Who Do You Think You Are?, Season 2

My wife and I are now completely season-to-date with the second season of Who Do You Think You Are?, NBC’s family history program. So far this season they’ve followed Vanessa Williams, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Kim Cattrall, and Lionel Richie’s searches for answers to family mysteries, in some cases family skeletons.

As a committed amateur geneaologist (and my family’s historian) myself, I find the show pretty interesting. Vanessa Williams’s and Lionel Richie’s episodes were particularly interesting. I wonder if some of the messages of their families’ history leap out to others as it does to me? Interestingly, both of their ancestries go back to blacks free before the Civil War. Other things that leap out: education goes way back in both their families; marriage records going back 140 years; race and racial identity are different things. The phenomenon of black kids being raised by single mothers (or grandmothers) is a relatively recent one and one that Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned about even as it was developing. I continue to be stunned by how little informed even intelligent, educated African Americans are about Jim Crow.

Something I learned: there was a smallpox epidemic in Tennessee in the winter of 1882-1883. I had known about the epidemics in various places around the country during and immediately following the Civil War but I hadn’t known about the later one in Tennessee.

On a light note I’ve started corresponding with a distant cousin (I mean distant—I haven’t established the precise relationship but it can be no closer than 6th cousin, just this side of completely unrelated) who, based on the info from last season, is convinced that we’re distantly related to Brooke Shields. It would have to be pretty darned distant since by my reckoning our last mutual common ancestor could be little later than the 13th century.

8 comments… add one
  • I’ve done my family’s genealogy off an on for a few years now. The furthest back I can get is North Carolina in the 1770’s which seems to be the limit for my mostly-online research effort. It’s also surprising because most of my clan emigrated from Scotland to Canada in the early 19th century.

  • As I’ve mentioned in posts before, I can trace my Schuler ancestry back six or seven hundred years. Switzerland is like that. I could probably trace the Flanagans (my mother’s mother’s mother’s family) back a bit earlier than their emigration here in the 1840s by going to Ireland—I know where they were from there.

    The Blanchards (my mother’s father’s family) hit a wall in 1820. I suspect they’re French Canadians but I haven’t discovered any way to prove it. Interestingly, the family’s identity is Irish—an artifact, I suspect, of marrying Irish girls for several generations.

  • sam Link

    Hmm. I was thinking about something like this the other day for my niece. My wife’s parents were Irish on her mother’s side and Lebanese on her father’s side. My sister-in-law married a man of French-Canadian background (let’s just say, French). So, my niece is Irish-Lebanese-French. She recently married a young man of Ukranian background. Her children will be Irish-Lebanese-French-Ukranian. And my head swims when I think of trying to trace all that.

    Meownself, it’s pretty straight-forward: on both sides, Irish-Scot-English-Horsethief. That shouldn’t be all that difficult to trace back.

  • Drew Link

    “Meownself, it’s pretty straight-forward: on both sides, Irish-Scot-English-Horsethief.”

    Heh, I’m afraid to look at mine. Its might be Scot-English-Welsh-Drunken Horsethief….

  • Horse-thievery is far too much like work for my ancestors to have been involved much in it. Horse-fencing, now, that’s a different story.

    And in my wife’s family nobody would ever be involved in such a thing. It would be dishonest. And disorderly.

  • Irish-Lebanese-French

    If my experience is any gauge she must be very pretty.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I watched the Kim Cattrall episode last night, so far the only one I’ve watched. While enjoyable, it was far from what I expected. The episode involved disclosing family secrets to which “the victims” were still living and potentially vulnerable. I honestly don’t know if I would have revealed this past to my mother, not that I think Kim did anything wrong, but it’s an ethical dilemma.

  • One of the things that struck me in the conclusion of that episode was that Ms. Cattrall apparently had no interest whatever in establishing relations with her Australian relatives but her mother and aunts did.

    I’ve seen that play out in my own family. My mother had no interest in reaching out to her half sisters or their children. However, I’m gratified that I did so and have succeeded in establishing some level of relations with at least one of my mother’s nieces.

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