Ancestry.com

Last Night on Who Do You Think You Are? Discovering Our Ancestors’ Motivations

Posted by Juliana Smith on March 3, 2012 in Who Do You Think You Are?

The best part of last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? When Reba McEntire told herself not to get angry until she gathered more facts about her 7th-great-grandfather, the one who sent his child to the New World as an indentured servant. It may not have been the immigrant-ancestor story Reba had originally imagined she’d uncover, but her journey to this discovery was amazing nonetheless. Ancestry.com is a sponsor of the show, which airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC. You can watch Reba’s episode online at NBC.com.

It’s easy to make a quick assumption if you’re just looking at one record. However, when you seek out details from a variety of sources, you can gain a better understanding of your ancestors’ circumstances.

In my own research, my great-aunt introduced me to my 3rd-great-grandfather Thomas Tobin via a letter that mentioned his violent death during the Civil War. A Civil War hero in our family? Not quite. A newspaper article about Thomas’s death indicated that “in a state of intoxication, [Thomas] fell down on a brick pile … and received a concussion on his head that resulted in his death.”

So don’t stop at one record—always look for more. It may turn out that the story you initially uncover happened exactly as told. But sometimes, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll get an even better picture of what really happened. And why your own ancestor did what he did.

About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

25 comments

Comments
1 MsWinstonMarch 3, 2012 at 8:49 am

This episode and the one featuring Blair Underwood were very good, as they were far easier to relate to than the first two episodes. Sometimes it can be difficult trying to piece together why our ancestors behaved the way they did — I am still trying to figure out why my paternal grandfather ultimately had such distant relationships with his 6 children from two marriages. Was he a product of his time or was it a question of character? I may never find out, but I am trying to follow Reba’s example and keep an open mind.

2 William EmanuelMarch 3, 2012 at 9:56 am

This comment is off-topic to some extent. While I am sure the TV series is well-done and of interest to many, I somewhat resent marketing to Ancestry.com subscribers and it’s dominance in material such as this blog.

I pay Ancestry.com for a service that I consider very high quality and an excellent return on costs. But as a paying customer, I expect to see a minimum of advertising on the primary Web site. Additionally, I would like to see this blog focus in a balanced way on topics of interest to Ancestry.com subscribers who do not watch television; I expect they are numerous.

Certainly, carry-on with the television series, but do not diminish the excellence of Ancestry.com with advertising to its subscriber market, many of whom are probably not interested.

3 Long time memberMarch 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm

William #2

Much as I agree with you, I think your request is a lost cause. This blog seems to avoid all subjects that would cause conflict and big responses from members and non-members and is more geared toward pushing the WDYTYA program. I never watch it but I have seen a few shows when it first came out. A little too gushy for me.

Ancestry’s marketing budget is almost equal to the national debt. You can’t get away from it. It’s all about making money. They have tapped a market, which is guaranteed to get customers in two ways. Those who would be doing family history research anyway, and the new generations of folks who have never known life without computers and instant gratification of obtaining information.

There have been a few informative blogs so I keep looking for them. I have been doing research long before I ever had a computer. I think Ancestry is basically a good deal but they make me crazy with all the unnecessary changes to the site.

What I want is more records, more records!

4 Johanan BeechamMarch 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

I am a member of Ancestry.com and watched the episode with Reba last night. I have a question one of the people on the rooster that she saw in Virginia also showed a John Beecham that was on the list above her ancestor. How can I aquire more information about this person.

Also it would be nice to do a show on real life people in search of their family tree’s as well. I would love to know more about my father’s side.

Thank you,
Johanan Beecham

5 Kirk SellmanMarch 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm

#4
I’m also curious if they post the celebrity trees for others to benefit from the research. It seems as if they research their whole tree to find the most interesting stories for the show.

6 Elizabeth HinsonMarch 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Cant use this blog from Android phone past 2 lines. Just trying 2 get attention of subscribers’ svcs, which is not possible after a whoke day of trying.

7 Pam WilliamsMarch 3, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I have a question: Through my own efforts, capped off by Ancestry’s access to others posting their family trees, I have in the last few weeks discovered that I have 3 half siblings, 2 living; 9 first cousins, 7 living; and a 96 y/o aunt who is a retired nun, that I never knew I had. I have spoken to most of them and plan to attend a family reunion this summer in Chicago. As a 60 y/o, this, from my pov, seems breathtakingly amazing, of Oprah-esque proportions, but I have a feeling that with the internet and so many geneology sites out there now, it is more common than we think. Ancestry: do you keep any records on this? Have you heard from your subscribers when this happens? Blog readers: Do you have any insights or anecdotes on this? Do you know of one or more situations like mine of family, friends or friends of friends of yours who discovered long lost, fairly close, family members?

8 Michael DreierMarch 4, 2012 at 7:34 am

Many like myself have spent many years doing things the old way. Those were the days oflLong trips to look through dusty county archives, trips to ancestral places, long hours in genealogy libraries. It is good to be able to have instant access to records that used to take weeks or months to find.

Last year I was surprised to see Gordon Jones on the Matthew Broderick episode. I still have the recording of my own interview with Mr. Jones made some years ago. There are lots of good surprises on “Who do you think you are”.

Ancestry.com can be a great contributor to a new renaissance of discovery. This could be a great thing. But beware of pressures to politicize history and write things into these episodes that are only speculations tainted with contemporary prejudices. The renaissance that is on the horizon could easily turned into a dark age if history is used as a weapon to destroy cultures and blank out the heritage of millions of people. You know what I am talking about. Please try to be fair,or at least just.

9 MsWinstonMarch 4, 2012 at 10:32 am

@Pam. Pam, I have “met” some relatives I never knew I had as well. I am always willing to share any data that I have, but frequently have been disappointed that for many it is not a two-way street. It is nice to know that some folks here have a more positive experience.

10 Margaret AdamsMarch 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

I’m not sure how much input Ancestry.com has in the final editing of this program as I find it sorely lacking in historical perspective. Judging the actions of our ancestors by “modern” accepted behaviors creates a false impression & angst of Reba about her ancestors actions. Both seasons of this program also give the false impression that researching is easy peasy, 1-2-3. Just click & everything you need to know is there! I’ve been digging my roots on & off for 10 years (with & without ancestry.com) & still have brick walls. Learning about ones family history can be fascinating & frustrating. Watching these celebs come away with family trees that go back generations with little effort is a real turn off!

11 Donna TwichellMarch 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I enjoy WDYTYA very much. I, too, wonder and hope that someday you will do a show, or a few episodes, on regular people (not celebrtities) searching for their ancestors. In the show you see these people hopping all over the globe to receive help from specialized people who have, obviously, researched ahead of time. That’s all well and good, but how do we plain, simple people with incomes that do not allow for such travel, if any at all, get more detailed records?

12 Patricia PolandMarch 4, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I would like to chime in with a vote for Ancestry to please do one or two shows on just us ‘regular’ people – if you feel that there needs to be someone of ‘note’ – then find someone who is related to someone famous or semi-famous and surprise them with that news.

Now, about last night’s episode which had all the right dramatic touches. I was puzzled by the grandfather’s name only being listed as “B. W. Brasfield” on the lovely family tree. I noted his birthdate of 5-13-1874 when the camera panned it. It only took three minutes to do a search on another site available to us all (searching on Susie Brasfield in Monroe County, MS) to find him as Barney Brasfield on the 1900 census with a birth month of May and year, 1874.

13 Barbara Kay-PagaczMarch 4, 2012 at 9:39 pm

I would like to comment regarding the question if anyone had met relatives they were unaware of. I found a 1st cousin 1x removed in California. Her grandmother was my aunt. She has a picture my father painted in 1932 she inherited from her grandmother. She has offered it to me but I want her to have it since she received it from her grandmother who she didn’t get to know. Also, I was able to contact a person in Canada who had no idea that her husband’s grandfather had a sibling in South America and half-siblings in the US. I was able to give her the information. They thought the grandfather was the only to make it out of Russia. We are thrilled to know that our family lives in Canada, the US and South America as Volga German immigrants from Russia. I was amazed at the information I’ve gathered on my mother’s Irish family. Ancestry has opened so many new doors for me that I am extremely grateful.The television show is interesting buy doesn’t impact my life. I also would like to see everyday people’s lives opened to their past by the show. I wouldn’t care what background my ancesters had just to know they existed would be wonderful.

14 BEEMarch 5, 2012 at 10:21 am

While my ancestors came much later than Reba McEntire’s, my great-grandfather had watch his three young daughters leave their homeland one by one, never to see any of them again, a story played out in many homes in many countries during all periods of our history.
My ancestors came from an area where we probably will never be able to trace back through very many generations, so I was thrilled at every name that appeared in Blair Underwood’s ancestry.
My husband’s family goes much farther back, and he had an ancestor that came as an indentured servant in 1637, traveling from England with his parents and sisters.
The most rewarding contact I made was before I started with ancestry.
My Dad had a relative that the family had lost contact with, although we knew the state where he lived, and that he had children born in the early 40s. I checked out anyone with the family surname on the SS death index and sent for copies of two applications, thank goodness they only cost $6 or $7 at the time instead of the $27 present charge.
Sadly, one of the applications was a son of this person. From there, I was able to find his obituary and track down the grandchildren of this relative and share family history with them.
Thanks to ancestry.com, I have made contact with many others across the country, as well as England, and we have shared information. In some cases, we have exchanged email addresses and corresponded beyond just the basic information, especially the second cousin I “met” that I never knew I had, and the niece of an uncle by marriage, so it’s been an amazing journey.
I have never ignored a “message”, even if I have nothing to share. Unfortunately, some that I have contacted have not replied.

15 BEEMarch 6, 2012 at 10:52 am

IS SOMEONE MONITORING THIS SITE?
OR AM I THE ONLY ONE WHO THINKS SOME OF THESE POSTS ARE PURE DRIVEL?

16 Andy HatchettMarch 6, 2012 at 11:18 am

Bee,

They are pure drivel.
I’ve notified Julia.

Andy Hatchett
http://www.fhiso.org

17 BEEMarch 6, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Thanks Andy, As I’ve said many times, I’m not all that computer savvy – so do these people add these things just for the fun of it, or do they have more sinister motives?

18 M GasperMarch 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm

When WDYTYA’s first season aired, I was interested in seeing how the program would develop. The initial set of ‘celebrities’ covered a wide range of locations and sources of information. By the time the second season started, I realized that, even though I might not be interested in a particular person’s lineage, I enjoyed following the routes taken, and seeing what they learned from each contact. THIS season, I found Martin Sheen’s episode very difficult to follow. It seemed to jump around and criss cross to the point of confusing this viewer. Marisa Tomei’s goal of finding out what happened to one specific relative, narrowed the storyline. Blair Underwood’s episode was the kind that gives you goosebumps. Enough time was spent tracing his mother’s line, in my opinion, that you could see the family tree grow through various sources of information. At the end, when Blair learned that a distant cousin from his father’s line had submitted his DNA in 2005, he benefitted from his DNA submission quickly. I think that segment emphasized that average Americans who do the DNA swab, can find what areas of the world their ancestors migrated from. But to actually find a relative takes further research and luck.
Reba’s story was interesting because she had a sole question…Which of my ancestors was first to arrive? The segment focused on trying to find the original immigrant. I loved Reba’s spontaneous reactions, and ‘let’s find out’ attitude. ‘HOW could he send his child on an itty bitty boat’ became ‘he wanted to give his child a future.’
I agree that it would be nice to see a ‘normal, average American’ trace his/her roots. If the show does feature this approach in one or two episodes, I know I will be envious of that lucky ‘average’ American!

19 JohnMarch 8, 2012 at 9:52 am

Does Ancestry.com as part of their sponsorship agreement with WDYTYA prohibit them from mentioning the names of other websites?

I ask this because at least once, I think twice, in the Reba episode a different genealogy website was visited for information, but the name of the website wasn’t mentioned.

Ancesty gets so much airtime in the episodes, they really shouldn’t mind the occasional reference to another website.

20 Ralene GuyMarch 8, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I loved Reba’s show for several reasons, Like her I try to find who are the first of my ancestors on American soil. Secondly, her ancestor Brasfield happens to be connected to my Brassfield line. I know there is just so much time to air what was found but like others, wish you could show how these people look for a certain person. Years ago we visited the room, found the book and discovered the ancestor ourself. It was very exciting to see the paper page for yourself. I would like to see a regular person be featured, Ralene

21 Ralene GuyMarch 8, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I loved Reba’s show for several reasons, Like her I try to find who are the first of my ancestors on American soil. Secondly, her ancestor Brasfield happens to be connected to my Brassfield line. I know there is just so much time to air what was found but like others, wish you could show how these people look for a certain person. Years ago we visited the room, found the book and discovered the ancestor ourself. It was very exciting to see the paper page for yourself. I would like to see a regular person be featured.

22 Margaret G. IrwinMarch 9, 2012 at 7:45 am

I’ve always loved WDOTYA? but the program last week topped them all. I never expected to find a family relative, but we did. My husband’s great grandmother was Mary Margaret Brassfield Irwin, and since all Brassfields in the US are felt to descend from Reba’s 6th great grandfather George, he must also be the ancestor of my husband and our descendants! I am having a great time working on both lines until I find the place that hooks them together.

23 Robert EschMarch 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm

This BLOG was tricky to find; it is sandwiched under so many layers of Ancestry subterfuge. I knew I had arrived when I saw Andy’s post. I guess the reason for putting this BLOG under so many layers is to discourage criticism, constructive or not. I miss the days when this BLOG was more available.
Bob

24 Andy HatchettMarch 10, 2012 at 6:03 am

Robert Re: #23

Just put this in your bookmarks and you won’t have to hunt for it again…

http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/

Andy Hatchett
http://www.fhiso.org

25 momveraMarch 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm

My 1899 encyclopedias state that indentured means a binding contract or a zig zag course. It is like working your way through college with a job at a hamburger stand only this usually meant household chores under contract.
The ships passage was cheaper that way also. My husbands grandmother came with her married sister and husband and 2 children as her servant for their children. Europe is quite different than the USA. The same physical size but each state there is it’s own country. Front lawn police/soldier fights were common and dead parents were also. As well a town square hangings for dissidents. This went on until the USA Constitution and two world wars put a damper on the old Roman ruler behaviors. It is still in existence, but a lot more veiled. My dad’s lost two siblings by murder before his parents got out before WWI. So indentured means clever and wiling and most often due to vulnerability. My mom’s grandma came on a military ship with her 22 year old sister when she was 17. The military reports say the ship was water logged 7 years before and brought into port to be resealed. She traveled 3000 miles on it after that with a bunch of military sailors before the Civil War. Safety is big issue for anyone anytime especially female whose pregnancies may not be their choice but rape as some of my kin were even here in our socially “protected and free” society experienced. Yet husbands raised them as if they were their own. Hard as it may have been, they kept it in the adult knowledge base and away from children’s ears. Spending time with the elderly gives great insight into life. Even to the fact that alcohol was better and quicker to drink than polluted water before electric in the USA gave us sewage treatment plants (after 1900). It made us the most safe country in which to live.

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