Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: Julie Chen

Quite honestly, I didn't know who Julie Chen was but it didn't matter to me. I was so excited for the start of a new season of Who Do You Think You Are? that it could have been about an inanimate object, I would have tuned in to see it. Not surprisingly, though, Julie Chen and her ancestry is a whole hell of a lot more interesting than say a rock.

Chen is an American television personality and has been the host of the reality show Big Brother since it debuted in July of 2000. Obviously, it is not a show I watch. She is also a host on The Talk and an anchor on The Early Show. Again, I obviously don't watch morning television.

A few aspects of her upbringing struck me as intriguing right away. One, she was born and raised in Bayside, Queens. I had friends that grew up there and are around her age. maybe they knew each other...

And she is of Chinese descent and I have distant cousins who are also of Chinese ancestry and I know next to nothing about Chinese genealogical research. So I was captivated by this episode.

Not knowing a language other than English has impeded my genealogy research in European and even Canadian records. Reading Chinese seems even more challenging to me than trying to read French or German or even Czech. And Chinese naming patterns are entirely foreign to me. Julie, even though she is able to speak Chinese and knew some written Chinese, had various translators with her throughout her journey through China.

Julie first visited the National Library of Singapore where she met with Jason Lim, a historian from the University of Wollongong. Julie had seen her grandfather's English language obituary but there was more detail revealed in the Chinese language newspaper. There it described her grandfather as  having an "improper" childhood without an explanation as to what about it was "improper." This description perplexed and stayed with Julie through most of the episode. I could relate to that feeling of having to unpuzzle that description.

It was later revealed that her great-grandfather was appointed by the Emperor to oversee the Imperial Examination of young scholars. That position ended when the Dynasty abolished the exam, forcing Julie's grandfather to enter the workforce at just  13 years old in order to help support the family.

She learn the grandfather she never knew but had thought had always been so privileged actually made his own way in this world. I liked that this episode that further research into the lives of our ancestor can correct our sometimes improper and inform our always incomplete vision of the lives our ancestors led.

It was worth the watch and you can check it out online at


  1. I like that WDYTYA seems to be trying, at least to some extent, to branch out from just American and European ancestry. I like seeing the challenges and highlights of doing researching in these other parts of the world, such as China - as you pointed out, language barriers can be pain-in-the-neck obstacles to our research and so while I liked that they went to China and looked at Chinese records and had to have Chinese translators, I'm glad I don't have to do that for my own research - trying to read German is hard enough! Sam & I are looking forward to the America Ferrera episode, since she's going to Honduras and Sam's family is from there...another good recap! :)

  2. I am looking forward to that episode as well and for the same reason. Did Sam's family have any connections to the vast banana industry there? And do you remember that presentation we went to about the "eccentric relative" at that NGS conference??