Ancestry Blog » Who Do You Think You Are? The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:23:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: Following the Clues with Ginnifer Goodwin Mon, 27 Jul 2015 01:49:55 +0000 Read more]]> You see it all the time in movie mysteries: the genius detective trying to solve a case that seems to have no answer. As the story progresses, however, we are transported into the detective’s mind. Random clues appear to glow in the detective’s vision, flashbacks to telling circumstances pop on the screen, and the audience watches as this genius pieces together seemingly unconnected observations to solve the unsolvable case. Plenty of research projects hit a point where it appears there is no answer, but we, as genealogists, can be that genius detective—not by having four doctorates, speaking 17 languages, and having a strange personality quirk, but by simply taking our time, being observant, and examining all possibilities.

Ginnifer Goodwin’s maternal great-grandmother, Nellie May Haynes, was this kind of a mystery. At the point of our brick wall, we had the following information:

  1. Court documents showed that she had divorced Ginnifer’s great-grandfather, John Albert “Al” Goodwin, in 1912 in Independence County, Arkansas.
  2. Nellie had retained custody of her two children, a daughter named Pearl and a son, John Barton, Ginnifer’s grandfather.
  3. John Barton left the family in his teens in the late 1910s, likely in Memphis, Tennessee.
  4. No Nellie, Pearl, or John Barton Goodwin appeared in the 1920 census in Tennessee or Arkansas.
  5. No match for Nellie or Pearl appeared in death indexes for Tennessee or Arkansas.

Where would a single woman with two young children go? As they do today, recently single parents with young children often went to their families for support. Interestingly, although Nellie’s family was originally from the town of Batesville in Independence County, Arkansas, research into her parents found that her father, Isaac Bart Haynes, died in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1917.

It was also likely that Nellie would have remarried at some point, so we first searched the database of Tennessee marriages on Ancestry to see if Nellie married there, but no good matches appeared.

One of the best resources for tracing a person in the early 20th century are city directories, which provide the names, occupations, and addresses for most of the adult population of a specific city every year. Ancestry has an extensive collection of these directories, including directories for Memphis spanning from 1855 to 1960. Nellie’s daughter, Pearl, would have been coming into adulthood in the later 1910s, so it was possible we could catch her in a directory living with her mother in the few years between when she became old enough to have her own entry but before she would have married and been living with her husband.

In order to find the right Nellie, we used the basic search function on Ancestry and compiled a list of every Nellie and Pearl who appeared in the Memphis city directories from 1913 to 1920. Then we examined each entry, looking for any Nellie and Pearl who shared a surname or address. Being meticulous and patient, we eventually found the match we were hoping for: in the 1918 Memphis directory, a Nellie Wyllie and a Pearl Wyllie each had her own entry but shared the same address. Also living at the same address was a Hugh Wyllie, who we thought could have been Nellie’s husband.


Of course this evidence was still circumstantial. Our next step was to find a way to prove that these were indeed our Nellie and Pearl and that Hugh was Nellie’s new husband. Returning to the index of Tennessee marriage and death records, this time with the surname “Wyllie,” once again turned up no results. Our survey of death record indexes for surrounding states, however, eventually uncovered the death record of a Nellie May Wyllie who had died in Minden, Louisiana. This appeared to be quite a leap, but further examination of this record showed that this Nellie Wyllie was born in Batesville, Independence County, Arkansas, to a father surnamed Haynes, just like the ancestral Nellie, and that her husband’s name was Hugh. Here was our proof. We had found out what happened to Nellie after her divorce.

In the end, taking our time to explore every possible match and remembering even the slightest clues allowed us to solve this seemingly impossible case. Although it may have looked like movie magic, it was actually just patience that allowed us to trace Nellie from her divorce in Arkansas to her residence in Memphis with Hugh Wyllie and finally to her death in Minden. The story of what happened between Memphis and Minden, however, is another story altogether.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists:

  1. Be patient and observant. It’s tempting to pass a record or collection by if it doesn’t immediately appear to hold the answer you’re looking for, but if you are patient and observant, you will often find a crucial clue where at first there was none. Researching your ancestor often means performing even more research into other people. In this research we spent time examining every single Nellie and Pearl in Memphis for eight years in order to find the single entry in one year that led to our proof.
  2. Information about spouses, children, and other relatives, along with neighbors and acquaintances, can often help you find the ancestor you’re looking for. Don’t get too tied up searching for one name. Triangulate your ancestor’s location by finding other people you know they associated with.

Learn more about Ginnifer’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 9|8c on TLC.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap with Melissa Etheridge: Putting Time and Location in Their Place Mon, 27 Apr 2015 02:51:59 +0000 Read more]]> In family history research, when and where your ancestors lived say just as much about them as their name. Understanding not just the geography but also the community your ancestors were a part of provides crucial insight into what their lives were like, as well as the types of records you should be looking for. Melissa Etheridge 1Layer in historical events, commerce, and culture, and suddenly their stories come to life.

Melissa Etheridge wanted to learn more about her father’s family history, and she claimed all she knew about them was that they were poor Missouri folk with early roots in Quebec. “I have such a connection with the Quebecois … maybe there’s something in the blood that’s stronger about location than [I thought], and I think that’s fascinating.”

The story of her 5th great-grandfather Nicolas Janis shows how strong the connection between people and the land they worked and lived on can be. While Nicolas and the four generations that followed him all lived approximately within a 50-mile radius, tracing him and his family took some care. That small area in what is now Middle America has been claimed by four countries, three states, and been the cause of several international conflicts. Couple that volatile and varied local history with Janis clan who kept moving back and forth across the Mississippi River, and there was only one thing to do: create a timeline.

Timelines are a genealogist’s best friend! While we worked from the known to the unknown, we placed each new record we found onto a timeline of Nicolas’s life. A careful study of local history books, American history timelines, and contemporary maps helped us track the movement of the family and the area itself.

Knowing whether the Mississippi Valley was owned by New France, Great Britain, America, or Spain was crucial in knowing where to look for records. Tracing both civil and church boundaries was key to locating family records in local repositories.

Melissa Etheridge 2The result is the captivating story of a pioneering Frenchman who left Quebec to find his fortune in less-travelled areas of New France. In the midst of building a successful business, he found his family right in the middle of a heated land grab between Britain, France, Spain, and the American colonies that spanned almost 50 years.

In the midst of those iconic history lessons were everyday people like Janis, who lived and breathed the daily realities of several wars. One of the true powers of family history is how learning your ancestor’s stories can bring the past to life in an intimate and relevant way today. Using timelines to layer in historical context is a great way to do just that.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists        

Whether it’s changing boundaries, a family clan sharing the same five names, or a lost ancestor, timelines are a great way to break down tough brick walls. Here are some expert tips:

  • Use maps! In looking at census records or search results for any project, we always check the state map with county boundaries to track the family’s movement over time. Knowing if a county is just next door or across the state can help you quickly hone in on duplicates. In the case of the Janis family, knowing Randolph County, Illinois, and St. Genevieve County, Missouri, are neighbors was the first step in linking the family to Kaskaskia, Illinois.
  • Annotate your timeline. Our timeline for Nicolas included document transcriptions and translations, in addition to explanations for boundary changes; for example, “British took control of Kaskaskia in 1766 as the result of the French and Indian Wars” appeared next to a land transaction during that time.
  • Check out the Ancestry Card Catalog. Ancestry has several digitized local histories for Kaskaskia that we used. Using local histories with the Maps, Atlases, and Gazetteers collection can quickly bring your timeline together.

Learn more about Melissa’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on


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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap with Bill Paxton: Shaping a Nation Sun, 19 Apr 2015 15:21:15 +0000 Read more]]> Bill PaxtonThere is something emotionally significant about discovering a Revolutionary War patriot in your family tree. The idea that your own ancestor somehow contributed to the birth of a new nation may set off an explosion of patriotic anthems in your mind and unearth a desire to know how they helped secure American independence.

Once you know where your ancestors lived during the time of the American Revolution, you can better pinpoint the types of records available in that region and what insight they may offer into the life of your ancestor in the late 18th century.

While researching Bill Paxton’s tree, we found that his ancestor Benjamin Sharp lived in Virginia during the Revolutionary War. This led us to various documents regarding his service in the war as a spy as well as his involvement at the Battle of Kings Mountain at age 18.  One of the most powerful was an article Sharp wrote in his twilight years about his war experience that was published in the American Pioneer magazine in 1842.

By Sharp’s late 30s and early 40s, he had started a family, settled a farm, and owned a significant amount of land.  Land ownership is often a key to finding other records that can fill in the blanks about your ancestor. Because Sharp owned quite a bit of land, it was likely that he would be found in county court records for land purchases and the like. When we looked into the county court minutes, we quickly found him there.

Court records in Virginia and Missouri (where Benjamin later lived) showed that Benjamin Sharp worked as a surveyor, a justice of the peace, and other bureaucratic positions at the county level. This bread crumb of information gave us direction to find Sharp’s political history.  Because he was politically active at the local level, it is likely that he was working his way up through the bureaucratic ranks and that his local involvement had national implications.

We found that during the U.S. presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Sharp served as one of the commissioners overseeing the election. Commissioners were responsible for making sure the election went smoothly and verifying the ballot counts. The record of Sharp’s political service is in the executive papers of the Virginia governor, who was James Monroe (who later became president himself).

Bill Paxton 2

Sharp continued to expand his political involvement. In 1804, he served as a representative to the House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly. In that role he would have been involved in making laws that affected all Virginians. Sharp’s earlier service in the military had primed the political pump to get him involved with his community and his country by administering the government that he earlier had fought to create. And his public service left behind public records that provided a look into Benjamin Sharp’s life from two centuries away.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists:

  • As genealogists, we also use records to identify people closely associated with the ancestor we’re looking for. A soldier would often enlist with people in his community, and friendships forged in the military often lasted a lifetime. Political activism meant associating with other politicians and developing relationships. These relationships can give clues to how a married couple originally met, or they might help document a cross-country migration when multiple families moved together. Records that might not seem to have obvious genealogical value to the person you are looking for quite often provide the clues we need to document a family.
  • Did your ancestor participate in political activities? Maybe they were a state representative, or went to local political party meetings. Some of the people in those circles very well could be in-laws.
  • Many people have served in military conflicts. To document your ancestors’ experience during wars, look for draft, enlistment, service, and pension records. Those types of records can document many facets of their lives.
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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap with America Ferrera: Good News About Newspapers Tue, 14 Apr 2015 15:44:47 +0000 Read more]]> America FerreraAmerica Ferrera grew up hearing stories about her great-grandfather Gregorio Ferrera, who was supposed to be some kind of a general. Armies love paperwork, and military service usually generates plenty of records. But in this case, we ended up turning to a completely different source to uncover Gregorio Ferrera’s dynamic life.

During her journey on Who Do You Think You Are? America learned that Gregorio Ferrera was indeed a general and a well-known revolutionary during the early 1900s up to his death in 1931. The nature of Honduran records made it difficult to gather details about Gregorio Ferrera’s life from traditional sources that are more readily available in other countries, such as vital records, censuses, and church records. However, historical newspapers proved to be an irreplaceable resource for piecing together the story of Gregorio Ferrera’s life as a revolutionary.

One unique article was a notice Gregorio published in a national newspaper acknowledging his intent to return from a time in exile in peace. He vowed to promote peace and brotherhood among his fellow Hondurans and to end his history of opposition and revolt. However, as America learned, it was not too long after this publication that Gregorio once again joined opposition forces into yet another revolution against the presidency. This time, however, it proved fatal. One of the last articles that America uncovered was a report detailing Gregorio’s death in a battle near San Pedro Sula on 27 June 1931.

These fascinating articles help illustrate the importance of incorporating newspapers into your family history research. Had we located a death record for Gregorio Ferrera, it may have simply listed his age, residence, and the date and place of his death. However, newspaper accounts offer a much more detailed story of how Gregorio died and the circumstances that led up to it. In other words, as genealogists like to say, newspapers can really add “flesh to the bones” of your family tree.

When searching for newspapers, the first place to check is online. Various organizations are working to collect, preserve, and digitize historical newspapers. America found some newspaper articles online at Ancestry, but she also examined holdings at various Honduran archives. If newspapers for the places you’re looking for are not online, here are a few other places to check:

  1. Local public libraries
  2. Local genealogical and historical societies
  3. State archives and libraries
  4. University libraries and archives

While many newspapers have been microfilmed, you’ll often have to turn to archives that hold original copies.

The biggest challenge to using newspapers is the fact that unless they are digitized, there’ a good chance that they are not indexed or searchable. This means you have to page through the issues for a range of months or years. This can certainly be a time-consuming endeavor, but as seen from America Ferrera’s journey, that search can pay off. America learned a great deal more about her great-grandfather than she may have in any other way.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists

Here are a couple of other tips to keep in mind when searching for newspapers:

  • Cross-reference with multiple newspapers—If you find an article, say about a tragic death or community event, chances are good that other papers in the region, perhaps even state or national papers, may have covered the same event and provided different details.
  • Check papers for multiple jurisdictions—Historically, small towns often had their own newspapers, but there may also have been a county-wide publication. Then, there was probably a state-wide and even a national paper that may have information about your ancestors or the communities they lived in. Make sure to check for papers covering each of these jurisdictions—especially town and county papers.

Learn more about America’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.


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WDYTYA Recap with Tony Goldwyn: In Their Own Words Mon, 06 Apr 2015 16:58:59 +0000 Read more]]> We love census records. And vital records. And passenger lists. We could go on. Each of these documents does so much to pinpoint our relatives in a certain place at a certain time. Then we flesh out their stories not only by reading what is on each record but also by reading between the lines. It takes patience, experience, and analytical skills. At certain points, though, you have to hypothesize; you’re left to your best guess as to why your great-grandfather moved across the country, sold his land, or chose a particular path. Tony Goldwyn

But sometimes, you don’t have to wonder. Sometimes, he can tell you himself.

It’s a family historian’s dream to find actual evidence of your ancestor’s thoughts, motivations, or beliefs. They could be reported in a newspaper article or recorded in court documents, but if you are really lucky, you find something they wrote themselves in a journal or a letter.

But where do you find these things?

We usually inherit these kinds of treasures. But for ancestors many generations back, these personal documents could have ended up with a distant cousin you’ve never met—if they survived at all. However, there is one more option—the local library.

Check to see if your ancestors might have left their personal papers in the care of a local library, archive, or historical society, especially if they were prominent members of their community.  A family’s personal papers, such as diary entries, household accounts, and financial documents, go a long way in revealing what it was like to live in an ancestor’s shoes.

While researching Tony Goldwyn’s tree, that is exactly what we found—the papers of Tony’s third great-grandparents Nathaniel Coe and Mary Taylor White—at the Oregon Historical Society.

It became evident early on in our research that the Coes were not just a simple farming family. Nathaniel Coe worked as a lawyer in New York and was a prominent member of his community there, as was his wife, Mary. In fact, Mary was heavily involved in the creation of the Nunda Female Reform Society. As active members of their community, the Coes enjoyed a certain amount of notoriety, both in their native New York and later in Oregon, where they moved after Nathaniel was appointed as a postal agent. This reform-minded family played a big role in establishing the town of Hood River in Oregon, and it was because of their role as pioneers in this town that many of their personal papers were donated to the Oregon Historical Society. These papers proved invaluable in learning many personal details about this family that would have otherwise been lost.

For example, Lawrence Coe traveled from New York to Oregon in 1851. His wife did not join him in Oregon until 1853, and it was initially assumed that she, like thousands of others during this time period, joined a wagon train along the Oregon Trail. This proved not to be the case, and her true story was revealed through her personal papers. Instead of going overland, Mary (White) Coe and three of her sons traveled by ship, sailing down the eastern coast of the United States and then crossing the Isthmus of Panama by mule, before boarding a steamer to San Francisco. From there, Mary and her sons took a steamer to Portland. Mary’s youngest child, Henry, was only nine years old and suffered a serious illness throughout his journey.

Tony Goldwyn2

Without the first-person perspective provided through Nathaniel and Mary’s personal papers, we likely never would have known about the adventures of the Coe family throughout their lives in New York and Oregon.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists:

Could your ancestor’s personal papers be hidden away in a local archive? Here are some tips for finding out.

  • Investigate your tree for ancestors with interesting and civic-minded occupations. Look for clergymen, politicians, doctors or midwives, newspapermen, businessmen, and the like.  Also, your more well-to-do ancestors are more likely to have left their papers with a local repository.
  • Get acquainted with the community your ancestor lived in by reading contemporary newspapers to learn the prominent members of the area.
  • Check NUCMC, the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. This bibliographic catalog describes these types of holdings for libraries and archives across the United States.
  • Don’t check for just your ancestors. You might find them mentioned in the collected papers of friends, neighbors, and associates.

Learn more about Tony’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.











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WDYTYA Recap: Sean Hayes Finds Order in Petty Session Court Records Mon, 30 Mar 2015 13:39:36 +0000 Read more]]> Sean Hayes

Trouble seemed to follow Sean Hayes’ ancestors down generations and even over an ocean. But trouble, especially when it led to clashes with the law, became a lynchpin in uncovering Sean’s story.

Researching ancestors in Ireland has always required some creativity due to the loss of 19th-century census returns. Censuses are a staple in U.S. research, and researching families in Ireland without them can be a challenge. But it can also lead to the discovery of some very fascinating alternative records. One of these is the Petty Sessions Court records.

The Petty Sessions Courts were organized in Ireland in the 1820s, but most areas don’t have records available until about the 1850s. Most court districts have records available between the 1840s or 1850s and 1913. These courts were held on the local level and mainly dealt with minor crimes and squabbles between individuals within the court district.

Sean Hayes’s great-great grandfather Patrick Hayes lived in County Kerry, Ireland, between 1842 and 1923. Typically, records available for Patrick would include baptism, marriage, death, and perhaps a few taxation records. However, with the Petty Sessions Court records, we were able to locate Patrick in more than 100 additional contemporary records! These records told about his life in Ballylongford as a boatman and gave us loads of personal detail about his life that basic birth, marriage, and death records don’t generally contain.

For example, after the death of his first wife, Patrick Hayes’s appearances in court increased dramatically. It seems he was greatly affected by the loss of his wife and may have responded by getting himself into trouble. Patrick remarried about seven years after his first wife died. The Petty Sessions Court records show Patrick filing assault charges against two of his young adult children around the time Patrick remarried. Is it possible that the fighting had something to do with their soon-to-be stepmother?

Sean Hayes_1

For Sean Hayes, the Petty Sessions Court records brought his ancestors to life by providing unexpected and stark details about their day-to-day interactions with each other and their community. Petty Sessions Court records have the potential to help anyone researching in Ireland to find exciting and colorful details about their ancestors’ lives—whether trouble dogged their footsteps or not.

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists:

When researching in the Petty Sessions Court records, it’s helpful to keep the following things in mind:

  • It’s important to first know the specific location or townland where your ancestor lived. Due to the commonality of both given names and surnames in Ireland, you’ll need a specific town or townland to be able to differentiate your ancestor from everyone else. For example, there were over 300 entries in the Petty Sessions Court records for men named Patrick Hayes just in County Kerry. Knowing he was from Ballylongford was essential in narrowing down which entries pertained to Sean’s ancestor.
  • If it is difficult to narrow down which results pertain to your ancestor, it may be helpful to research extended family members, such as siblings or cousins. Maybe a sibling will have a less common given name than your direct ancestor and can be identified in records more easily.

Learn more about Sean’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.

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Who Do You Think You Are? Recap: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points, Sometimes Isn’t Mon, 16 Mar 2015 13:54:56 +0000 Read more]]> It’s a frustrating fact that most historical records were never designed to tell us what we want to know nowadays. When created, their purpose was not toJosh Groban_WDYTYA appease curiosities in the 21st century. Instead, genealogists are constantly using their education and experience to coax out answers about people, places and time periods. We also rely on a lot of creativity to put it all in context—as well as a little math now and then. This was frequently the case when working on Josh Groban’s ancestry.

Who Do You Think You Are? tries to spare tedious and difficult aspects of research in order to bring the most fascinating results to your living room or laptop. However, behind the scenes of each episode, including Josh’s, are countless hours of reading wills, deeds, newspapers, tax records, church registers and more, proving and disproving through creativity and developing  theories.  As professional researchers, we turn to one theory more than others: the simplistic understanding that if a=b and b=c, then a=c. You may not find a record that proves a=c. However, if you can prove that a=b and b=c, you have good support for your desired conclusion.

These principles were applied for Josh as his ancestry was linked from one person to another, with an “other” often turning out to support a sought-after connection to a particular direct ancestor. The same was true for locations, as our research zigzagged across the United States for what should have been, in retrospect, a straight line from a to c. Instead, it required a trip through b because c didn’t have the necessary proof.

For each step along a pedigree, it is important to prove the connection between each direct ancestor and their parents to solidify the family tree. As we worked on the Zimmerman line, we found our Zimmermans in Ohio (point a) but needed to connect them to the Zimmermans from the Union/Northumberland area of Pennsylvania (point c). Someone along the way had moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio, but we could not find our man for sure in any records in Ohio. We turned to looking at records for all the members of the family and ultimately found the oldest son, who had settled in Illinois (point b). His Civil War pension record provided the exact link we needed.

During the entire research process, a variety of records in the United States and Germany revealed patterns between seemingly unrelated individuals that led to specific families and communities in far-away places. There was rarely a single record that defined a connection between generations. Rather, it was a collaborative effort of persistence and creativity that brought about the evidence needed. Remember, if a=b, and you think a=c, but you lack the evidence, try learning whether b=c.

Incidentally, the scenery while traveling through b was incredibly breathtaking and rewarding, and we wouldn’t have wanted any other route! It’s not exactly E=MC2, but it’s certainly a theory of relativity (for genealogists, anyway).

Tips from AncestryProGenealogists

Don’t just look for your ancestors, live their lives. Who did they associate with? The challenges of proving origins, domestic or international, can frequently be solved by developing a portfolio about those associated with an ancestor and then learning more about those associations.

  • Trace all the children and other family members.
  • Who lived nearby?
  • Who held bordering properties?
  • Court records can reveal links to other families
  • Who belonged to the same church?
  • Tax lists can describe holdings in other counties where you may find other records with new details.
  • Who listed your ancestor as their destination on passenger lists? If you can’t find your own ancestor’s arrival record, the lists for others may yield clues to his/her origin.
  • City directories can show others at the same address.

There are many more examples. Use creativity and logic. If your ancestor needs to get from a to c, sometimes traveling through b is the only option. Take the driver’s seat and go where you need to go!

Learn more about Josh’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.


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Who Do You Think You Are? Returns with Julie Chen: Sometimes You Just Have to Go and Walk up the Mountain Mon, 09 Mar 2015 13:42:33 +0000 Read more]]> Julie Chen_1We’ve been saying it for many years: the Internet has forever changed family history. We all like to talk about finding digitized records in the comfort of our homes, in the wee hours of the night, wearing our pajamas.

Basically, we’ve been spoiled.

But, amazing as all these digitized family history sources are, you can’t find EVERYTHING online. When we conduct the research for Who Do You Think You Are? we find all kinds of records to help us tell the story. Some are online. Some are at local archives, courthouses, or libraries. But even then, these organized repositories house only a small portion of a person’s story. We often need someone “on the ground” in the ancestral hometown to discover the unexpected. This is why we send the celebrities all over the world, because, at its heart, Who Do You Think You Are? is just as much about walking where your ancestors walked as it is about finding evidence of them in official records they left behind.

When Julie Chen visited her ancestral hometown in Anxi, China, she was awed by what she found. Sure, there were family stories and newspaper articles that pointed her in the right direction, but until she visited the ancestral home, now belonging to her distant cousin, and saw the picture of her grandfather, Lou Gaw Tong, hanging on the wall, she couldn’t have imagined the impact. And that wasn’t the only artifact that occupied a place of honor. Along with the portrait of her grandfather was the mounted appointment of her great-grandfather, Lou Rulin, as an Administrator of the Imperial Examination. This decree from the Emperor put Lou Rulin in charge of an examination for students hoping to attend top schools. This family heirloom painted a fuller picture about Julie’s great-grandfather, and it couldn’t have been found any other way.

Julie Chen_2Julie’s cousin then invited her to visit Lou Rulin’s final resting place. He wasn’t buried in a neatly laid-out cemetery with a map of the plots or a sexton who could point her in the right direction. Lou Rulin’s tomb was off the beaten path and, without the knowledge of the older local residents and someone to clear away the overgrown brush, we might not have found it at all. To visit her great-grandfather’s grave, Julie and her companions travelled up a mountain along a steep and narrow path, but the view at the top was breathtaking. Julie’s vantage point from the gravesite overlooked a valley that hasn’t changed much since Lou Rulin was alive. That real-world journey provided an experience that turned out to be both fulfilling and spiritual.

As the researchers for Who Do You Think You Are?, we have used hundreds of different sources to put together the stories for each episode. We are constantly amazed at the information we find online, in major archives, in local repositories, and in the homes of cousins. But every now and then, to get the real story, you need to go and walk in the footsteps of those who came before us.

Sometimes you just have to go and walk up the mountain yourself.

Tips from Ancestry ProGenealogists        

Summer is right around the corner and you might be thinking about planning a trip to your own ancestral hometown. Before you do, here are some tips:

  • Learn as much about the area as you can.
  • Mine everything you can from and about family members who lived in the area before you go.
  • Check out the holdings of local libraries, courthouses and other repositories online.
  • Make a list of what you hope to find. Be specific.
  • Contact a local historical or genealogical organization. Local members will have unique knowledge about the area and where to find local records.
  • When you get there, talk to the locals. We have had success many times sitting at the local watering hole and starting up a conversation.
  • Be prepared to share! Take printouts or your tablet to show others your ancestry. It helps them understand your connections by providing context for people, time periods, and places.

Learn more about Julie’s journey or watch episode recaps from previous seasons on Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all-new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Sundays 10|9c on TLC.

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Branch Out Comes to the UK. Enter to Win the Ultimate Family History Package! Thu, 09 Oct 2014 19:50:26 +0000 Read more]]> ACOM_BranchOut250x250_badgeWe know you love your family history research. We also know how challenging it can be to break through brick walls, locate a missing ancestor or prove a family connection you have long suspected. Have you ever imagined yourself on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

While we can’t get you a spot on the next season, we can offer you the next best thing – access to the research team behind the US Who Do You Think You Are? show.

We have run our Branch Out competition in the US and many of you told us you would love the chance to enter. We have listened to our members and we are delighted to bring Branch Out  to the UK.

This is your opportunity to work one-on-one with the family history experts on our ProGenealogists team. So, what do you win? The Grand Prize winner, upon confirmation of eligibility, will receive the following prize package:

  • Twenty (20) hours of ProGenealogist research
  • One (1) Annual Worldwide subscription
  • One (1) Copy of Family Tree Maker software

So, if you’ve always wanted to receive expert help from our ProGenealogists team, enter the UK Branch Out contest by clicking here. After entering some basic information, let us know how far you have gotten on your own. We want to know what you’ve discovered and what you would hope to learn with the help of our expert research team.

The deadline for entries is Sunday, November 9th at 11:59:59 P.M., so sign up today! The winner will be selected and announced by the end of November so stay tuned for updates!   Entry is open to residents of the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) and is subject to our Official Rules.

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’60s icon Twiggy is next to explore her roots on Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) Wed, 08 Oct 2014 15:37:17 +0000 Read more]]> It’s the 100th episode of Who Do You Think You Are? tomorrow night at 9pm on BBC1. Next to explore her family history is 1960s icon Twiggy.


Raymond Bryson


Twiggy, born Lesley Hornby, is a famous model, actor, and designer. Growing up in London, Twiggy had a happy childhood but knew very little about her relatives. Her parents told her nothing about their families.

‘We were a very ordinary, happy family, and I had a happy childhood’, said Twiggy.

Everything changed when Twiggy was sixteen-years old. A photographer spotted her photo on the wall of a Mayfair hairdresser and went on to write a story describing Twiggy as the ‘face of the sixties’. She went on to be known as the world’s first supermodel.

‘It was madness. I was suddenly in the newspapers and being flown all around the world’, recalls Twiggy.

Having been born and raised in London, Twiggy feels she is a Londoner through and through. Will she discover that her roots lie elsewhere?

‘What am I going to find out? I’m off on an awfully big adventure and I’m very excited’, said Twiggy.

The Who Do You Think You Are? team discovered that Twiggy has more than one strong woman in her family tree, and just a touch of crime, too.

Tune in to see what happens on Twiggy’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 tomorrow at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.

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