August 28, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are? Disappoints Last Night

Who Do You Think You Are?
Who Do You Think You Are? on  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.

31 comments:

Kat Mortensen said...
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Kat Mortensen said...
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Janet said...

I haven't watched it yet, but I agree with your analysis if this is the way the show went. Even on the other episodes - I would just once like someone to show me original papers when researching in a library, etc. Never happens to me. I think by the time the ads, repeating at end of segments, etc are done - maybe 15 min. of "show." Somewhat disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Amen!

Karen Webb said...

I agree completely. Those comments about the first day, etc...sent a very bad message. And accepting whatever you read on a first time search on ancestry or any online source is naive.

Anonymous said...

I've been disappointed with the episodes this year. Most have been biased toward the union in the war between the states. I'm not sure if they realize that they are insulting those of us who have ancestors who chose to serve in the confederacy. This is a historical journey that they are making sure is "politically correct". Confederate soldiers right or wrong in their decisions, fought for what they believed in.

Nancy Shively said...

I agree completely Lorine. I cringed when I saw that scroll! But what bugged me most was the lack of any emotional connections. Compare this episode to Christina Applegate's. It's no contest!

jleesimons said...

Personally, I give people more credit than to think this was all "done" in a day. I do think it would be nice if they would show more of the process, but it is true that once you tap into a royal line it is a done deal--they have been linked long ago. I have one such line myself. Regardless of what they show, I enjoy it, and i hope people will support it so they will continue.

LLG70 said...

Agreed Lorine! I'll be posting my own rant on Monday. My eyes actually hurt from all the eye-rolling I did while watching.
jleesimons,
You may give people credit but I've seen too many people post ridiculous claims on Ancestry's Facebook page to do the same. I can't count the number of times someone has posted that they got back to Charlemagne, or better yet Adam & Eve, during their 14-day free trial. And they aren't joking! When asked for sources they will defend their tree to the death.
This episode was a clickophile's dream and they'll use it as validation of their unsourced, copied tree. UGH.

nuccia said...

I totally agree with many of the comments posted here. I have been truly disappointed with most of the episodes so far (with the exception of Christina Applegate's). In fact, I fell asleep during it last night. Between the comments and jumping around there was no real 'focus'. Boring and mis leading in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you also. How can this be proven? I think it is great that I have proven mine ancestors back in the 1500 but not any further.

RickK said...

I enjoyed the show. I though it moved a little fast over some facts but this isn't a training class.

I appreciate the fact that TLC is showing the series.

Donna said...

I agree. It has been a very disappointing season. It would be interesting to know an estimate of how many descendants of Charlamagne there are living now. Millions?

Karen West said...

I have the same complaint about every one of the WDYTYA episodes. I have toiled in the trenches for years and have yet to find the dramatic connections that pop up so readily every week on this program.
Perhaps if I had a cohort of professionals willing to go around the world I would approach their finds.

As a regular person researching within the limits of my available time and resources it is very discouraging to watch these glamorous stories unfold with such ease.

Anonymous said...

Kelley Clarkson's was no better. She spent half the time appearing to do some very poor acting with little real emotion. Then, the next minute she is crying. They have these "star's" flying all over the country and world which most of us can't afford. This show must start giving some sort of behind the scenes explanation of what really is involved. I am really disappointed in the show. It appears that Ancestry.com is trying only to get more subscribers. It is a great site but still has a lot of problems in it. Perhaps, someday they will get it all together.

Anonymous said...

I just wonder why they stopped at Charlemagne. Surely any researcher that could take Cindy Crawford back to Charlemagne could surely have taken her all the way back to Adam! But maybe they're saving that for the season finale...

Anonymous said...

The original show on NBC was my favorite show ever. This reincarnation of it on TLC is no where near as entertaining. It doesn't spend anywhere near enough time on 'the journey.' The hunt is half the fun! And I don't like the way they pick one ancestor and concentrate on him. There are so many and they are all interesting! They need to get out the tapes of last year's shows and go back to the old format. So far Chris O'Donnell's episode was my favorite one. Cindy's seemed way too rehearsed. She didn't even seem surprised at what they found.

Patty Betlach Russell said...

I like some of the other posts, WDYTYA makes it look so easy-peasy. Pop a name into ancestry.com search box and voila! It just doesn't work that way for 99.9% of us researchers. I have been at this for almost 20 years and I have yet to have a mind blowing experience drop in my lap as easy as 1-2-3. It's taken years to glean every bit of information I have on certain lines and some for some of them, I'm still beating my head on a brick wall. Please, WDYTYA..just once, I would love for you to take a non-celebrity and work on their genealogy and show the real blood, sweat, tears, begging and pleading, hoping and praying for an answer struggles that we really go through. Stop trying to sell ancestry subscriptions and make it real.

Anonymous said...

It has been a disappointing season. They should go back to showing the research, how it's like a detective story, finding clues and then going on to prove them. Too much emphasis on military too this season. Enough already!

Anonymous said...

I am a registrar for a Dar chapter and I do applications for new people. Practically every. Lady who comes to me is related to someone famous connected to someone famous related to charlemaine or gotten back to charlemaine in 2 weeks of starting ancestry. They are sure they can get into Mayflower or colonial dames or Jamestown. Sometimes there is a grain of truth but mostly their patriot was a farmer who did his duty and went to war at great hardship. I have 6 brick walls now that I've been working on for years. Lets get back to one generation at a time.step by step

Anonymous said...

I am searching & have been searching information about my family for over a year to no avail past my great grand parents.....I got disgusted & decided to try looking at my uncles wife's history as she always said her ancestry goes way back on Long Island......I started my search and could not stop,I am & was totally amazed ,I found her ancestors one after another back to the 1400s ,,SO yes! For some people it is easy ,for others it is a never ending battle ,I thought what Cindy found as wonderful and yes it can be done and was !!!!! love the show & love ancestry, I do wish though that it would be easier for people like me who isn't a millionaire to get records and be able to research and find information from all these places in a search from your home!!!!! Marilyn

Nancy Kruse said...

This is why I have not & will not watch this show. They insist on focusing on "celebrities" who have famous ancestors. I can't connect with this show when I'm having trouble finding documentation on my gr-grandmother in Pittsburg, PA. Please create a show with real people searching for real ancestors. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree about this season. All of the episodes have been snoozers except Christina Applegate's. Cindy Crawford's was the worst. Let's go back to the old format. While I may not have been interested in each person in previous years at least I learned something interesting about some period of history.

Mike said...

Ancestry.com is trying only to get more subscribers to make more money. What a sad awakening for new inexperienced researchers. I've been researching our families for over 35 years, and am still stuck on certain lines. I wish it was as easy as they try to make it look. I also wish I could fly all over the United States and Europe like they do just to do research....;0)

Leonard McCown said...

Ancestry of all should know better than many of the things they make look so easy on the shows. I dislike too that in many of the episodes people handle original documents with bare hands and should be wearing gloves. VERY misleading, and not doing the serious genealogist any favors.

Polska Roots said...

Hi! I am in agreement with all of the above comments. I would like to add a few thoughts on my part. I read (don't remember where, when nor the exact numbers)that it took 14 professional genealogist researchers 4 1/2 months working 8-12 hour days to do the research for 1 episode of the first year.

Second remember these are all actors who are starring in these episodes. People are curious about famous people. Would they watch if local yokels were researched? After all TLC & Ancestry.com are businesses.

Third, I agree Ancestry is the best. I spent 5 years doing all my research for free. I did the 14 day trial during the threat of our first hurricane in FL after retiring & moving here. I literally worked almost around the clock on ancestry with the weather channel on the TV :)

Most holidays they provide an area for free. I used the free resources at my local library & LDS Family History Center.

It wasn't until 2 yrs. ago I got a subscription to Ancestry for Christmas. Then got a special offer for Family Tree Maker. I feel like I've gone from Colonial Days to the space age! So I am so blessed. Nothing is perfect, but I'm sure they have come a long, long way :)

Merilyn Cargo Romani said...

I agree witH most of the comments here - but I also am disappointed with the Ancestry.com commercials that make tracing your family tree look like 1-2-3 steps! Those of us who have been digging for information & verifiable facts about our ancestors (with appropriate documentation I might add) for 30 or 40 years or more know how much time & effort it takes to just get back 1 or 2 generations let alone 25. The smallest little fact-finding step we make is thrilling to us. & no assumptions or taking for granted that that's our"guy" happens without plenty of documentation. We enjoy the challenges & rewards for what they are - the fruits of hard work!

Polska Roots said...

First,let me begin by saying I think Ancestry is the best resource to use & I agree with most of the comments above. Then let me say that we have to remember that all of the episodes are about famous people. Would people, especially non genealogists, watch if they were about local unknowns? Also, these people ARE actors. So it is natural for them to "play the part!"

Second, remember that TLC & Ancestry.com are businesses. They need to make profits with what they do. I had read sometime after the first season (I don't remember where I read it, nor the exact numbers) that it took something like 14 professional genealogist researchers 4 1/2 months, working 8-12 hour days to produce enough evidence for one show!

Thirdm you can do the research for free. I spent 5 years and got everything for free. I did the 14 day free trial during the threat of our first hurricane after moving to FL. So, I worked almost around the clock on ancestry with the weather channel on TV and tubs packed all over my living room ready to go into our camper at a moment's notice to evacuate :)

Every holiday ancestry has something for free on the actual holiday. I used my local library's computers & genealogy room & the local LDS Family History Center. However, it was like crossing the country in a covered wagon. Ever since I got a gift subscription to ancestry for Christmas almost 3 years ago, & then a great offer on Family Tree Maker, I'm now in the space age!
I feel very blessed and think America is too by having WDYTYA!

Polska Roots said...

I must add more: I feel most people want instant genealogy like our instant everything in our world today.

I have found recently several public trees that have some of my family tree people in their trees. Most of them are not researching. they are "remembering" what they heard ancestors say. When I wrote to one telling them of my grandfather & his 3 sisters & where they lived she said,"I remember Uncle ?? living in FL." I said his one sister lived in FL, not my grandfather. I keep in mind what people from our Genealogy Society have warned about...accepting info without verification from others!

Which brings me to an important point. Maybe it is the teacher in me, but learning from experts can't be beat. I have the greatest Genealogy Society, with very friendly & helpful members who are always there for support & information. Our speakers are very informative and knowledgeable about their subject, even if you don't have any relatives that their info pertains to. You can always learn so many general research procedures to help.

That's about it for me except to say, "Don't forget to have fun!"

Anonymous said...

The program is disappointing. It gives anyone interested in genealogy the notion that you have to travel all over the country to find anything out, and the information just pops up for you.
I've always lived far away from the big cities and I owe much of what I have to the Internet genealogy sites where I can verify information.
"Man on the street" will never be able to do genealogy in the manner this program does. A real disservice to those trying to find out about their past.

penguinn said...

I agree with you that not enough substance was put in Cindy's show, but I have tho't that of all their shows. I would like to see more of the 'behind the scenes' work that goes on to produce the celebrities ancestry. It seems that as the star goes from place to place, someone else has already done the legwork for them. The Show does make it seem to easy and not very many people have the money to get someone else to do "all" of the work for them.