TCL in partnership with Ancestry.com last night featured a journey with Cindy Crawford.
I watched it as I watch every episode. And I was horrified. (Warning: Spoiler Alert)
Cindy knew very little beyond her great grandparents' names so she first went to Ancestry.com to search in census records. That was a great starting point but when she searched she found several men with the same name.
When she spotted one who lived in the same area she quickly accepted him as her ancestor. Now, perhaps she knew his wife's name. Perhaps the show's researchers had verified it was the correct man, but we, the viewers, were not made aware of any verification!
The episode quickly went downhill. Soon Cindy was shown a chart taking her back to a Puritan ancestor who came from Taunton England in the early 1600s. She remarked "It's pretty incredible to get back that far on my first day" What a bad message to send beginning genealogists! Forget "incredible", it's next to impossible! Finding and verifying that lineage so far back would have taken weeks, months, perhaps even years for most genealogists.
The clincher was near the end of the episode. Cindy is consulting with a researcher in England and he pulled out a huge rolled up scroll. She begins to unravel it and sees it is a chart showing her ancestry from her Puritan ancestor Thomas Trowbridge. As she unrolls it she starts counting the generations "...24, 25, 25..." then she reaches the top name on the chart. Charlemagne! Good grief. Is this not what makes us cringe? Don't we warn beginners about jumping back to Charlemagne, about slowing down and carefully checking each fact?
It's almost akin to the age-old genealogy joke that someone descends from one of three brothers who were shipwrecked at sea, clung to a paddle or piece of driftwood in the ocean, washed ashore, had their name changed at Ellis Island and met and married an Indian Princess!
Not one shred of evidence was shown to viewers. Then Cindy, instead of focusing on one or two ancestors of interest who she might learn more about, went off to the birthplace of Charlemagne to learn about him.
So much for genealogy, this episode was about collecting names, the more names the better. All fluff and no substance.
Now I am not saying that the researchers behind the scenes did not do their homework. I'm quite sure they did. Top-notch genealogists and historians were on the research team. I know it took over 1000 hours of research on their part, which had to be condensed into a one hour (less with commercials) segment. But the producers did a disservice to genealogy and to the behind-the-scenes researchers by not giving some indication of the work involved, of the methods of proving each step before going on to the next. And it sent the wrong message to those just starting their own genealogy journey.
I hate seeing an episode like last night's that made genealogy look like a quick fix. Yes we want to encourage people to start searching for their ancestors, but let's not lie to them! Genealogy is a life-long pursuit. It can take years to go from one distant ancestor to the next. It isn't fast, it isn't easy but it is very rewarding if you take your time and gather all details you can find on each ancestor.