Have you been watching the encore episodes of  the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? that have aired recently? During the past couple of weeks, it’s been moving to relive Lisa Kudrow return to the place where members of her family had been murdered in the Holocaust, and exciting to see Sarah Jessica Parker make connections to a gold miner and an accused witch.

And within both of their stories, we are able to take away something that we can apply to our own family history research.

For example, if you wanted to start searching to see if any of your ancestors were part of the original gold miners, then you should check the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for California to see if your ancestors were Forty-Niners.

Or if you have a more complex family history line, like Lisa Kudrow, you can find experts to answer questions, research records, pick up documents, take photos, translate papers, or tackle full research projects through the Ancestry.com Hire an Expert tab.

For more details about both episodes, check out our original blog posts for Lisa Kudrow and Sarah Jessica Parker that spell out the particulars about each episode and other tips and tricks that could be helpful in your own family history research.

Don’t miss the next two weeks where NBC will be airing the journeys of Emmitt Smith and Brooke Shields. Tune in Friday August 27th at 8/7c to see Emmitt learn of his African roots, and the following week where Brooke Shields discovers her family comes from two different worlds.

And then let us know your family history research experience. What family history tips have you gathered from watching the series Who Do You Think You Are?

Heather Erickson

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


  1. Mary Beth Marchant

    This is the 3rd go round. How bout doing one with ordinary people instead of these celebrities. I watched the first one the first time around. Focusing on celebrities turned me off.

  2. Chris

    #2, #3 Mary Beth and Gayle

    This show is an American adaptation of the successful British series of the same name that has been running since 2004. The focus on celebrities is simply the direction the show has always had and my speculation is that it is probably most interesting to those not familiar with genealogical research. It gives those people a taste of what it’s like to discover one’s heritage. If you’re not interested (and I can assure you that many are; the American series draws 6-7 million viewers a show) perhaps you should look for other shows that do focus on ordinary individuals. The following site offers a list of television shows as well as genealogy-oriented media:


    Also, having been a follower of this blog for a bit, I find that they are indeed reading the comments and provide feedback. However, in this case, I don’t think they could change the focus of this television series. You’d probably have to contact NBC.

    Hope this helps!


  3. Russ Coad

    Shows like this are a waste of time to watch. They are nothing more then docu-dramas, similiar to other reality shows like The Biggest Loser, that focus more the emotions and teary-eyed behavior of the participants (the celebrities), in an attempt to boost ratings. There is nothing in this show that depicts the hard, hard, hard work that goes into researching any family, nor do they even bother to instruct the general audience on how they can be better researchers in their own work. they make it sound like anybody who signs up with ancestry.com will have the same results, in no time at all.

  4. Marilyn

    I loved the shows! I have worked on genealogy for many years, (ancestry has made it easier) yet I am not so into myself that I can’t re-live the emotion and connection others feel when they find ancestors they may have only heard of. Especially when you are able to prove or disprove Family Folk Lore.
    I do wish they would show more of “how” the pros who did the research, made their discoveries.

  5. Evelyn

    This is a commercial for Ancestry.COM!

    So if you are inclined to really be looking for your relatives, best to start working with the family you have. Then the other relations… I know that my family comes from Ireland, but to find it anywhere it is non existent unless you pay for the ancestry services.

    On the other hand, I enjoyed the shows, but have to think they just didn’t ask the celebrities if they would do this, they paid for them!

  6. Gayle

    8 Sept. does it really need to be up that long? # 7 Chris Yea , Go , anything Ancestry does is super! wow!

  7. Jade

    Between the oohs and ahhs, and archivists presenting key documents with nary a comment on how to find same, the series was singularly lacking in research tips and methodological suggestions.

  8. Sally

    Okay, so the celebrities have the time and NBC has the money to research family history. That’s a big downside to Who Do You Think You Are? We can’t all fly off to wherever to complete our research. However, I don’t mind the series because a. I’m curious about peoples’ lives in general and b. stories such as Lisa Kudrow’s taught me more about Soviet era history.

    I missed the show on Emmitt Smith. Guess I’m missing it again tonight because there’s pre-season NFL on NBC affiliate. Kind of ironic, really…

  9. Linda

    I watched the production tonight with Emmitt Smith, the first one I’ve watched and glad I didn’t waste any more of my time.

    How do you justify the leap in assumption that because Miriah was a mulatto and carried the last name of Puryear that she was ‘bred’ by Stephen Puryear who raped her mother? You smeared the name of Puryear without any evidence. Then when Emmitt gets back to the slave coast in Africa where his DNA leads him, you state that his ancestors were “taken” from there. TAKEN? Were you too intimidated by political correctness to plainly state who was responsible for capturing Africans and selling them into slavery. It was the slave trader that bought them and put them on that ship. The slave trader didn’t do the capturing and selling in the first place. That would be some of his fellow Africans.

    Then you make the leap that Miriah named her daughter Mary after the wife as a reminder that she was blood family … a half-sister. Where do you have the evidence of that? Surely you and just about every serious researcher knows that Mary was the most common name of all and often the name had religious connotations.

    Sloppy work!

    Shame on you Ancestry.

    I realize that Ancestry have gone full blown bonkers commercial .. but as you are dumbing down the science of genealogy research for you profit margin, you should at least present all the facts.

    As I tell every new family researcher who ask for my help getting started, if you can not put history in proper perspective, then you should not indulge in the pursuit.

    Shame on you Ancestry.

  10. Joann

    I enjoyed the show very much. I hope It returns next season. A lot of information has to be squeezed into a short time period. A new show is a learning experience. Let’s give it a try.

  11. Becky

    My husband and I enjoyed the shows with Emmitt Smith and Lisa Kudrow and Susan Sarandon. We were saddened by the revelation that the children of Benin are STILL being bought and sold (I know folks, this is still happening all over the world but we tend to forget, until we see it here, and WE need to do more to stop it NOW). And the children were sold to work in the granite mines…is this where the granite countertops in luxury homes comes from? If so, everyone needs to boycott granite countertops from these countries, at the very least!). What I’d like to see happen, as a result of Emmitt Smith traveling to Benin, is that he would take action and help them. Despite all the outcries about this tv show being too commercial, and the actors being paid, it is one of our favorite tv shows and we hope it returns with new episodes, with famous people, soon.

  12. Chris R

    They have shown a couple of episodes of the US series in Britain, and I have to say that I wasn’t that impressed. The US producers seem to use the show as an excuse for the celebrity to get some publicity and be seen to be soul-searching. The UK series was not really about the celebrities, nor was it about genealogy. It was really about history. The genealogy was used as a way of randomly selecting bits of history to talk about. The celebrities were used to attract the audience and to provide interesting links, and to react to what was found. Although there have been some poor episodes there have also been some really memorable episodes in the UK. Stephen Fry – who I think is now known in the US – provided a very moving episode when he learned about ancestors who were killed in the Holocaust. Jeremy Paxman was probably the most surprising. He is a hard-hitting political interviewer. When asked what he expected to learn from the programme his reply was along the lines of “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just a programme.” But when he discovered that some of his ancestors had lived in abject poverty, resulting in several children dying of what was effectively starvation, he was reduced to tears. There have also been entertaining episodes, like the most recent one in the UK where we learned about a man who fought in the Civil War, acted as a spy for King Charles and then went on to be an amateur scientist, experimenting with steam power before Newcomen and many years before James Watt. The US series needs to reduce the screen time for the celebrities, and increase the historical content, then it might be as successful as the UK series.


  13. Diedra

    I heard the same info repeated so many times the first go around that I just can watch again. It was good for a 20 minute program.

    Chris R, Anyway to watch the British shows online?

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