Genealogy Roadshow: Nashville

For a niche hobby, we’re steadily amassing quite a number of television programs!  From the Who Do You Think You Are? series here and in the UK, to the variety of Henry Louis Gates mini-series on PBS, we’re certainly doing a lot better than, say, stamp collecting.   Combining the host-driven approach of Gates’ series, the everyman approach of WDYTYA UK, and the format of Antiques RoadshowGenealogy Roadshow introduces us to a number of average Americans looking to discover what’s less-than-average about their family history and entertain the rest of us along the way.

The descendants of the warm photo on the monitor behind them meet for the first time.

The descendants of the little boy and old man in the warm photo on the monitor behind them meet for the first time.

This week’s episode was filmed in an antebellum mansion-turned-museum in Nashville, TN, and included segments featuring a young man awaiting his DNA results, a young woman who never knew her father, and families with rumored ancestry.  The segments rose and fell on the strength of the family story they presented.  The short DNA segment fell flat because we learned nothing about the young man nor what his results confirmed or refuted about what he had previously believed about himself.  But the African-American woman who learned that an ancestor born in 1890 was probably the son of the Governor of Tennessee and the young woman who learned the whole history of her absentee father’s family packed the kind of emotional wallop we’ve come to expect.  The story about the governor’s illegitimate, black son dramatically concluded with a surprising smoking gun, and the sense of validation of his descendant was palpable.  And I’m sure plenty of us watching remotely were tearing up along with the on-camera audience as the young woman viewed surfing pictures of her father that looked like her own, and even met her first cousin.

Well-known genealogists D. Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry were alternately compassionate and erudite, guiding each of their segments with a steady hand.  The use of tablets connected to large screen to zoom into records and around trees worked quite well, though I found it a strange decision that their paper scripts were so conspicuous.  That, plus the heavily staged nature of the segments, felt a bit stifling to their natural energy and inhibited the rapport they and their guests could establish with each other.  And while I appreciated the absence of WDYTYA-style promotions for particular genealogy websites, the almost-total absence of the work that went into making these discoveries for the guests shortchanges the average viewer.

However, right on the Department of Genealogical Realism is that not everyone heard what they want to hear.  Guests were told they were not related to Davy Crockett, George Washington, Jimmy Carter, the Pointer sisters, and numerous others, though descendants of Jesse James and the feuding Hatfield family confirmed their descent (though maybe it would have better had they not!).

Overall, I liked the style of the show, especially its pacing and the diversity of stories it fit into the hour.

Next week:  onto Detroit!

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