Ancestry.com

Who Do You Think You Are? Episode 1 – Sarah Jessica Parker

Turns out history knows a lot about Sarah Jessica Parker’s family tree. She’s a gold miner’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter with links to an accused witch. In case you missed any of the details of where Sarah Jessica went and what she saw, here they are, in a very small nutshell:

Sarah Jessica starts her journey by talking to her mom about the Hodge family – a line of her family that Sarah Jessica never heard of before. Where did her research move next?

  • El Dorado, California: Sarah Jessica sees firsthand where the miners might have lived and gets a better understanding of the lives and risks of 49ers as well as the motivation and fate of her great-great-great-great-grandfather. A letter from John S. Hodge’s business partner confirms John’s 1850 date of death and location.
  • New England Historic Genealogical Society: Sarah Jessica discovers that the Hodge family marries into the Elwell family – both of which have very long histories in America. She, herself, directly descends from Esther Dutch Elwell – a woman accused of witchcraft in Salem.
  • Massachusetts Historical Society: The complaint against Esther Dutch Elwell still exists in paper form from the late 1600s, giving Sarah Jessica the chance to read the handwritten accusation against her ancestor. But further research shows that Esther was never tried let alone convicted: the Court of Oyer and Terminer was dissolved before the warrant for Esther was issued. Esther went free and lived to be 82 years old.

What does history know about your family? Spend a few minutes at Ancestry.com searching through census records, gathering the kinds of details that opened up historic connections for Sarah Jessica Parker. (Hint: read all the way across the census page for clues like military service, birthplace, and immigration dates.) Compare dates for your ancestors to historical timelines and then see if you can learn more about how your family’s actions were influenced by key events.

If you happen to find a link or want to see if one exists between your family and the California Gold Rush or the Salem witch trials, you can dive directly into the following record collections at Ancestry.com:

And if you want to catch something in the Sarah Jessica Parker episode again or learn more about what’s coming up on Who Do You Think You Are?, visit http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are.

About Heather Erickson
Heather Erickson is Head of Global Communications for Ancestry.com and has been with the company since 2009.

69 comments

Comments
1 Patricia MarburgerMarch 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm

You made it look too easy. It takes time, lots of research and money! And I do not believe the Historical Society would let anyone hold a 300 year old document in their sweaty hands! Pul-leze. I have been doing research for many years. I use Ancestry for some of the records available, but you still have to go to the courthouses and genealogy libraries. Ancestry does not have it all and probably never will. Your rates would have to go up and people like me just couldn’t afford it. The show was very interesting and I’ll watch the next one, but somewhere someone should have said that not everyone finds their ancestor. Shame on you!

2 LeAnn AtkinMarch 6, 2010 at 12:07 am

I recently discovered that my 9th great-grandmother was Susanna North Martin. As I explored this, beyond my elementary history class, I became horrified to find out what really happened to these women, and specifically my grandmother. She was a simple woman, with only a desire to raise her family. She was strong willed, spoke her mind, and defended herself fervently. She had recently lost her husband, and wanted only to live the balance of her’s in peace with her family surrounding her.
I now know that the traits she passed down to the women in this family were to be strong women who stand up for themselves, defend what is theirs and what is right. Like Sarah Jessica Parker I was not only horrified at finding this out, but glad that we were not on the side of wrong.

3 Lanette BrightwellMarch 6, 2010 at 2:04 am

As an author and genealogist for almost 30 years now; I started using ancestry.com in the beginnings of the website. I have seen how ancestry.com has added tons of very valuable information to their website. However; there are many websites that are out there with the same information for free. Other genealogists have began creating their own websites with database access with a fee [and you aren't guaranteed you find anything]. The best bet in doing genealogy is ALWAYS GO AND LOOK UP THE INFORMATION YOURSELF. Make sure you are looking at the original and ancestry.com provides you access to see the originals once you become a member. This feature is great if you have limited travel funds, or are housebound. It saves time and money to use ancestry.com. Just as Sarah Jessica Parker; I too held in my hands an original document in an archive library, that dated back to the early 1800′s regarding my family. I agree that the documents can be fragile and must be handled with care. Libraries should start requiring individual researchers to wear gloves to keep the oils from their hands off the documents. Even reading books, turning the pages will wear out the paper eventually. I have always loved solving great mysteries and have researched many surnames. I decided to share my notes on these families by separating them into surnames, creating books and offering them on my webpage. http://www.lulu.com/brightwell . Enjoy solving your family history!

4 Elle LitistMarch 6, 2010 at 2:05 am

In a word, schmaltzy.

I understand the desire to bring genealogy to the masses, but does it have to be dumbed down to a 3rd grade level? The endless gauzy, slow mo shots of SJP and the overbearing soundtrack were pure torture. I would fire the editor immediately, no one should sound as dimwitted as SJP. Focusing on one person makes it too personal, your relatives are only interesting to you.

Ancestry and NBC have a hit, the twittering masses loved it.

Now get the servers up to speed.

5 K GordonMarch 6, 2010 at 2:13 am

The show was interesting and will no doubt cause an upsurge in genealogical research which, I assume, is your goal. I was disappointed, however, to find it encouraged glory seeking. I am who I am — no genealogical discovery makes that any different. Encouraging people to do research just so they can feel more important in this world is irresponsible. I would not be a better person for having descended from someone who took part in an important event in this country’s history than I am for having descended from generations who remained in the same location, were normal people doing normal things, and living normal lives.

That most of my husband’s ancestors came to the US 200 years later than most of mine, makes him no less an American!! Sarah Jessica Parker WAS an American before she began this journey. She is still the successful American actress who began this journey. What she did discover was her family’s history, a knowledge about the different lifestyles her ancestors lived, and that we all help in some way, small or large, to shape our homeland and one another.

6 childinthefinalsparksMarch 6, 2010 at 2:58 am

[...] Source: blogs.ancestry.com [...]

7 Andy HatchettMarch 6, 2010 at 6:40 am

What they should have done is sit each of these celebrities in front of a computer and then followed them tracing their own genealogy and running into the same problems the average person runs into and then showing them how to solve those problems without the aid of highly paid genealogists and heads of research organizations.

That would have made for a much better and, I believe, more believable show while advancing online genealogy in general- oh well, maybe next season…if there is one.

8 TomMarch 6, 2010 at 6:40 am

I watched the show. It was interesting. When I discover an ancestor and the records to prove it I also am quite excited. That said, I don’t think very many of us believe she did any research. Wherever she shows up someone gave her material they found. Very few of us can afford this kind of family research. It was exciting, but unrealistic!

9 Paul NitzMarch 6, 2010 at 7:11 am

I have tracked my wife’s family back to 17th-century Massachusetts and Connecticut. One of her direct ancestors was Governor John Webster of Connecticut. Other distant relatives include Silas Wright, the American statesman, Noah Webster of dictionary fame, and Ethan Allen of the Green Mountain boys. So?

I suppose she can now, employing Sarah Jessica Parker’s “nouveau-snootiness,” demand that I sleep in the servants’ quarters because I lack the depth of pedigree that she has. My relatives, although not New England frontiersmen, were 19th-century Norwegian pioneers in Wisconsin and Polish immigrants who were building the city of Chicago. Weren’t immigration and the westward movement fundamental to the American story?

Am I to conclude from Ms. Parker’s ebullience in being an “American” that English blood flowing in a pioneer’s veins is more native to America that Norwegian, Polish, or any other? What about Ms. Parker’s father’s side? Not quite as “American” I guess. As a sidelight, and I don’t think this is unfair, maybe it was also more “American” to dispossess the Pequoit Indians of Connecticut as was the case with my wife’s ancestors than it was to homestead on the land of the dispossessed Winnebago Indians in Wisconsin as was the case with my ancestors?

Maybe I’m being too sensitive here, but a not-too-thinly-veiled sense of English pedigree arrogance seems to permeate the first installment of “Who do you think you are.” The message is: Those with an English pedigree are Americans. The great anonymous melting pot is for everybody else.

10 DianeMarch 6, 2010 at 8:09 am

I was unimpressed with Sarah Jessica Parker’s oohs and aahs type reactions, and with the fact that someone else did all of the research for her. Too much emphasis was placed on the importance of finding a connection to famous historical events. It’s nice, but it isn’t really the point.

It WAS unrealistic, and made it look far too easy. Many of us spend long hours and years doing our own research, being thrilled when we find that next piece of the puzzle. The average person interested in their family genealogy cannot not afford the kind of research that was done for this show.

Simplistic, overdramatized, and misleading.

11 wgm003March 6, 2010 at 8:18 am

“Oh, My God”, “Oh, My God”, “Oh, My God” I wonder what her response would have been had she found out that one of her un-mentioned ***fathers had been hanged for horse stealing? Personally, I have been searching for almost 40 years and if you would like the gritty details I can tell you about a murder & suicide out in the grape arbors in central California or the accidental shooting of a brother in the corn fields of Iowa.
The program turned out just as I suspected it would. Lots of glitz and glamour, a lot of other peoples work, and very little real information. If poor Mr./Mrs./Miss. think they are going to be able to go down to the local city hall and pick up a valuable document, think again! Start with Family Tree Maker and spend a few hundred hours filling in the blanks then you might be ready to start. Also, don’t use or depend on the fuzzy information in One World Tree – it is, mostly, just a collection of plagiarisms and poor research techniques.
Next week I’ll find a good DVD or rerun.

12 Fletcher BMarch 6, 2010 at 8:26 am

I think some of the previous people commenting are way too sensitive and critical. It was a very good show and it excited me in getting back to work on my history. I hope it inspires others to start on their family histories. I have been using ancestry.com for several years and it is a wonderful resource and a good value. I know onsite research is necessary when I can do it. But there is a lot of work I can do on ancestry.com which prepares for onsite research. Thank you ancestry.com for sponsoring this series. (note: I do not work for or have any connection to ancestry.com)

[...] Source: blogs.ancestry.com [...]

14 Gail DavisMarch 6, 2010 at 8:45 am

I had looked forward to your first show, being a fledgling genealogist, to see what methods worked for Ms. Parker in her research for details of family ancestors. Most of us have family names, but the desire to “fill out the bones” and know more about the what, where and why they lived is stronger each year we age.

When we lose parents and grandparents that knew so much more than they shared (or as a youth we did not listen to the stories) it becomes important to find and document their lives and pass this information to our descendants before we die.

I have struggled with “brick walls”, joined Ancestry and my local genealogy society to help me in my quest (which they have). The hardest research for me is traveling to the sites of family history (I am on oxygen) or hiring genealogists due to the cost of the many hours it would take to find and document many family lines.

I’m struggling with letters (with enclosed checks) to obtain state and county
records, which I hope to find the clues to verify family connections. Your first episode showed the most expensive method to find these answers. I hope in future episodes your could balance the “star route to discovery” with
the second half hour helping a deserving “nobody” with the “limited funds” route to discovery.

15 Jane SchmiedekeMarch 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

I couldn’t agree more with Andy Hatchett. Ancestry.com would do genealogy a great service by guiding an ordinary person one step at a time through their search. It wouldn’t be glamorous, but it would be enormously helpful to thousands of us who do not have the time, assistance, money, or travel opportunities that the rich and famous have. And I guarantee it would have viewers!

16 Ann GMarch 6, 2010 at 9:05 am

My ancestors were also involved with the Salem Witch Trials, though not the accused. It bothered me that she declared that she hoped that they would be the accused as opposed to the accuser. We know the outcome of some of the accused and it wasn’t good . Genealogy is not so cut and dried for most of us. Just try tracing your Native American ancestors. Maybe if I were a celebrity , I would get lots of help .
There are also those who proclaim to be professional genealogists that give false information because they cannot find anything.
Because of a relative hiring one of these people,there is mass misinformation on the genealogy sites. It is always wise to check credentials first.
I found the story interesting, but almost fake in her emotions and surprise.
I guess you have to use celebrities in order to get people to watch the program. So sad.
All of the rest of us are just as important in our searches. I think a story lends more credibility if the average person is used.
I also have a written note in my possession from 1726 written by a decendent of the SWT. I wouldn’t let people fondle it.
I wish everyone good luck in their searches.

17 Tom HMarch 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

C’mon you all lighten up! This show is NOT an instructional video on genealogy. It is an entertainment show demonstrating the satisfaction of discovering your own family. Do you think there would be an audience for anonymous me and my seemingly endless chain of anonymous farmers? Anyone can reason that these celebs were ‘treated’ and that us common folk will have to do the work ourselves. And Sarah did not feel “American” because she is English, it is because she could connect her own family to events in American history. All of our not-so-famous ancestors and relatives lived during some historical period. We can connect with history through them, just like SJP. Perhaps more people will get motivated to search their own families and that will generate the resources to make ALL of our searches more fruitful. Great show. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

18 MPMarch 6, 2010 at 10:42 am

Like the others who commented here, I did watch the new Show regarding Ancestry…..The show was informative and did give people a glimpse into what can be uncovered with some research…However, from the experience of constructing my own family tree, you must employ the help of many…..as was depicted on the show. If one doesnt have the funds or ability to travel to Europe etc,it will require more time consuming research on your part. The show could have been less OOOhs and AHHhhhs, and concentrated more on the actor/actress doing their own search.or giving the average person concrete tips…….
PS Ancestry.com does help with records etc…even if you dont want to join right away…..

19 S AndersonMarch 6, 2010 at 10:44 am

Have to give credit to the ‘behind the scenes’ reseacher who was able to link the families together. With a P. S. to the film crew, Yosemite is not in El Dorado county.

20 LoriMarch 6, 2010 at 11:03 am

I was very excited about watching this show. What a disappointment it turned out to be. I, too, found SJP’s reactions fake. The thing that really got me is that it seemed to be that more about making a connection to “history” than “family history” and research. Has anyone ever searched census records and found only one hit and that it turned out to be the exact right person you were looking for with the exact spelling? When I saw that, I almost fell off my couch. I was really hoping to see research and guidance through her search. I think that Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates on PBS is so much better. Even though the focus is on celebrities and someone else has done the research for them, Mr. Gates fills in the history of the times that the ancestors lived in and that in itself helps me with my own research. Also, when those people see what their family history is, it seems a more genuine reaction and a more genuine interest.
While I do rely on Ancestry.com for a lot of my research since I can’t afford to travel everywhere I would like in order to find my family, I don’t use the information from anyone’s trees that are already online. I think of that as “cheating” and where’s the fun of investigating for yourself?
I might try to watch next week’s show, but I don’t feel it will be a great loss if I miss it.

21 Pattee JonesMarch 6, 2010 at 11:14 am

Great show! Not enough information on “how to do it”. As a trainee,I found Ancestry.com was the best in retreiving facts and proof. Hope next week is just as interesting as this week. Poor Sarah Jessica Parker, she had to watch herself say ,”Oh My God” from surprise or plain shock too many times. What would you say in her spot? I found people in my tree that made me say “WOW” for several weeks after and I still talk about them. Please add more stories with this program and GO! GO! GO!

22 Kay AMarch 6, 2010 at 11:21 am

GIven the fact that Ancestry.com today is running a note today that says it’s experiencing higher-than-usual traffic, I imagine last night’s show will be considered a success. If nothing else, it will pique viewers’ interest about researching their own roots.

However, as an amateur genealogist for the past 20 years, I found the show grossly misleading. Sarah Jessica Parker did absolutely no research on her own, just had professionals across the U.S. hand her all these documents or rattle off the names of successive generations of males, as if all this information was simply sitting on a shelf somewhere. And some of those documents — like the letter from one miner reporting of the deaths of two others, plus the contract of those heading west — are not the kinds of things one usually finds in courthouses or official sites. I thought NBC and Ancestry were remiss in not documenting how those forms found their way to SJP.

The information discovered for SJP would have taken months, if not years, to uncover, at least for one of us ordinary citizens. The timeline was compressed to fit into a one-hour show, I realize, but it still was so far from reality as to be absurd.

For those of us who hit brick walls once we get back beyond 1850 or so and find that there are two, three, even six males with the same name in the same locality, it was unbelievable that SJP was able to pinpoint up to a dozen generations of ancestors without confusion.

As others said, the soundtrack, the “Un-Be-LIEV-able’s” and the theatrical cinematography were all grating. How dramatic would our searches be if they were accompanied by dramatic, suspenseful music!!?

I think Ancestry and NBC would do everyone a real service by adding a disclaimer at the end of the show, in effect saying, “Don’t expect similar results at home!”

23 Jan MurphyMarch 6, 2010 at 11:23 am

I don’t have a problem per se with TV shows that show celebrities finding out more about their family history. It is good to have something to dispel the notion that “genealogy is just a hobby that old people do” and to encourage people to get started. However, the episode as aired gives the worst possible impression of what studying your family history is about. Showing this particular line of research as opposed to SJP’s other connections encourages people to skip over the more recent past and fly back in time as quickly as they can possibly go, so they can have “bragging rights” about their connections. And worse, the show is only a half-hour, which given no time to even mention that good research practice exists or that due diligence has been taken by the professional genealogist. I also agree with the comments made earlier about handling original documents — why not take the opportunity to introduce people to the proper way of going about things? Other shows which feature visits to archives have shown people wearing gloves when handling documents and photographs, so why can’t WDYTYA leave out a couple of the oohs and ahhs and make the time for a few of these important points? How else do they expect newcomers to learn these things?

This is my number one complaint about Ancestry as a whole — they encourage and promote bad research practice — and WDYTYA is even worse. Shame on you, NBC.

24 Jan MurphyMarch 6, 2010 at 11:32 am

P.S. to my previous comment — I spoke of WDYTYA being only a half-hour – obviously I was mistaken, but I was misled by the fact that it is on commercial television, with time taken out for commercial breaks and promos. I was comparing it to shows I have seen on PBS, which generally takes out much less time for promos. It felt like only a half-hour’s worth of content, regardless of the actual running time of the show.

25 Laurie S.March 6, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I enjoyed watching the show and learned some things about American history. But I have to agree with the majority of the above postings. It was too easy for her, she had professional genealogists do the work for her and handed to her. It would be nice if we could all afford to do that but it’s not realistic. I have been trying to make a connnection for years for my great-great-grandfather’s parentage. I would like to see a non-celebrity person be featured in their quest, their successes as well as the brick walls that we as amateur genealogists run into every day. Information should be presented that helps you deal with those brick walls and the processes of putting together ones family history.
I do believe the show is a good thing and was entertaining. It definitely will excite more people to get involved in their own research.

26 Susan D.March 6, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Oh, for heavens sake. I have been a Ancestry.com user for years. I have found family, friends, and as a high school counselor have shown students, who want to know where they come from, the names of their forefathers. They adore it and it helps so much with their identity issues. Most of these students have been raised by family members and/or are in the foster system.

Those of you who have complained so vociferiously about the nuances of the show, need to have a small glass of sherry, sit in your rocking chair and enjoy the exploration and discovery made by the celebraties. I enjoyed the show very much and am looking forward to hearing another discoverer say “Oh, my God! I have said it myself when making contact with fellow travelers.

27 Candice L.March 6, 2010 at 1:34 pm

I found it amusing that Sarah Jessica Parker supposedly hadn’t heard the family names of Hodge or Elwell but I recall she used them for her twin daughters’ middle names. I am going to presume this show was shot prior to her daughters’ births in June, 2009, and that she didn’t pretend to not know these family names just to create more drama.

28 FHC LibrarianMarch 6, 2010 at 2:22 pm

#24 Susan D

Strange, I didn’t notice any vociferiously [sic] complaining, up to now. What I did notice is real genealogists citing real issues with the program. It was entertainment and as such not to be taken all that seriously.

Real researchers know the long tedious and sometimes frustrating time and work that go into a real genealogy. And they cited real issues in the “show.”

It was a bit boring and gushy at times. I don’t think I’ll bother to do much watching of future shows. However, there is a black man (sorry, I can’t remember his name) who is to be featured in a future episode, which may be interesting. It may help me when I have a patron who wants to do black research.

29 Beth HansenMarch 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Great show. You can please some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the
time. Some of the comments you’ve garnered are not
so kind. They must remember that this is a TV show.
I’ve sat in front of my monitor and said OMG tons of times. Said it when I found out that FDR is a
distant cousin of mine. I said all kinds of things
the night that I found my G grandfather and his
siblings in a Confederalte orphanage here in my
home state of Mississippi.
The folks that volunteered
for the shows may not want to learn how to do the
research but do want to know who their ancestors
were. We have to take it for granted that the re-
searchers did find possibly 12 people with SJ’s
family names but only showed the RIGHT one. We’d
never want to sit through something as long as the
real thing takes.
So
keep up the good work with the show and I’ll accept
it as it is for what it is. Maybe it can evolve
into a teaching show someday or you could do a
spin off for that purpose. Also, I appreciate the
fact that you are fair in showing that everything
can’t be found at Ancestry.

30 JanelleMarch 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm

The show was what I expected. Hopefully it will get more people interested in their Family History which will should help everyone involved in family research.

What I liked most about SJP was her comments about finding her history made her feel more American due to her family being so much a part of American History. I believe most families have some type of connection whether they are aware of it or it has been lost through the generations. I too was excited when I found connections to the Revolutionary War, Land Grants signed by Thomas Jefferson & James Madison, Uncle that is considered by some hisotorians as the first casualty of the Revolutionary War, a cousin that helped to make Liberty Bell, Ancestors that were members of the Cumberland Compact and Soldiers from every war since the Revolution. If people would connect with their past it might bring the country together again as Americans. It seems the country is divided by Republicans & Democrats so it would be nice if every one remembered they are Americans first.

For a 2nd season it would be nice to have ordinary people find their ancestors. Maybe even have Ancestry.com members that have hit a brick wall to have Professionals help them to get over it. Especially when you are searching lines that were just ordinary people or that important documents have been destroyed it can really be tough.

31 Ann GMarch 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Hello Beth. I also am a distant cousin of FDR.
OMG . lol
Since I am not a drinker, Susan D. can drink one for me.
I think most of us were wanting something with some substance to it.
As I said before, what individuals post as fact,sometimes are not facts. And yes, I have seen these untruths on some member trees in Ancestry.com,too.
I think the show is misleading to some who may be new at genealogy.

32 Robin WillifordMarch 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm

I looked forward to watching the first episode of Who Do You Think You Are and look with anticipation to the rest of the season. It is wonderful that the fun of searching your family history is being shared on such a public platform. I believe the celebrity choices are intended to hook viewers who may view the subject as dry. The focus on branches with interesting discoveries make for better tv by sharing those “WOW!” moments with you. Don’t we all regale friends and family with the wow moments of our digs through family history rather than share the more average stories? It’s human nature. I’m just thrilled that a subject that I love is being shared in such a way to compel others to understand why the pursuit of your family genealogy can be such a pleasure. It has been such a journey for me to discover my family and their part in history and when my children begin studying our county’s history it will surely be more interesting for them to know what part their ancestors played in it.

33 WingateMarch 6, 2010 at 10:04 pm

I can’t believe I’m sitting here reading blogs,I can’t believe I even said the word blog. Do you people have nothing better to do with your life., Andy you really need a life or a girlfriend or something.

34 Carol A. H.March 6, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Wingate # 31”

No one is forcing you to sit at your computer and read blogs. We all have a right to our opinions and we have a right to post to the blogs. The blogs on genealogy and research are called “networking.” We are passionate about our avocation. We can complain or praise.

Andy has lots of experience and knowledge, and we all benefit from his sharing. He has answered some tough questions for folks and posted much information. He is one of a few folks who bother to help others, generally considered a good trait. He probably does have a life, and genealogy is part of it, as it is for lots of people.

Accurate genealogy is not easy. It takes time, patience, and experience, not to mention money sometimes. Most of us do not have lots of money so this is one of the ways we can learn. Granted not all the posts are going to teach us something but this is the United States of America! We can speak or write freely. You can do the same.

35 Treeclimber25March 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm

I liked the show for all the reasons already mentioned here and on FB. The thing that made me curious, though, was that letter from the Gold Miner. Where did they find that? Talk about gold mine! That was awesome!

36 New EnglanderMarch 6, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Heather Erickson:

In your blog, you have “Salem Witches” and a link for a look-up. Please, not “Salem Witches.” It should be something like: “People Accused of Witchcraft.” This was an extremely serious matter in our history. People lost their lives because of it.

Yes, it is interesting but I’m sure glad I didn’t live in that time. Much more information can be found by using Google. I was born and raised in Essex County, Massachusetts. I have an ancestor who was accused of witchcraft and fortunately she survived.

37 Andy HatchettMarch 7, 2010 at 2:23 am

Carol,

Thanks for the kind words.

Between genealogy, helping my sister with her NASCAR podcasts, gardening, and a few charitable activities, I have a quite busy life actually- sometimes more than I’d like! *grin*

38 Ann GMarch 7, 2010 at 8:35 am

Do you also think what happened to the Native Americans was wrong ? After all, they were only defending what they felt was theirs to live and survive on. But, almost always portrayed as savage murderers.
If any of your ancestors displaced a single Indian , do you feel that it was wrong ? Or just that it was their right ?
That being said , there were and still are a lot of injustices in this world.
I wonder how SJP feels about her comedy portrayal of a hanged witch now.

39 Michele BMarch 7, 2010 at 9:19 am

Wow! Oh wow! WOW! Did SJP say wow at least 100 times on air? Faces of America has much more depth than this show.

40 JeanRMarch 7, 2010 at 10:45 am

Where did they find the letter from her ancestor’s business partner?

41 Elle LitistMarch 7, 2010 at 11:51 am

# 26 FHC Librarian

I suggest viewing the PBS Henry Louis Gates series, “African American Lives”. The entire focus is researching African American genealogy.

The NBC series has 2 African American profiles scheduled, film director, Spike Lee, and Football legend, Emmitt Smith.

The most recent PBS Gate’s series, “Faces of America” can still be viewed on the PBS website. It’s well worth the time to view this 4 hour series.

42 Tom HMarch 7, 2010 at 1:04 pm

Friends, to understand a message you need to consider who is the messenger and what is the purpose of the message. This needs to be considered when evaluating the actual message. In this case:

The messenger (sponsor) is Ancestry dot com.

The purpose for the message is to attract new customers.

The purpose is NOT to solve all the “brick walls” that we all have, or to give us a pat on the back for the years of hard work.

I will guess that they are achieving their purpose.

Do you all complain about the super bowl because it is not an instructional video about how to throw a pass or ramble on and on about how impossible it is for us to compete at that level?

43 DawnMarch 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm

I enjoyed the show and look forward to more. I especially lit up when the name Elwell came up. I am an amateur genealogist and while working on a friend’s genealogy, I discovered that his tree had many Elwells in it, included Esther Elwell, who was his 7th great grandmother. Now I’ll have to find the connection between my friend and SJP !! Thank you for a fun series.

44 judy cronanMarch 7, 2010 at 2:54 pm

The show did a disservice to all of us who struggle to find our ancestors. Wish I could fly out to California and have it all handed to me. Does SJP even realize{or care} how much money it costs to get a simple death certificate? Sure, I realize the purpose of the show–but a little bit of realism and a dose of reality would not have hurt {and a few less OMG’s!}. “Don’t try this trick at home” seems appropriate here. She did not have to bang her head one time {and all of you who search for your family roots know exactly what i am talking about}. They made it look way too easy, way too easy!

45 Ann GMarch 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Yes. Bottom line , it was about selling a service.
I just hope that some won’t be misled into believing that a genealogy site , free or fee , has all of the answers.
I guess maybe I missed the part where it said that the program was for entertainmernt purposes only. I got the idea that it was to help others understand that there might be information out there. But, they made it look so easy.
I have a lot of information of our family from Salem down because family members spent a lot of time and money going there to dig for answers.
And it was oh so convenient to find the handwritten accounts of just who she was looking for.
I was waiting anxiously to see the program and not because I was fooled into thinking it would give me answers. But, I was sorely disappointed with the way it was put together. All she did was travel from one town to another and get the information that someone else found for her.
Not worth the time for me to watch again. I want to see some real effort in people finding the answers.
To the rest who enjoyed the program, I hope that you enjoy the rest of the series equally.

46 JadeMarch 7, 2010 at 5:43 pm

“History” does not “know” or “tell” anything.

The *study of* history and of personal genealogy can enable the *researcher* to “know” some things and to “tell” them by documenting them on paper and in electronic form.

The commonly seen statement beginning, “History tells us . . .” in books such as genealogies is a signal that the writer is not going to give evidence for the rest of the statement (and probably the rest of the book). Chances are good that the rest of the sentence is quite erroneous in content.

47 JadeMarch 7, 2010 at 5:54 pm

The link to the purported “Salem Witches” collection is to a list with practically no information (some of it wrong).

Here is a collection of actual Court documents concerning the trials, sentencing and imprisonments, together with useful very detailed maps:

http://etext.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/

48 JoMarch 7, 2010 at 10:10 pm

I mostly agree with “Tom H” but in addition to a little too much of SJP’s emotional reactions, I could have done without the muscal montage at the end, and the waste of time retelling what the show was about after every commercial. All of that wasted time could have been better spent on more of the research details.

But the main thing I’m picking up from this blog seems to be ENVY because people don’t have the money or the good fortune to have their research done for them, protestations about how much fun it is to make your own discoveries aside! Unbelievable! lol

49 JanetMarch 8, 2010 at 1:30 am

I watched the show and agree that there may have been too many “oohs” and “aahhs” for just being handed the information but really perhaps the interest generated by the show will get more people enthused to do some family research and the material they discover themselves earn them the right to jump out of their chairs with excitement. We all know what happens when the genealogy “bug” bites. Is not the purpose of such shows to generate interest in genealogy? Think of how many people now know that old documents are available and how important it is to preserve them for future generations. (They could have used the gloves, I agree–but besides that) I have been doing family research for 30 years–way before computers or Ancestry.com–and what is out there today is fantastic compared to back then. This Ancestry series with SJP and the PBS with Henry Louis Gates have been a long time coming I believe. I have been waiting for TV to acknowledge family research for some time. Sure, maybe they made it look too easy but maybe the point is that you CAN find out from whence you came–all it takes is that first spark of interest–didn’t we all start there?

50 Kenneth MillerMarch 8, 2010 at 6:27 am

I can’t believe all of the critic comments. It was glamorized to make it more interesting to some. I have Mayflower descendent in my tree and am proud to know that even with one of them being the first person hanged in the Plymouth Colony. If those that think it is so bad, click the off button on your remote.

51 Ann GMarch 8, 2010 at 7:15 am

I do not think people are envious . They are disappointed because the idea was given that people might be able to find their ancestors by research . I don’t think many of us wanted to see how the information was just handed over.
I guess for those that want a lot of “oohs” and “ahs” and “wows” ,they might want to watch and enjoy Sex And The City. I expect it is shallow and with no real substance .
And to ease some minds, I personally will not watch the program again.
When I want entertainment, I at least want it to be good. That program didn’t even have entertainment value.
A sales pitch was the purpose , and they should have made that more interesting and informative.

52 Amie LMarch 8, 2010 at 9:06 am

I enjoyed the first episode of WDYTYA. In fact, I had my own personal connection to the story and wrote about it on my website: http://ow.ly/1fksz

53 Dorothy PopeMarch 8, 2010 at 9:08 am

VERY disappointed!!! Struggled to watch the whole program, but wanted to give it a chance. No way did it show the kind of research I, or the majority of people, could afford to do. Also, I don’t feel it gave people the kind of encouragement to research or use Ancestry.com that I thought it would.

54 Selina D. PorterMarch 8, 2010 at 9:20 am

I enjoyed the show! My friend found out she is related to SJP through the Hodge family line. Selina

55 RodneyMarch 8, 2010 at 9:26 am

I’m always amazed at some of the comments here.

WDYTYA is already a well known documentary series in the UK and Friday’s premier was the US adaptation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Do_You_Think_You_Are%3F

The show simply meant to pique general interest in those who have no clue what genealogy is. If a more experienced researcher wants more instruction or information to assist them in their work, there are far better television shows/series/documentaries on this. Perhaps you already know, just need somewhere to complain about something ;)

56 BrianMarch 8, 2010 at 9:59 am

Although I enjoyed the show because it is bringing genealogy into every-day-people’s lives. I see a benefit as people may start looking in bibles, photo albums, etc and maybe I’ll get some answeres for my own family lines.
I was brought up on my father’s side to appreciate genealogy, however, my mother’s side still doesn’t talk about it and year by year the only people that could have answered questions for me are gone.
SJP was handed every document she needed to trace her lineage. I, however, come from a family history of being California Modoc Native American. (Wouldn’t that even be more exciting SJP, you showed so much enthusiasm for coming from the UK)? Give us a show on families who were First Nation.
NOW tell me about dilemmas!!!!!! So documents in California seem extremely difficult to find, especially about Native Americans who were trying so hard to “pass,” given Americanized names, forced into camps and schools to become civil and considered a lower-class society.
Then, add that I am living in Ohio and working as a human services worker which makes it extremely difficult for me to just jet-set all across the nation when I want to find information, then when I get the money to travel, I arrive and the agency is closed, rebinding books, not letting people see the documents and my favorite is a CRABBY worker that really isn’t interested and gives up way before you would have yourself.
What I would appreciate is if the directors of this show would put some of the money and efforts into helping everyday people find their ancestors since they seem to have the right connections in all of the right cities. I sure have tried but always seem to hit a roadblock.

57 Ann GMarch 8, 2010 at 10:09 am

Brian,
I hear you. Not much interest from other races in the Native American heritage. I too, have many stumbling blocks in my quest for N.A. ancestors.
It’s there, just too many other factors in the way.
Oh, don’t forget the convenient excuse that the records were lost in a fire. Isn’t it strange that only the native peoples records are destroyed ?
My “white” ancestors can be traced to 1000 A.D. and beyond. While that is fantastic,I am still left wanting to know more about the other heritage.
I have a lot of information, but not the paperwork.
A realistic time frame is what was left out of the show and also that she did not do the work herself.
It was handed to her while she read and gushed over it.
If you want subscribers , try to give them realistic expectations.
We don’t all have the money for “professionals”.
And to those who think the others only need a place to complain about something, I see where you are here with your own complaint that we were not mesmerized by the total lack of reality of time frame and hard work that goes into genealogy.
The ones that have no clue as to what goes into genealogy, still have no clue based on the show.
It was success, success, success. Not disappointment,disappointment, disappointment because nothing was found. Which is what most of us have encountered.

58 MistyMarch 8, 2010 at 11:54 am

While I enjoyed the show, I also thought it was very misleading and gave the wrong impression to amateur and budding genealogists.

As most of us know, family research is NOT as easy as Sarah Jessica Parker seemed to find it. Also, not everyone has the resources she apparently had. We can’t all afford to jump on planes and fly around the country, with historians and professionals at our disposal, ready to sit down with each person tracing their family history for one on one assistance.

I found it extremely unrealistic and, again, misleading. I’d like to see a much more realistic and honest depection of genealogy, personally.

59 Julie W.R.March 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I saw the show and thought it was great. I am a BIG fan of family research; I work on my family line almost daily. But I watched the program for the mere reason of watching SJP’s reaction in finding out some of her family past. I love that feeling when someone gets excited over family history. Yes she didn’t have to hit those brick walls that many of us do, and yes, someone else did the research, but I liked the excitement that followed when she was told about her family. I’m looking forward to the other shows as well.

60 Heather EricksonMarch 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Many of you have shared your thoughts around the show’s format. As you expressed, an hour unfortunately doesn’t offer much time to delve into the research processes that genealogists used as they traced the ancestors highlighted in “Who Do You Think You Are?”

Since the purpose of the show is entertainment and only has time to skim the surface of research, how can the genealogy community help educate newbies on how to do their own family history?

61 Andy HatchettMarch 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Heather-

There would be plenty of time if they cut out all that stupid recap stuff after every commercial.

That said…

1. Take 2 minutes at the start of the shows to explain that the show is only for entertainment and bears no resemblance to actual genealogical research.

2. Re-do those cloying commercials “all I had to do was click”- I mean- really!

3. Be upfront and honest- don’t present things which will give newbies unrealistic expectations.

Then- once you get them online provide real training tools and stress the fact that looking at other people’s trees and copying their info is NOT research. Research means dealing with source documents- not copying other’s unsourced offerings.

62 Ann GMarch 8, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Well said. Really important is to stress the fact that it takes much effort and they may find nothing.

63 Susan D.March 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Hey, I have known for sometime that I am a Hodge, several generations back. So, SJP and I are very distant cousins, I think. Of course that doesn’t help my spelling as was pointed out by # 26 FHC Librarian. I am sure there is some relative that had that quirk. I just have to keep looking. I’ll pay close attention on Friday night. I might find the answer! Look what I found out last Friday. It was a WOW moment for me!

64 Sharon R. WatsonMarch 8, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I missed the show, but I’m glad it is on air. I won’t miss the next one.
As one that has worked on family trees for years, I know exactly what it takes. Time and patience. It took me 10 years to go past my husbands gr gr grandfather. And last night I just broke through another wall that has taken 15 years and found the family of his gr gr grandmother.
I wish schools had genealogy classes, as it would really get the children into loving history. Genealogy makes history come alive when you realize where your family lived during that age.
My gr grandmother told stoies of watching the soldiers fighting at Lookout Mt. Now I know that my husbands gr grandfather was one of the men fighting at Lookout Mt. Telling my grandson this has made him interested in history and he is always wanting to know what new things have found.
Thank you Ancestry.com for putting on this program.

65 Andrea MacDonaldMarch 9, 2010 at 8:24 am

I could not agree more with most of the comments on the show. The one thing that jumped out at me most was the miraculous discovery of the letter about the death of Hodge supposedly written by his partner. I did not hold true. Where did it come from, who had it all this time and how was it found. Just don’t buy that part.

The show was no help to those of us without unlimited resources. I’m disabled and have to rely on what’s on the Internet and the help of others who are willing to do leg work for me.

Better luck next time. I won’t be watching the rest, if only to miss all the Wow’s and Oh my God’s.

66 Karen L.March 10, 2010 at 2:42 am

I just think it would be a good idea if the show would include one more episode on “How The Research Is Really Done When You Don’t Have The Resources (money/time) To Travel and Hire Professionals”. I think that would pretty much cover all the complaints about the show.

67 NancyMarch 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Andrea #63, the letter did seem too good to be true, but on her Genealogy Blog Kimberly Powell explains how it could be found. Here’s the link:
http://tinyurl.com/ykcvc7g

68 James W CummingsMarch 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm

I didn`t have any ancestors who sought their fortune in California but my 3rd Great Grandfather Joseph S Cummings of Belgrade, Maine had a brother Seth Greeley Cummings who did go from Ohio to San Francisco during the gold rush dying there in 1850. he (3 Gr grdfather) helped Seth`s widow return to Maine from Ohio and they settled in Belgrade, Maine. As to witches, Susannah (North)Martin was accused in 1666, 1669 and 1692 being hung at Salem the last time. 3 out of four of my Great Grandmothers Ida (Cushman) Cummings, Marjorie (Stevens)Condon and Effie (Delano) Miller descend from her children Esther (Martin) Jameson, Jane (Martin) Hadley and Richard Martin respectively. Great Grandfather Charles Ford Miller born in New Brunswick, Canada descends from witch martyr Mary (Towne) Estey. an apparent accused New Hampshire ” witch” Isabella(Austin) Towle who was held at Hampton, New Hampshire in July 1680 was accused of witchcraft by Mary (Cox)Godfrey who claimed that Rachel (Brasbrige) Fuller whom she accused of witchcraft which resulted in the death of her son Moses Godfrey told her that she and several others including Grace (Swain) Boulter, and Mary (Boulter) Prescott were also witches. of these Mrs Towle is ancestral to my Great Grandmother Jennie Grace (Garland)Croxford , Mrs Boulter and Mrs Prescott were ancestral to Great Grandfather Warren Cummings and the accuser Mrs Godfrey was an ancestor of the before mentioned Great Grandmother Effie (Delano) Miller.

69 JeanRMarch 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm

#65 Nancy – Thank you — and Kimberly — for this. It has been bothering me since the show first aired.

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