Genealogy: The Sitcom?

At NGS last week Dick Eastman and I had a discussion — was HBO’s Family Tree actually about genealogy?  He pointed out that the trailer follows the main character as he tracks down living relatives… which wasn’t quite what I was hoping the show would be about.  Well, who knows how the series will play out, but the first episode will feel awfully familiar to family historians.

Our budding genealogist is Tom Chadwick, recently bereft of girlfriend, job, and now great-aunt.  The latter’s passing puts him in possession of an old chest, inside of which he finds a photograph of a man in turn of the century military garb.  All his father can tell him is that he is Tom’s great-grandfather, who was some sort of military hero.  Eventually Tom finds his way to a fictional Maureen Taylor, who in true genealogical fashion clears up the mystery of the photograph, but leads Tom into an even bigger one.

HBO Family Tree:  Harry Chadwick

Tom:  He’s a Chinese man?
Neville:  Yes, hence his name. Harry Chadwick.

The field marshall in the photograph is not Tom’s ancestor… but Prince George, the Duke of Cambridge!  Typical mistake!  It turns out that Tom’s great-grandfather took the photograph, and a picture of this great-grandfather shows him to be… Chinese?!

There’s much in the pilot episode that rings true for genealogy buffs, from the old photograph you can’t stop wondering about, to the desire to see in yourself the best characteristics your ancestors embodied.  Alas, the genealogy on the show is presented in true WDYTYA style, where key records just happen to be at the fingertips of the researcher, and breakthroughs happen in seconds, but it is recognizably genealogical research.  (As an aside:  Was anyone else yelling at Tom to take the photograph out of the frame to read the back?)

However, there’s much that does not ring true at all.  For one, Tom’s best friend accompanies him on a long train ride to visit the photographic expert, but when have you ever convinced a non-genealogically-inclined friend to accompany you on any genealogical excursions?!  Furthermore, Tom’s blind date seems to take great interest in Tom’s genealogical quest, but I can tell you from extensive personal experience that this is not what happens in real life.

Overall the show seems promising, if you don’t mind dry British comedy or the extreme eccentricities of Christopher Guest-created characters.  I can’t yet say I’m invested in Tom or his living family, but the mystery of Harry Chadwick I’m curious to see unfold.  And if nothing else, I wouldn’t mind catching another glimpse of the show-within-a-show of The Plantagenets!

Click here for our review of Episode 2.

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