Thursday, January 15, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review: Austin, TX (S2E1)

I had seen season 1 of Genealogy Roadshow and quite frankly, I was not that impressed. It had confirmed for me - at least back then - that people are only interested in their connections to famous people or significant events. That kind of turned me off but now the second season of Genealogy Roadshow is showing on PBS and I thought, "Well, I'll give it a second chance." I am glad I did. I really enjoyed the first episode which premiered on PBS this past Tuesday (January 13, 2015) at 8 p.m.

Unlike Who Do You Think You Are? and Finding Your Roots, Genealogy Roadshow's guests are ordinary everyday people, not celebrities. The show goes from city to city around the U.S. presenting snippets of family history of local residents.

What I appreciate most, perhaps, is the individuals' phrasing of their research question. Several years ago ran a commercial that stated that you didn't need to know what you were looking for, you just needed to start looking. 


That is not at all how good research is begun at any level. You must state your research goal!! One answer will lead to many more questions, trust me, but you must be able to clarify for yourself what you're looking for. A person's date of birth, if they participated in a war, where they lived - whatever it is, get a question!

This first episode of season 2 of Genealogy Roadshow took place in Austin, TX. The show provided some information about the history of Texas, Austin, and specifically the hotel in which these genealogy reveals were taking place, The Driskill Hotel.

In addition to absorbing some of Austin, Texas's local color, the genealogists,  D. Joshua Taylor, President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) and the Director of Family History at and Kenyatta Berry, past President of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) and on the Council of the Corporation for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston, presented 6 people with glimpses into their family histories.

These guests' ancestry covered events including the War for Mexican Independence, D-Day, the U.S. Civil War, and the settlement of Rhode Island to name a few. Some of the guests connected to famous Americans such as Sam Houston, the first President and Governor of Texas, and early American theologian Roger Williams as well as lesser known figures such as Mormon bishop, Anson Perry Winsor

Josh and Kenyatta took turns revealing research. One reveal that stands out the most to me was presented by Kenyatta to a woman who was inquiring about a murder that may have taken place in her family's history as well as the speculation as to her connection to Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.

Kenyatta confirmed for the woman that yes indeed she was descended from not just one but four of the passengers on the Mayflower. Although that ship only carried 102 passengers, 45 of which died in the first winter, there are nearly 35 million people who claim to have descended from those Pilgrims. 

The guest was presented  with a book about the early settlers and informed that she could join the lineage organization, the Mayflower Society. This was not the only lineage organization that was mentioned in the program; the Daughters of the Republic of Texas were a subject in the first reveal. I've written about lineage organizations before and the benefits of belonging to them; first, and foremost being validation of the quality of one's genealogical research and documentation - - but I digress.

The most moving part of Kenyatta's reveal to this specific woman was the story of that murder in her family. The root of that horrible family tragedy may have been the result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

We hear so much about PTSD now with soldiers returning from current wars but it is not new in any way. It has had many different names over the cause of history but the Civil War was really the first time the psychological effects of war were studied on such a grand scale. We think of PTSD as effecting the soldier but as this guest points out, PTSD effects the whole family. 

In this specific case the veteran who had fought in many notable Civil War battles had also been hospitalized at Gettysburg. He survived the war and went on to marry. About a decade after the marriage, he abruptly shot and killed his wife. 

A newspaper article - the most valuable type of genealogical resource if you ask me - revealed no "real" cause for the incident but noted that the man claimed to have no recollection of the event. Sadly, this veteran went on to be hospitalized in an insane asylum where I can only assume he did not get the help he needed because ultimately he ended his own life after several suicide attempts.

It is a very sad, sad story that no one really wants to learn about their ancestor but that many people would not want to share with the world. But as you know, here at Digging up the Dirt on My Dead People, there is no shame in sharing the darker, dirtier side of family history.

Before I depart, I'd also like to share my favorite quote from one of the guests on this week's episode, which wholeheartedly made me giggle. "Dead relatives can be a whole lot easier to deal with than the living ones." Hee, hee, hee.

I look forward to next week's episode of Genealogy Roadshow which is set in St. Louis, Missouri. It will air on Tuesday, January 20 at 8 p.m. EST on PBS. In the meantime, you can catch this past episode online at

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