Who Do You Think You Are? – Kookie’s Review

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For months I have anticipated the return of one of my favorite shows, “Who Do You Think You Are”.  Even if I don’t know much about the featured celebrity, I hopefully will discover a new source for searching or find a hint that will lead me in a new direction.  Last night “Who Do You Think You Are?” made its 2013 season debut and left me with mixed reviews. 

For starters, searching for ancestors just doesn’t fall into place as it is portrayed on the show.  As someone who has done research in libraries, cemeteries and personal interviews over a period of more than thirty years, I can tell you that you may search months, years or decades to locate one document much less the entire life story of your ancestor. Sometimes you come up totally empty handed.

Personally I love Ancestry, the sponsor of the show.  In fact I have three family trees on their site and praise it as my “go to sight” for research.  However, I believe the illusion of how easy it is to discover your past, who you are, and your family’s place in history on “Who Do You Think You Are?” is just that…… an illusion.  The average beginning genealogist, I’m afraid, will get a false sense of tracing one’s tree.  And when disappointment sets in, some will lose interest and their tree will never branch with limbs and twigs.

Sure, if you are a celebrity and have money to travel, it would make the process easier.  If you are one of the fortunate ones that can hire a professional genealogist to do the research for you, oh well, you have just missed the personal satisfaction of a history lesson in places, events and your heritage.  To me, documents from a professional would merely become a piece of paper with names on it.  I wouldn’t have the pleasure of that “ah ha” moment!  There is no greater reward in genealogy than to discover a document or photo and have the feeling of accomplishment in your pursuit.

Kelly and Rachel  Brown, Kookie Stanley Hemperley and Mamie Stanley-4 generations

        Kelly and Rachel Brown, Kookie Stanley Hemperley and Mamie Stanley                     4 generations

Through the generations: Mother, Mamie Martin Stanley and I located cemeteries, interviewed family members, gathered photos and old documents.  My daughter Kelly Hemperley Brown and her husband Scott and I enjoy locating cemeteries off the beaten path documenting headstones as we go.  Rachel, who is about a year old in this photo, is all grown up now and currently is a Deputy Clerk in Caddo Parish Clerk’s Office. She has researched local court records for me and often accompanies me to different libraries searching old newspapers, microfilms and military histories.  In short, my research has included four generations sharing our family’s history and having that “ah ha” moment together.

While I find the celebrities heritage enjoyable at times, if I had my druthers, every once in a while I would prefer Ancestry send in a John Doe…… you know; ordinary researchers like you and me; the people who have brick walls and do not have the luxury of hiring the pros to do the work for us or to travel extensively.  Every person who has walked the face of this earth is deserving of having their story told regardless of their social status.

Another suggestion I would make to the producers of the show is that they allow the person with the most gathered information on the ancestor be allowed to travel on the discovery journey regardless of whether the featured person is a celebrity or a descendant of John Doe. Had it not been for the encouragement of and the companionship of my mother pointing me in the right direction when I began we would have not had the benefit of sharing what we discovered.  She didn’t have to wait until I arrived home with new information; she experienced it right along with me.

In conclusion when the celebrity located the grave-site of her relative of generations past and greeted it with “what’s up”, I thought how irreverent!  The first words from her mouth should have been that she would have loved to have known him and thank him for his contribution to the war, politics and her family.


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3 comments on “Who Do You Think You Are? – Kookie’s Review

  1. Kookie,

    I get that it would be wonderful to be able to watch your average John-Doe-off-the-street research his ancestry. However, if the show wants to stay on the air, people have to actually watch. That means celebrities.

    Also, I think the show does the best job it can in portraying the research process. You know as well as I do that if the one-hour show featured an hour of actual research, it would be a complete yawn-fest. Who wants to watch that? Heck, I don’t even want to watch that. That would scare away any would-be researchers before they even get started. I’d much rather have them produce some twigs and limbs than nothing at all.

    As for Kelly’s “conversation” at the grave of her ancestor who died over 100 years ago – irreverent or not – that was HER reaction to HER ancestor. You can’t fault the producers for that. That’s who she is. How can you on one hand want them to accurately portray the research process and on the other hand ask the participant to falsify their reactions?

    • Jenny,
      Thanks for your comments on my recent post regarding Who Do You Think You Are. It’s always refreshing to have an opposing opinion or a different point of view. After all, everyone is entitled to have an opinion, right? And my post was based on my opinion of the show.

      As far as the way the show portrays the research in order to keep the viewer from becoming bored, or as you describe, a “yawn-fest”, in real life research is just that most of the time. The only way a novice researcher can walk into a court house, historical society, library or research center, as portrayed on the show, and discover generations, documents and photos in one stop shopping is with the aid of a professional genealogist. It just doesn’t happen that way for most interested in writing their family history. Family Tree magazine states in their review of the show that one does not have to drive around the country or meet with a slew of experts as the celebrities do. They even list historical societies and websites that will lead one to most of the records that could be used for locating the same documents. However for the sake of brevity in the episode, to inject their commercials, and as you say, keep it from becoming a “yawn-fest”, I suppose it is necessary.

      I do, however, feel Ancestry could spot light a John Doe and if you will re-read my post, I suggested every once in a while. I too know celebrities draw more viewers and more viewers bring in more money, and that’s what this world is all about! Don’t you agree it would be admirable for Ancestry’s final program to honor one subscriber who has one someone they just cannot locate much like you in your search for your adopted ancestor?

      You are right about one thing though; Kelly’s remarks and her reaction to her ancestor were hers! I would have never been that flippant. I, unlike you, did not love it. Perhaps the editing department thought it brought out her joy in locating his grave. I am of the opinion that it should have been left on the cutting room floor. Pardon me but my roots are showing.

      Continued good luck in your studies to become a professional genealogist, your blog, your membership in various genealogy societies and all the volunteering you do.


    • Hi Kookie and Jenny, I just have to say here that I have mixed emotions about the whole episode. I’m an American Idol watcher and I’m a huge fan of hers. I have her songs on my iPhone. For some reason though, I just couldn’t connect with her on this. I kept yelling at the TV, “Take your Mom with you, take Mom, she deserves to take this journey with you!” I kept thinking surely, we would see her call her Mom, and involve her or something, but wah wah wah (in the sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher) she didn’t. So I just couldn’t feel an emotional connection with her. Yes, she cued up tears at the appropriate moment and I felt that was genuine, but then it was right back to her flippant attitude and it’s not that I wanted to see her do all the boring research, but I didn’t see her work for one bit of this information. It was her mother, and then the genealogist’s that spoon fed it to her, so I think that is a huge reason, I couldn’t connect, to me it seemed they needed a filler episode, her mother had done all the work, and they thought let’s breeze through this.

      I think next week’s episode is going to be much better for me. I see Christina really reaching out and taking her father on the journey with her, and I think that’s what I wanted from Kelly. But hey, that’s just my opinion. I have to say, when she looked at her ancestor’s headstone and said “What’s up?” I thought Oh man, I wish he could say back, “Oh, just laying here taking a dirt bath baby, what’s up with you.” Or at least something as silly and nonchalant as what she had said. I do love the show though, and I can’t wait until tomorrow night for the next one. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they did an average Joe from the street. I’d be first in line raising my hand, yelling “Pick Me!” That’s why I love the Generations Project over on the BYU channel. It’s average Joe’s and I am always deeply moved by the episodes. Have either of you watched any of those?

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