Posted by on March 19, 2010 in Website, Who Do You Think You Are?

It was a tough journey for actress Lisa Kudrow. On tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, Lisa returned to the place where members of her family – her great-grandmother included – had been murdered in the Holocaust. But she ends on a high note: a reconnection to an ancestor Lisa and her father had believed was long dead.

Here’s how and where Lisa’s difficult discoveries happened.

  • Parents’ home, Los Angeles, CA – Lisa starts the way any family historian would – by talking to her family, recounting how she heard about her great-grandmother’s murder. The story prompts Lisa’s father to recount a visit he had from a Polish cousin, who informed him and his mother about what happened to the family in the Holocaust. Lisa learns the name of her great-grandmother, Mary, the village or shtetl name, Ilya/Ilja, the cousin’s name, Yuri, and that Yuri had later died.
  • Zonal State Archives in Molodechno, Minsk, Belarus – Lisa travels to Belarus to learn more about where her great-grandmother is buried and to find out about Yuri. She’s surprised that documents survived World War II, including one that list victims of the Ilya massacre, her great-grandmother included.
  • Ilya, Belarus – Lisa visits a villager, Maria, who witnessed the massacre. Maria gives a first-hand account of the massacre and tells how she tried to help a young girl hide. The attempt was tragically unsuccessful.
  • Central Ilya, Belarus – A translated document gives Lisa painful details about the mass burial of 900 Jews in Ilya. Lisa walks the path that her great-grandmother took to her final destination – an open grave where today a memorial to the massacre’s victims stands. Back in her hotel room, Lisa turns to for information on Yuri. She finds a Boleslaw from Gdynia, Poland, who was on the same ship that Yuri was said to have arrived on. Are they the same person?
  • Gdynia State Archives, Poland – Lisa sees Boleslaw’s registration card, learns his wife’s name and his son’s name – she’s sure now that he’s Yuri. She searches the phonebook for family’s last name, and discovers Boleslaw is still alive. She nervously picks up the phone and introduces herself to the family.
  • Boleslaw’s home, Gdynia, Poland – Lisa share photos with Boleslaw, his son and grandson. They discuss Boleslaw’s meeting with Lisa’s father and how Boleslaw escaped the fate of the rest of the family. Lisa’s final act in Poland is to call her father and tell him the news.

Throughout her journey, Lisa learns that records do exist for Jews in Eastern Europe and elsewhere and that the steps a person takes to research American Jewish genealogy starts with records created in America. It’s the clues in those records – the hometowns, the names, the immigration details – coupled with a knowledge of history that help Lisa find answers back in Belarus.

Key resources for searching Jewish family history are available at – all are key to American genealogy and are the first stops in researching:

Also visit the Jewish Family History collection at

After you’ve learned everything you can from the documents available to you locally, turn to European archives (the Miriam Weiner Eastern European Archival Database can help you determine what’s where).  Then try Expert Connect to find an expert who can help you determine the best way to retrieve it.

If you missed Lisa Kudrow on Who Do You Think You Are? you can catch the episode online here. Or watch a preview of next week’s episode, when Matthew Broderick discovers his family’s involvement in America’s military history.


  1. If you’re interested in learning more about your family’s Jewish ancestry, but you’re not sure where to start or how to navigate the vital records that are overseas, come be a part of the big annual IAJGS conference on Jewish Genealogy this summer in Los Angeles!

    There will be more than 130 speakers and over 250 programs, including a genealogical-themed film festival, plus an onsite Jewish genealogical library, with professional translators, Yizkor books, LDS microfilms, Holocaust research resources (including books and videos from the Museum of Tolerance and the Shoah Foundation), and more!

    The conference will be held from July 11 to 16, and you can purchase either one-day or multi-day passes, or passes just for the film festival. There is a new special discount price for full-time students (with student ID) and for kids under 18.

  2. Darleane Nieman

    I watched Lisa Kudrows show tonight, and though I am not Jewish, I cried all throgh it. This was so wonderful, and I think I was as excited as she, when she found living relatives. Thank you for sponsering it and I’m sorry I missed the first two, but won’t miss another one.

  3. Jo

    Often WW1 draft registration card show where a man was born and this may include the town and country. I found several birth towns this way when researching for a friend whose ancestors came to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were Jewish men and the towns were in modern Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania.

  4. Tom H

    Most compelling show so far. Hope this motivates more to explore their own family roots.
    Great Job Ancestry!

  5. judy cronan

    Lisa had a wonderful episode. I am sure she and her father will never forget this. Unfortunate, she did not bring her dad along. I enjoyed this episode. Loved it when her relative in Poland said “Lisa Kudrow–right here in my house not on my TV”. This was a well thought out story and I really think she was overwhelmed by emotion {who wouldn’t be?} she was not expecting to feel. Good show this week.

  6. Cynthia Alamia

    This was an awesome show! I felt every emotion Lisa displayed… Researching my own line, meeting relations I did not know existed is phenomenal. The touching moments while meeting the ‘lost’ relative and reuniting the cousins was the best. This show gives the desire to know from whom and where we came from real meaning. An awesome show- I intend to watch every show. Finally, a reality show worth watching- thank you.

  7. Dawn Farnham

    I loved it and I agree with Cynthia finally tv that is worth watching. Please keep up with the good work. Thank You

  8. Seeing this show was compelling, and inspired me to take the journey myself. What a gift to pass on. And what a great show. Thank you so much,

  9. Dee Jordan

    Awesome episode tonight. I also had tears in my eyes, especially all during the telling of how Lisa’s great-grandmother died. It was so touching when she was standing in front of the memorial. More tears. I could feel her nervousness in calling her “possible” relative and then the extreme joy in finding out her relative was still living. Just a great show…..

  10. helen

    Have watched the last 3 episodes. Have done genealogy over 50 years. I can tell you that the average person cannot afford to do searches like you show on your program. In fact the cost is prohibitive . Much less to have access to all the genealogists,archivists and other experts that you are able to pay for .This is so unrealistic.

  11. Melva

    I enjoy the show as entertaining stories. I have been researching my lines for over 25 years. This show makes it all look so easy. Believe me, it isn’t. Although my search has been very rewarding, most of us will never have the kind of success that these “stars” have.

  12. Joyce Brooks

    I have been doing my family research since 1968-69 and I have been an active member of Ancestry since probably the beginning. I have seen it grow and improve tremendously over the years. These shows are outstanding; each one has it’s own significance. I am proud to be a member of Ancestry it has taught me so much about my history and of history in general! Please note that I have a book (purchased from Ancestry) Lisa might like to get. It’s called JEWISH ROOTS IN POLAND by Miriam Weiner.

  13. David & Dawn Hegge

    What a WONDERFUL story! We have watched everyone of these stories and find them fascinating! And what a happy ending for her father! I wish would not be as expensive per month as it is. I realize how much information you have, but $300. a year is not in most people’s budget at this time. Thank you for all of these wonderful stories.

  14. sheree

    I have to agree with Helen. Yes its a good show but many of us doing our own research would love the chance to walk where our ancestors walked but cant afford it. But we are not actors who can afford to do it on there own.

  15. tammy spradlin

    that’s great i’m glad she found what really happened to her family. I’m looking for my ancesters too. I’M having some problems with my family tree. I looking for anyone with information on my great,great grandmother mary coleman slone my mother dosen’t remember much about her family because they never really talked about her.Keep looking everyone because i will be. GOOD LUCK FINDING ALL YOU CAN!

  16. Craig

    I’m with you on that! My grandfather started teaching me about family history when I was just a boy. 40 years later, I’m the one who holds all the old family records and photos, and I continue the journey that began when a 9-year-old little boy was devastated by the loss of his grandmother.

    The show has its merits and it is interesting to watch, but it would be so much better if it dealt with ordinary people like us. I suspect many of us who watch the show and post to these boards would be surprised to discover we’re probably cousins — one way or another!

  17. Susan D.

    I can remember sitting at my grandmother’s table looking at all the old family pictures and the stories that went with them. Watching Lisa and her father doing the same brought back the wonderful memories of that time. Tears came to my eyes for Lisa and also for the loss of the most influential person in my life. I can only be happy that she had the ability to explore her past. Luckily, my family ancestry is embedded in American history for many generations. I need only look at American landscape to find my ancestors. I don’t think I would have it any other way. After visiting a German death camp, I heard the distant suffering of an ethnic slaughter. For Lisa the sounds must have been excrutiating–after all–it was her Great-Grandmother. I have watched all three episodes, each one is more compelling. Thank you, And thank you Lisa for showing your emotions.

  18. Ida

    Great show again. I can’t wait to see the next one. But we must be realistic. If this show followed unknown people nobody would watch. This is all about marketing. We already subscribe. They have us. This is all about getting new members and in order to do that they need the stars. So sit back and enjoy.

  19. Nancy

    While I enjoyed the show very much, and was quite moved by Lisa Kudrow’s story, I was very annoyed at the recaps after each commercial break. I think it is kind of an insult to viewers to have to review what they just watched a few minutes before. That time could have been spent more productively, like telling viewers more about the sources of the records found.

  20. Candy

    Watched the first one, dvr’ed the next two & watched today. They were great! Very moving & should capture the audience they were intended for, the people who have not began their search. It does make you have a little pang of jealousy at the ability to pick up & go to those places & to have the access to the experts & the records, but I was happy for all of them nonetheless.

  21. Janet

    I agree with the post about the annoying recaps after all the commercials. The programs are so interesting I want to see more. There must be lots of tape on the cutting room floor that could be used instead of rehash filler.
    If the show continues, maybe Ancestry could have a drawing each season and select a subscriber from a lottery to do a show and help them with research to break through a “brick wall”.

  22. Michael Hamilton

    I enjoyed the program very much but, it could be so much more with out all the re-telling of what I just viewed! I do not have short term memory loss.
    Please get on with the show. I am sure we could get twice as much information than we do now the way it is prsented now.

  23. abe simon

    I really can relate to the Lisa Kudrow episode. And I agree with the “repeat” comments. No need to replay all and waste time.
    On the positive side I think you should consider success stories from “ordinary people” to be at least on a short segment at the end or maybe a show with several success stories. I have a couple including using peanut butter and TV as a genealogy tool to find relatives. Another is connecting thru Yad Vashem with relatives we thought died in the Holocaust.

  24. BetteLee Henry

    My sister and I have been watching ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ since it began. The Lisa Kudrow episode was wonderful. Hearing the firsthand account about trying to rescue a little girl was the most emotional that I’ve heard.

    My mother has kept our family history for the past 50 years. She has filled eight 3″ binders with family that goes back to the 17th century. I’ve used Ancestry to find the proof of the things she didn’t have, such as census and directories.

    I began my husband’s history after his death and have found many generations. How many more would I have found if I had begun before most of his family had died?

    I agree that this is the only good reality show and my family is looking forward to the rest.

  25. Lynda

    I have truly enjoyed the 2nd and 3rd episodes of Who do You Think You Are?. Both were emotional for all and the people seemed quite authentic, unlike the 1st episode with Sarah Jessica Parker which to me seemed quite contrived.
    I agree with many of you that the repetition after every set of commercials is totally uncalled for.
    I think most of us understand that we don’t have the resources to travel as these people do, but we can dream!

  26. George C

    The shows are entertaining. I think each blog has gotten more helpful. I had never specifically looked at Ancestry’s Jewish history section. On a whim I clicked the link and found my g-grandfather’s immigration record I had been unsuccessfully looking for- for years with FTM’s web search.

  27. Donna Owens

    I have been doing genealogy over 40 years and still got goose-bumps, cried and cheered when the ‘stars’ broke down brick-walls. We genealogists tend to be a nit-picky lot because we deal in facts, and ok, we do get emotional when we have a success. Instead we should look at the broader aim of the series…..get people who haven’t done genealogy interested. One doesn’t have to travel to exotic places to find information – start at home – wherever that is.

  28. Michelle

    What a wonderful show! While some seem to have sour grapes, I can attest that it is possible to have the same successes as the stars. For me, 13 years ago, I walked into a local Family History Center in the South. The sweet volunteer showed me how to use the IGI, and the result was a file with 600 of my GRANDPARENTS, all on my maternal grandfather’s family. A search of the Library Catalogue resulted in a book that outlined my paternal grandfather’s ancestry. Luckily half my ancestry is French Canadian. It took three years of searching church records on microfilm, but I was able to find over 2500 grandparents dating back to the early 1600s. Believe me when I say the volunteer and I were both doing the “happy dance”. Today, those same records are now available online (Drouin records). Thank you Ancestry for making more records available to more people, so travel may not be necessary. And thank you for a show that will inspire more people to search for their roots. They may have that “missing link” that someone else has been looking for.

  29. Lysle Meyer

    I missed the first show but saw the 2nd and 3rd. I was so touched by the emotion shown in both shows and could relate to the discovery of hardships faced by ancestors. For me it was the realization that my great grandmother came in steerage from Scotland with a 1 year old and a baby under 1 year by herself to join my great grandfather who had come earlier. It shows the excitement of discovering what our ancestors endured for our sakes. The shows are an inspiration.

  30. Dear Heather Erickson,
    I am really like to read some articles in your site. I got a lot of information from you. So, I have bookmarked your site.
    Excellent story, We have watched everyone of these stories and I was glad that a happy ending for her father..
    Thanks a lot

  31. I and many others have been struggling… daily.. for years, to find our “roots” and every time we get closer we have to pay another $150 or $50, etc, etc. etc… Yet, you take Millionaires and pay them More money to find their ancestors (who they probably wern’t that interested in personnaly, or they would have paid someone to do it beforehand.) It makes it discouraging to see such Royality treatment in the USA…. ‘the Rich get rich and the Poor get poorer’. But, Hey, it makes a great movie… Well, back to seeking the seemingly non existant records of poor Western Ireland famine immigrants ! (For those who haven’t earnestly been digging thru records at cemetaries, churches,etc, census, city records and internet$, please excuse my frustration… as the old-Youngest of Ten, I feel it’s an obligation to all the newer generations of our family) Ed D.

  32. Dorothea Hesse Doar

    Lisa Kudrow’s episode 3/19/10 was moving. It certainly touched me. I have been/am still searching my grandparents and great-grandparents histories, my father’s from Germany and my mother from Latvia. My mother’s father told her he saw his parents slaughtered by soldiers in Latvia, which caused him to have a weak heart. He died at 39, having immigrated to the USA, settling in Cincinnati and leaving his widow to raise four young children, my mother being one of them. The show inspired me to pursue this story further.

  33. Heather Erickson

    Great comments everyone! It’s great to see so many of you enjoying the show as much as we are.

    For those of you are interested in taking your own family history journey – similar to what the celebrities are experiencing – don’t forget to enter to win the Ultimate Family History Journey for $20,000 in travel money, expert help and an World Deluxe subscription. This may be the chance you get to take that journey you’ve always wished for during your family history research! Enter now at

  34. Shea (Keith) Thomas

    I’ve watched all 3 episodes and love the show. It inspired me to get back into my genealogy. Lisa Kudrow’s was amazing, but brought me to tears. I was happy that she found some relatives alive. Great job NBC and Are they only going to be doing celebrities or are they going to so some of us regular people?

  35. Michelle

    In this world of uncertainty, bad news, tough times, I just can’t get down about a TV show that is so positive. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I don’t care if all of this wonderful TV is about famous people. Of course it is; otherwise, NBC and would not have a big enough audience to support the program. And celebreties are people too. I just like the fact that, money and extreme resources aside, the show is exposing millions of people to the excitement of genealogy. Now, how can we convince NBC to keep this going beyond this first series of shows?

  36. Deb Meyer

    I came to these blogs hoping to hear some news that there will be MORE shows after this run ends. Please?

    I subscribed to Ancestry a few years ago, thinking I would only need a summer of work to get what I wanted. Now I realize that it will take a LOT more digging, doumentation and travel to get the information. Each time I find a new clue, I call out a “ding, ding, ding!” and my husband has a laugh. Recently on, I contacted a woman who had met the grandfather I never knew because he left the family over 65 years ago. It was incredibly powerful experience.

    I love the idea that celebrities even care about the people who came before them. I appreciate the money that was spent to find pieces of their puzzles, which was probably MUCH less than most TV productions. Historians can’t be all that well-paid!

    Bring us more episodes, Lisa, NBC and Ancestry!

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