Television Shows Make Genealogy Research Look Easy

It’s only natural for the entertainment industry to capitalize on genealogy becoming one of the fastest growing hobbies and businesses in the US.  Television shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?”, “Genealogy Roadshow” & “Finding Your Roots” are just a few.

One of the downfalls to watching these show is they may give someone who is just beginning to research their genealogy unrealistic expectations.  Please don’t think that this blog is going to be completely negative towards these shows.  The purpose is to show just a few pros and cons.

Let’s start positively with the pros!  First, these shows can reach a large audience.  They can give someone that initial spark or interest who may not have otherwise considered researching their family or pursuing genealogy.  Some focus on celebrities or public figures to grab the audience’s attention, while others may focus on everyday people to either confirm or debunk family stories passed down through generations.

Genealogy television shows offer a great resource in exposing their audience to the types of repositories and documents typically used in genealogy research.  While not all genealogy research will use identical resources, there are some common documents that are often referred to in these shows, such as vital or census records.  Becoming familiar with these repositories and documents, including the information they contain will help someone who is just starting their genealogy research.

Even the seasoned genealogist can find useful tips and information on these shows.  Sometimes the shows will use repositories, documents or collections that they are not familiar with or didn’t even know existed.  Learning about these resources can greatly enhance the genealogist’s ability to help with their own research.

Now for those cons…  First, most of these shows are at most an hour long.  With most episodes addressing at least three or more people it can be tough to give a complete picture.  That’s roughly 20 minutes, not including any commercials to tell a single person’s family story.  Keep in mind that most of the segment also focuses on a single branch of a person’s family.  During the course of the research, long before the show airs, much more information may have been discovered, but could not be included in the show.

Additionally, some episodes feature extensive travel, where someone just shows up at an archive or repository of a foreign country to find an old document relating to their family.  Conducting research outside of your immediate geographic area, especially a foreign country can be difficult or even counter-productive if it isn’t properly planned.  Often, a research trip has to be planned weeks, months or sometimes years in advance.  It’s not just the travel and accommodations that have to be planned.  For a research trip to be productive, all of the available and local resources need to be exhausted.  Often these television shows don’t explain how much effort has gone into exhausting these resources.

Many shows include a few genealogists interacting with the guest on camera, but in reality, there are a lot more genealogists and staff behind the scenes.  Most viewers are either conducting their own research or don’t have the means to have an army of genealogists working for them.  What may take a few weeks or months for a show’s researchers to discover, could take the viewers years or sometimes decades to find.

GenealogyChris encourages everyone to watch these shows to gain inspiration and motivation for researching their own family history.  Just remember, segments in the show only present you with a condensed story and not the reality of time and resources used behind the story.  Genealogy research requires not only learning the skills and maximizing resources but ultimately patience!  Sometimes that may require calling in a professional genealogist who is knowledgeable in a specific genealogy topic such as geographic area, religion, ethnicity or DNA.

Are you ready to start your story?

Posted in: TV