I recently read an entertaining post by John Patten titled “Who Do You Think You Are Annoying?” about his impressions of how the NBC series “Who Do You Think You Are?” may be dumbing down the process of research shown to viewers for the sake of entertainment value. Hop over to John’s blog to read the whole thing. I basically agree with what he’s saying.
After scraping together bits of the UK series on the web while they were available (since I can’t get BBC TV on my set here in the USA) I was excited to hear that a US version was being produced and was fairly pleased with Season 1. I had just come off of watching “Faces of America” with Henry Louis Gates, which while an excellent and interesting production, was not what I was looking for from a genealogist’s perspective. I think it was summed up when in one minute Gates was walking around China and the next he was handing Yo Yo Ma 1,000 years of his family tree. I was thinking “What? How’d we get there?!”
WDYTYA in Season 1 was much better for me in that way — at least it seemed like those celebrities were doing a little more legwork (even if led around a bit from behind-the-scenes professional genealogists). What I’ve seen of season 2 so far, while entertaining enough for a Friday night, has lost even more of the behind the scenes chase for elusive records that makes family history so worthwhile. It’s now become more of game to guess when that researcher is gonna flip around the laptop all loaded up with Ancestry.com and say “Ok put in your ancestor’s name and – Voila! You’ve got all these record hits!” It could become the family historian’s geeky equivalent of a college drinking game where every time they mention or show the Ancestry logo you have to take a drink (what is the approved drink of the genealogist anyway? Is beer too pedestrian? Red wine better? I don’t know).
Since my background is marketing & advertising, I do understand all the work that goes into any kind of production (whether TV, print, or web) and that there is a lot of content that has to get excised to fit any medium’s format (not to mention designed in a way to keep people awake for 1 hour). I also applaud what the show and the promotional backing of NBC and Ancestry has been able to do to raise awareness of the great passion that is genealogy. I guess I’d just like to see a little more of the nitty gritty of how they get from A to B so I can relate it more to helping in my own ancestor quest, rather than just a voyeuristic look at celebrity’s family origins. Oh and I’d also like someone to send ME all over the country (and possibly world) to get at those records that are too distant for a reasonable car ride!
BTW, wondering what the connection here is between genealogy and technology? I became aware of John Patten’s post (who is quite a way away from me in Melbourne, Australia) via a Tweet by @TwigsOfYore after checking out the #WDYTYA hashtag for the show!