I just finished watching the first episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on NBC with Sarah Jessica Parker. After seeing Faces of America (FoA), I definitely prefer the format of this show. It is very much the same as the BBC version, even using similar graphics.
It was exciting to see Sarah Jessica’s reactions to learning things about her ancestors. FoA seemed to be lacking in that a bit, probably because each of those people were simply sitting at a table where they were handed a book. There were some reactions, but it seemed like not quite enough. Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP) travelled to the locations and looked at some of the documents herself.
Of course, she didn’t really do the research herself. As some of us know, several celebrities were ruled out of having their own episodes because their stories weren’t interesting enough for a TV show. Clearly the work was done before the filming even began, as was evidenced when she visited with each professional genealogist and historian. In almost every instance, the professional produced documents they had already found or simply told her the names of generations of her ancestors until they reached the one with the interesting story. The celebrities are sometimes shown looking through books or searching databases, but they have already been searched by someone else to know that there was something to be found.
I don’t doubt that the research was done thoroughly, and hopefully it was shown and explained to SJP, but it’s something that is always lacking from these shows. Exactly how much time is spent tracking down all of those ancestors and the documents to prove it? It might give some people the false hope that if they call a professional, that person will already know everything there is to know about their family history, when in reality, it takes many hours of research sometimes to find just the smallest clue. And sometimes nothing is found at all.
Naturally, and possibly in part because it had to be interesting for TV, for every location that her ancestors lived, SJP had to travel there. There was no looking at microfilms or ordering documents by mail, which is what most people tend to do. She was at the location where her ancestor mined during the gold rush, she was in Salem to learn about her ancestor who was accused of witchcraft. So many genealogists would love the opportunity to travel to each location. All four of my grandparents were born in Eastern Europe, so it could never be as simple as a quick flight or a long drive across the country. I look forward to the day when I can go to Europe, but until then, I have to make due with microfilm and snail mail.
However, even without showing all the research that was conducted, not showing all the details of how so many generations were found, not finishing up and visiting the grave of her ancestor accused of witchcraft (though she visited the memorial for other victims), not explaining all the details of that ancestor (is SJP descended from a child born before or after the accusation?), it’s still a good show. I’ve enjoyed every episode that I’ve seen of the BBC version and I look forward to the rest of the NBC run.