Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Genealogy Roadshow Review - St. Louis, Union Station (S2E5)

This episode aired on February 10, 2015 on PBS. You can watch it online up until March 11, 2015 at

While at St. Louis’ historic Union Station, this program's team of genealogists revealed many family histories including one to a pair of sisters who believed they had a link to a survivor of the infamous Donner Party, a man descended from a saint, an Italian-American woman seeking the validity of the royal family crest, a musician looking to determine if her great-grandfather was a famous jazz composer, a son and his elderly mother who never knew her own mother hoping to regain that half of her family tree, and a woman whose mother was adopted and wanted to know more about her biological ancestry. 

One of the two things that really stood out to me was the use of DNA testing in this episode. In the first reveal DNA was used to substantiate the family lore that the sisters were descendents from members of the Donner Party. In the second reveal DNA was used again but this time to dispel the belief that the race of the guest's great-grandfather was a big family secret. Both examples underscore that fact that DNA is useful genealogy research tool to both confirm and refute assumptions and family lore. It is not a substitute for documentation but when documentation just does not exist it is a very powerful form of evidence.

The story that stood out the most to me was the last one in which Joshua Taylor revealed to a woman the history of her biological family. It began with the guest explaining that family means so much to her but other than her mother and her daughter she knew no other biological relatives because her biological mother was adopted. 

In my mind, that statement alone sparks an incredibly powerful question of how one defines "family" and if DNA really is a factor at all. I feel that family are the ones that you surround yourself with but as you stretch back in history to individuals you did not personally know, is DNA the defining factor? It's a question I need to work through a bit more on my own before writing about it I guess. Anyway...

Josh uncovered for the guest incredibly examples of information resources for this woman whose ancestors' lives were ravaged by early deaths, abandonment, mental illness, and divorce. Through the use of adoption records, Josh was able to track down a marriage record for the guest's biological maternal grandparents. That document revealed the maiden name of the biological maternal grandmother. This in turn made it possible to research that family in the U.S. Federal Census records.

Census records can reveal quite a bit about the make up of a "family" as I defined it earlier; the people one surrounds himself or herself with. A census record shows who is living together and the relationships among the residents as well as their occupations, ethnicities, races, genders, and ages which can to some degree let a researcher make assumptions about the interactions among the "family" members.

In the case of this biological maternal grandmother, the 1940 census reveals that she too was an orphan and raised in an orphanage. Josh then shares film footage from 1940 of the very same orphanage. To think that the guest could have been seeing the face of her very own biological grandmother in that footage was riveting. Of course the woman's biological grandmother was not identified by name in the video but those children and nuns would have been her grandmother's playmates and caretakers. 

Just the string of resources that were used in this reveal were so overwhelming.For that alone, I recommend you watch this episode.

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