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.