Posted by on 20 September 2010 in General

 There are some annoying elements to the American episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? – the celebrities’ apparent need to respond to every piece of information with “wow” is top of my list. Nonetheless, they have provided us with some fascinating stories. Lisa Kudrow‘s episode last night was another of those.

We’ve seen several stars with Jewish connections over the years, but no matter how many personal accounts of the Holocaust I hear, I still find them incredibly powerful and moving. I can’t imagine how it must feel to find your relative listed on a document next to the words “killed and burned”.

Finding her cousin alive and well at the end was a nice twist, and an unexpected happy ending. I’d have liked to hear more about how he escaped Poland by joining the Russian Army, aged just 15 – this sounded like a remarkable story.

From a research point of view, we saw a perfect example of phone books at work. If you’re trying to track down living relatives, it’s all too easy to forget about the records that should be most obvious, as we still use them today. See if you can find your long lost cousins in our exclusive British Phone Books, 1880-1984.

I hope the BBC dig out the remaining episodes from the US series. In particular, I’d be keen to see Spike Lee’s programme, where he traces his roots through slavery.

What did you think of Lisa’s episode? Let me know in the comments below.


Chris Paton 

I saw this shortly after its first transmission in the States, hadn’t realised it was on last night in the UK. Definitely one of the better episodes (she was one of the execs on it, I suspect heads would have rolled if that hadn’t been the case). Sadly it’s major problem is its length – as with many US progs, usually as many ad breaks as actual content, so makes for a much shorter version in the UK when they are all removed. This would definitely have made a good hour. Top tip for all US based celebs – see if the Brits are interested in you first! 🙂


20 September 2010 at 5:34 pm
Other Paul 

I do struggle with a certain amount of disbelief over that use of the phone book. Do the program makers really expect us to believe that the phone call was as ‘cold’ as it was filmed and that this truly was the first encounter with the long lost cousin, and that they had not already ascertained that some kind of reunion would be acceptable? What are they trying to prove with these little bits of play-acting?

21 September 2010 at 10:10 pm
Graham Barrow 

I’ve been watching the American WDYTYA as well and have also found the constant “wows!” quite annoying.

I’m also getting to the point where the artifice is starting to impact on the enjoyment. As the previous writer has alluded to, it is becoming more and more apparent how much of the “action” is set up in advance. I was watching Matthew Broderick’s episode last night and, while his reactions seemed genuine, there were times when it was so obvious how much some of the experts were, putting it politely, prevaricating during the show. There was a point when he asked one of the experts if he knew where his ancestor might be buried and received the reply “I don’t but I know a man who does” which just seemed a bit false.

The other thing that fascinates me, having been doing my own family tree for some time now, is the incidence of remarkable or noteworthy ancestors these celebrities seem to have. They make my family seem positively mundane by comparison.

You don’t suppose they do initial research before approaching the celebrity to ensure something of interest will emerge do you (and, by extrapolation, reject any celebrity who has no-one of note in their past)? Or am I just being cynical?

4 October 2010 at 10:18 am