Friday, August 16, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are? Reviews: 1st half of Season 4

This morning Cousin Mary over at Threading Needles in a Haystack posted her reviews of the recent episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?;

Back in May the television network, TLC, announced that it was bring back the show, Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) which originally ran in the U.S. on NBC. For those of you unfamiliar with the television show, each one-hour episode is really a documentary of a celebrity's research into their own family history. Well, I say the celebrity's research but as Cousin Mary so correctly points out in her post we are really watching the celebrity being handed research already done for them. Ah, the perks of fame. Seriously, I'd be willing to put up with some paparazzi in exchange for someone breaking through my genealogical brick walls; but I digress...

So far this season on WDYTYA there has been 4 episodes; Kelly Clarkson, Christina Applegate, Chelsea Handler, and Zooey Deschanel.

Episode 1. Kelly Clarkson's episode focused on her Civil War ancestor, Isaiah Rose. I myself have spent a great deal of time on this period in history in my own family history. I feel very close, research-wise, to many of my ancestors who served in this horrific war. I could relate to how very moved Kelly was by the stories she discovered about Isaiah. However, she made this one comment that really made me roll my eyes. She commented that she had sung at the inauguration of a man who got to be president because of the cause her ancestor fought for. Well, Kelly, your 3rd great-grandpa didn't exactly put Obama in the White House. I understand what she was saying but truthfully, a majority of those who fought in the Civil War weren't there for the cause of racial equality, many were poor farmers there for the paycheck. The cause they fought for was preserving the Union. My advice, Ms. Clarkson, is that she you should watch Lincoln; maybe twice. But my own heart resonnates with Kelly hope that those who fought to save the Union somehow know that what they did mattered; still matters.

Episode 2. I wholeheartedly agree with Cousin Mary when she states that "Christina Applegate's episode was possibly one of the best episodes and stories I've ever seen on this show." Christina's father came from a "broken home." He had very little information about his mother and very inaccurate stories about the circumstances surrounding his parents' divorce and his upbringing. Like Cousin Mary I enjoyed this episode because it wasn't about heroes. It was about normal people struggling with their own demons and the effects that has on the lives around them - - for generations to come.

This episode underscored for me that genealogy has the power to heal. Uncovering the truth, however painful it may be, most definitely brings about a understanding and compassion for others around us and who have come before us. That is mostly what my research and my blog are about. I believe that my behavior, reactions, and personality have a lot to do with how I was raised; or in some instances how I have unlearned what my parents taught me. For example, my mother's side suffers a lot of estrangement. I've always wondered why they treat one another like that - - not speaking to sister and/or brothers for decades at a time. My research into her line revealed that it really was a learned behavior that was perpetuated for generations. Whereas on my father's side there is a history of taking in these "cousins," "aunts," and "uncles" that really aren't related at all. Christina's research was able to provide her father with some much needed personal closure and a clearer understanding of who his parents were.

Episode 3. Chelsea Handler's episode focused on the life of her German grandfather through WWII.  Despite my statements regarding episode 1, all my research into the Civil War, and my love of my soldier/sailor ancestors, I hate war. And I feel like I had just watched the Clarkson-Civil War one. Chelsea who is a Jewish, was very concerned about her German grandfather being a Nazi sympathizer. She knew her grandfather though and recounted how he was very loving towards her even though he himself was not Jewish. I wonder if she had found out that he was a Nazi what it would have really changed for her. Would she have turned to hating the man? I think what the experience did for Chelsea, and for all those watching it, was to clarify the fact that most German soldiers were not Nazis; they fought in that war out of necessity, they had to, their government made them, and they were trying to protect their families.

Episode 4. Zooey Deschanel's episode focused on her Quaker roots. I did not have a strong religious upbringing really. I was raised Catholic and identify myself as one though. However, I have always found religions to be intriguing. After reading about Quakerism in my high school, I thought, hmm, maybe I could be a Quaker. They were very progressive in their support of gender equality, racial freedom, and liberal education. I like them for that, and I do love oatmeal. (It was through Quaker brand oatmeal that I first learned about Quakerism from my mom, really.) But I don't know if I could cut it as a Quaker, they conservatively refrain from alcohol, dancing, and swearing. Eh. "F that in the A," she says as she swigs her whiskey and dances a jig. And it also doesn't bode well for them in my book that Richard Nixon was a Quaker.

Zooey learned, though that her ancestor, Sarah Henderson Pownall was indeed a strong Quaker woman at a time when abolitionism was extremely unpopular and most women were stifled from expressing strong convictions. Her family's connection to pivotal events in the history of the Underground Railroad was really quite moving. The recorded personal recollection of Sarah Pownall's son-in-law was an amazing family history find; that resource made me jealous.

All in all I think it is shaping up to be a wonderful season of WDYTYA and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing the second half of season 4 with episodes on Chris O'Donnell, Cindy Crawford, Trisha Yearwood, and Jim Parsons. Tuesday night at 9pm Eastern (repeated at 11pm Tuesdays) on TLC.


  1. Isn't it interesting how each individual is struck by different episodes or different aspects of each episode? If nothing else, the show portrays a pretty good variety of family histories and while the celebrities don't have to do any of the grueling legwork -lucky! - and it's basically a commercial for, We as viewers get to see the variety of real world resources available in our research and that there's more to researching our trees than just hopping on the Internet.

  2. Amen, sister - - I mean cousin! It is not overt but it is obvious in every episode that does not have everything; that one does have to go to libraries, archives, cemeteries, and places of worship to get records.