8 seconds, and we have give the American public credit,  no one is being misled.

 Tim seemed disengaged- I thought he was quite emotional talking about his father, and I thought he had a clear purpose to find his father’s lineage and to know where they were from prior to arriving in America. As well, he is a man and a cowboy, not about to cry on national television people!!

Just because Tim didn’t walk around with a notebook and pencil in hand doesn’t mean he was any less interested then Vanessa. Perhaps genealogists just recognized themselves more in Vanessa’s approach to her ancestry, we have to be careful not to cast people off just because they don’t fall into our stereotype of how a genealogist should look or behave. 

The white glove thing – I have said this before and I will say it again, I truly believe they do not use white gloves because it makes genealogy appear uptight and unapproachable. It was clear to me that Tim was not allowed to touch the documents, so it was not a free for all. I thought there was great respect given to the documents without making it look to rigid.

About the Elvis Presley connection, this was the one point I will give you was a little loosey goosey.  Perhaps there was more information concerning a connection but it ended up on the cutting room floor? I think the story was powerful enough without the Elvis Presley association. Was there more information about this connection, and time didn’t allow for it or was it as it appeared a fun little side note. Either way it really was not necessary they had a good story without it.  However, who among us have not done this. My 5th great-grandfather was neighbours with Walt Disney’s great-grandfather. You don’t think I haven’t brought that up in a conversation?

That is my two cents, and it’s time to get off my soapbox before someone pushes me off. I just feel we have to look at Who Do You Think You Are?  as a tool to engage the masses in our love of genealogy, by being too critical we are not helping. We do want others to find their passion for genealogy don’t we??


Greta Koehl said...

I agree with you absolutely! I believe Tim was definitely engaged (and was able to articulate it pretty well, while at the same time keeping that restraint that "guys" and "cowboys" tend to show). Yeah, the Presley thing was kinda not too germane - though there's the music connection and Tim's uncle did get a great big kick out of it, but I thought Tim was moved to the point of almost being overwhelmed by the George Washington connection (so was I when I learned he had surveyed an ancestor's land). Moreover, Tim McGraw probably has the closest ancestral background to mine of any of the celebrities shown so far. So, despite whatever quibbles I have, I really enjoyed this segment.

Astrid said...

I agree! Well said.


Marian Pierre-Louis said...

Funny, I wasn't planning on writing any more reviews for WDYTYA either! But I ended up writing one anyway. I loved the Vanessa Williams episode but I really liked this one too.


Free Genealogy Guide said...

I agree with your comment that "this show cannot be made and edited for the perspective of a seasoned genealogist." I had a friend who was an M.D., who seemed unable to watch any movie containing a hospital scene without picking apart the treatments, the equipment, even the nurses' uniforms. The movie wasn't made for the perspective of a doctor.

Nancy said...

I enjoyed the show and I understand what you're saying about entertainment. But don't you think the show has (should have) a bit of responsibility to education, too? I was astonished when they moved through 8 generations without a single document. It was like Magic! I think viewers who are new to genealogy will believe it's that easy and not realize the importance of finding sources to support relationships. (In fact, I have a 2nd or 3rd cousin who spent a few days at and believed that his wife was a descendant of someone who came over on the Mayflower! She may have been but I doubt the certainty of it from an ancestry tree.) I think WDYTYA? should also educate.

Oh, and about the white gloves. I read just recently a debate over whether clean, newly-washed, ungloved hands used very carefully were better than gloves which cause fingers to be clumsy. I think they decided for the clean, ungloved hands. (Wish I could remember where I read that....)

Linda McCauley said...

Excellent points. I read so many comments from genealogists complaining about all of these things you mentioned. I often wonder - would they be happier if there wasn't a show about genealogy on TV? There are still people asking why they don't just use "real people" and not celebrities. Seriously, isn't the reason for that obvious? And if the research process was depicted as it really is would genealogists even watch it? That would be about as entertaining as watching paint dry.

Tracy said...

I couldn't agree more. This is produced to appeal to the masses and I think it has done a splendid job of doing just that. Well said!

Linda Gartz, Family Archaeologist said...

Weighing in as a tv producer -- ALL television stories are compressed. They have to be to keep the narrative moving. I told the story of an undercover fish and wildlife agent outing poachers in Alaska based on her 250 page book -- and spanning years of work -- in 45 minutes! We cut to the essence and told a story. That is the essence of WDTTYA too -- telling a good story of finding one's ancestors -- an overview. That's tv. It will engage people and if they find they're not cut out for the real research involved, they'll be better off for having tried.