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Which Makes a Better Genealogy TV Program?

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

What makes one genealogy TV program better than another? The top two genealogy programs are Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots. One is better than the other because one more accurately reflects the real genealogy experience.

Who Do you Think You Are TV ProgramFinding Your Roots TV Program

Both programs, however, misrepresent genealogy for what it is. That’s because both programs are constructed as entertainments. A television program, devised from the need to attract a defined audience demographic, cannot ever be true to its subject, because the program will be skewed towards the demographic. In essence, the only general audience appeals the program may have in the end is an appeal to entertain.

In the Finding Your Roots TV program, Henry Louis Gates presents himself as an authoritarian who will show to a subject’s surprise unknown facts about the subject’s past. His narrative discoveries appear, as if by magic. There’s no insight for the audience into the magician’s bag of tricks. Nothing is required of the focal subject, or of the audience for that matter, other than to sit back and be entertained by Mr. Gates’ wizardry.

On the other hand, the TV program Who Do You Think You Are actually displays a journey of personal discovery. The subject must travel from place to place, from one institution to another, often seeking help, to find the desired evidence of fact, often coming up short. The journey may produce yet another clue for yet another segment of discovery, leading in the end to a satisfactory conclusion though trial and error to accomplishment and fulfillment, regardless of one’s originally desired expectation. This more closely represents the real genealogy experience.

Ironically, Who Do You Think You Are displays the warrior experience of mythology. The program shows an individual can arise from the unknown to go forward. That person can be tested and tried, over and over, and ultimately return home to one’s family, or tribe, as a hero, who now is the enlightened one. This in fact is how genealogists become heroes among their families. Genealogists are the heroes families turn to. They are ones who hold the tested knowledge, the truth, and the history. Genealogists become family leaders.

Mr. Gates, though, would prefer to be every family’s leader and hero. That’s as much an unrealistic expectation as the leaf in the ancestry.com television commercial, which promises if you simply click on it, all your family ancestry will magically be provided.

It is not surprising if viewers might not identify with the genealogy experience presented to them in these television programs. Viewers are passive receptors, nothing more than observers. Few among them have been warrior tested. But, if they were, they soon would recognize the weaknesses in these entertainments. In fact, they would probably come to prefer sifting through old records in the basement of a dingy courthouse basement, to sitting comfortably in their lounge chair, awaiting the big reveal. If they’d just go and be tested, they would return with stories as magical, entertaining, informative, and enlightening.

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Stray Leaves Daily

Stray Leaves Daily

Daily updates from the family of Frank & Jesse James with stories, photos, & two searchable genealog

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1 week ago
Stray Leaves Daily

FIND-A-GRAVE BLUNDERS LEAVE JAMES FAMILY HOWLING . . . Can you spot the errata in this Find a Grave post for the grandfather of Frank & Jesse James? The most glaring deception is the photograph!

History tells us the photograph was invented about the time John M. James was dying. Neither history, nor the administrator of this posting, Charlotte Raley McConaha, can tell us is how photographic technology made its way from France to the distant American frontier to take a photo of John M. James, months before his demise.

Another imprecise miscalculation in this post is the attribution of the middle name “Martin” to John M. James. The name never has been proved by evidence. To guess the name is unreliable and wrong.
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FIND-A-GRAVE BLUNDERS LEAVE JAMES FAMILY HOWLING . . . Can you spot the errata in this Find a Grave post for the grandfather of Frank & Jesse James? The most glaring deception is the photograph!

History tells us the photograph was invented about the time John M. James was dying. Neither history, nor the administrator of this posting, Charlotte Raley McConaha, can tell us is how photographic technology made its way from France to the distant American frontier to take a photo of John M. James, months before his demise.

Another imprecise miscalculation in this post is the attribution of the middle name “Martin” to John M. James. The name never has been proved by evidence. To guess the name is unreliable and wrong.
2 weeks ago
Stray Leaves Daily

JAMES-YOUNGER GANG TO CLOSE . . . Sad news as Danny Urban, former President of the J-Y Gang, posted to Facebook that the organization is about to disband. Here’s the statement: "It is a sad year for us in the Gang. Since I originally posted this, we have lost members due to death. We are down to around 30, but the Board has decided to shut the Gang down at the end of the year. Donate all of our monies to Non-Profits around the country that are history related in the areas that the real Gang had robbed, etc. Two of our members will be taking over the website and they plan on keeping it going." The photo below is of yours truly in 2002 at the family reunion with some great-grandchildren of Jesse James. The 2017 logo is from the last meeting of the Gang that I helped to organize. See MoreSee Less

JAMES-YOUNGER GANG TO CLOSE . . . Sad news as Danny Urban, former President of the J-Y Gang, posted to Facebook that the organization is about to disband. Heres the statement: It is a sad year for us in the Gang.  Since I originally posted this, we have lost members due to death.  We are down to around 30, but the Board has decided to shut the Gang down at the end of the year.  Donate all of our monies to Non-Profits around the country that are history related in the areas that the real Gang had robbed, etc.  Two of our members will be taking over the website and they plan on keeping it going. The photo below is of yours truly in 2002 at the family reunion with some great-grandchildren of Jesse James. The 2017 logo is from the last meeting of the Gang that I helped to organize.
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