WDYTYA Nitpicker’s Version – 10×03 – Megan Mullally

I haven’t written a nitpicker’s guide in a while. Sometimes I fall behind and sometimes I just don’t have anything specific to say. This post is for the third episode of the season; I had no particular comments about the first two episodes.

The episode started out with Megan and her husband joking around, including him saying he was not interested in her ancestry, yet they both did their DNA tests. Nothing really came of that. Was Ancestry hoping something weird would show up that they would follow up on? Or were they just promoting their product in the hopes more people would test and do nothing with it?

Research Begins

Kyle Betit arrived with newspaper articles. Megan knew that her ancestor committed suicide yet she seemed to have a hard time reading the article about it. When I discover someone who committed suicide, I react less than the celebrities do on this show.

Kyle said that they had enough details to look at census records. Really? I look at census records first. She already knew her ancestors back to the 1920s. I would have started in 1930 or 1940, then made my way back in time.

Then they skipped back to when Charles was one month old in the 1860 census, without finding any other census. And the surname didn’t match exactly. And they had nothing in between but the one article that said he was from Macon, Georgia. That’s not the way to do it. You don’t look for a baby on the census without finding the names of the parents in some other record for the person.

Knowing they do a lot of research before the episode, they probably did all this. I hope they did all this. But people just watching the show who don’t know how to do the research learn bad practices.

Kyle then directed her to search for the marriage of Ira and Elizabeth, the parents found in the 1860 census, but he obviously knew there wasn’t a marriage for the people she was looking for. They never did find the marriage record they wanted. Did they find it and not show it in the episode? If I was doing the research, I’d look for it offline too.

To Georgia

At the Georgia Archive with Dr. Robin Sager, we saw another newspaper article.¬† The article was about Richard rather than Ira. Maybe that was why there was no marriage record in the index? I like that Robin mentioned that this article was backed up by other documents, showing that they had done other research that doesn’t appear in the episode. But how much do amateurs pay attention to little details like that?

I did like how Megan kept trying to figure out when things were happening in her family, calculating dates and ages, and when Elizabeth was pregnant. Some celebrities are seen taking notes, but she seemed to be memorizing it all.

Robin pointed out the time period right before the Civil War and Megan went straight to wondering if the second husband, James Venable, was a slave owner. Did she not wonder that about the first husband?

Fold3 was the next stop, a site with military records. Why did she say “wow” while the site was loading? Were they messing around in editing? She was thoroughly surprised by the Amnesty Papers found on James and Megan wanted to know more. Except it was just an index and Megan was sent off to find the actual record at NARA. Shouldn’t that collection online have been called an index? Some people, just like Megan did, will think that’s the whole record.

To Washington DC

Before she was even finished reading the letter written by James, she was asking more questions. Are the celebrities instructed to ask every question as they’re going even before reading every word in front of them? It seems jarring to me. That’s not how I do research. I read everything before asking follow-up questions, because sometimes the answers are right in front of me.

Back to Georgia

At least they didn’t send her over an ocean and back again. But she wanted to change her name to the second husband even before she learned any more about him.

Back in Georgia at the Bibb County Courthouse, she met with an historian from California who was somehow able to find a bound volume of old newspapers in Georgia. Did she really find that or did someone local do the research? In another newspaper article, from 1869, we learned that James wasn’t much better than the first husband, right after Megan said she liked him. And then she was sure that Elizabeth was the only one who wasn’t crazy, yet she knew very little about Elizabeth at the time too. She made a lot of assumptions about these people before she knew anything about them.

All that way for just one article? Then off to another library for more. The next researcher was from North Dakota State University, who apparently found another newspaper article. Why were all these people researching in Georgia from all over the country? Does Ancestry have no researcher in Georgia who actually did the research who could be on the show?

They were up to two articles in 1869 then skipped to 1890 to a court case between Elizabeth and her son over property that she bought between her marriages. The paper mentioned that she had other children with James and Megan began asking about those other children. But they never looked in the 1870 or 1880 censuses to find out more about those children. Instead they skipped ahead to 1900 where she had no other family living with her, and Megan found her listed as an inmate in a sanitarium.

By this time, Megan started assuming the worst of everyone instead of hoping they would do the right thing. She also assumed that Elizabeth supported her husbands. There was no evidence of that either. We hadn’t seen any record of the occupations of the husbands, especially the second one. That 1869 court case didn’t say anything about property that remained after James died, or if he had, or if the Mullally sons just wanted the property she had bought on her own before she married James.

Finishing up at the Central State Hospital, the site of the former sanitarium, Megan met with one more “researcher”, this time from Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre, which is in Canada. What did all these people have to do with researching this family in Georgia? Did any of them actually do any of the research on this family or are they chosen from a hat to appear in the episodes? From the Georgia Archives, the admission records were brought out to the hospital grounds. Why do they keep removing records from their archives?

That question about other children? It was on that last document, not read aloud in the episode, but it clearly showed she had eight children, but I couldn’t read if all eight were involved in admitting her. What did the document say that we couldn’t see on screen?

Conclusions

It seemed I found a lot more to say about this episode on my second viewing. I wonder if I’d have more to say about the previous two episodes as well.

This random assortment of researchers and historians from all over the continent but no one locally disturbs me. I hadn’t noticed that in the show before. What’s wrong with the people who did the research or local historians? Aren’t there any?

And they never did anything about Richard and Elizabeth coming from Ireland. Did they find anything more on that? Maybe they weren’t able to go back to those records. But since they don’t tell us, we won’t know. Many episodes focus on the immigrants and where they came from. I do like that they sometimes don’t, but they glanced over these people coming from Ireland. I had to go back in the episode just to find that it was mentioned where they were born.

I could see these episodes focusing a little more on looking at the details and making conclusions from them, rather than focusing on a celebrity overreacting to everything they see and speculating about their ancestors before actually learning about them.

I guess this is one reason why they use celebrities instead of average people. Celebrities are used to acting and an average person wouldn’t give them the giant overreactions they seem to like in this show.

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