Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Who Do You Think You Are?

Rosie O’Donnell has always known she was Irish – but why did her family leave their homeland and how did they land in North America? Those are just two questions Rosie sets out to answer on tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? From their 20th-century home in New Jersey to her ancestors’ former life in Ireland, Rosie discovers the hardships they faced, experiences the lives they led, and learns how blessed she is today, thanks to her ancestors. The show, sponsored by, airs tonight on NBC at 8/7c.


  1. Cassie Nagele Freese

    I love and the show on NBC! I do have a suggestion that I think would be amazing! I think you should randomly select a researcher on to help with their tree. For example, I have been researching my family for over 5 years now and what originally got me interested in genealogy was the interest in my maiden name (Nagele). All I wanted to know was where we came from. I have found every other branch of my tree except where the Nagele’s came from. It would be amazing to have some of the help that the celebrities have had to figure out my heritage. I also know I am not the only person with this kind of story. How amazing to finally break through the brick wall that has been haunting them! Also it would be nice to have the “winner” featured briefly on the show to show everyone their success story and inspire more researchers.
    Thank you so much for your website and show!

  2. Rachel

    I also noticed a son Andrew Jr who died at 6yrs of age in September 1867 in Montreal. Also a marriage for son Thomas in 1867. Very interesting. Love the show!!!

  3. BCarol

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have never seen Rosie O’Donnell smile with both her eyes and mouth at the same time. It’s hard to explain what I mean by that but it is a behavior that my own Irish aunts displayed and I have always noticed it in Rosie as well.

    Tonight her full faced smile from her forehead to her chin matched my own feelings as I watched. I too descend from workhouse Irish who came here in the early 1850s.

    This was a wonderful episode. I know that it will stick with me for a long, long time.

  4. Mary

    Great show. I really appreciate that Rosie got it, that genealogy could be hard. Maybe because she got that part she also seemed to understand and enjoy the pay off of finding new information. I also like it that the shows demonstrate the need to search many types of records. My husband who doesn’t care for genealogy and not a big fan of Rosie also really liked it and felt like she did a great job and that the show was very interesting. I have never like Rosie more and admired the attitudes she expressed at the end.

    I had heard one side of my family tree my whole life but never knew until recently that I was an Irish descendant. And it looks like my family came in through Canada. It would be great if the show could mention if there is a migration pattern or more of a situation that was not typical.

  5. Joanne Rose

    Loved it! Very emotional, and also the search was interesting. The workhouse information I never ever knew about! It was heartbreaking. I am Irish and I wonder if I will find that in my history as well. All in all this was a great episode.

  6. Janet L

    I was wondering what they had told her second cousins. They seemed really surprised when she walked in. Someone in their family had the family tree they found, so Rosie’s “finds” were a blessing to someone else that does research. Something that probably applies to most if not all of the shows on WDYTYA is that the star is not the only one in the family the research helps. I would be jumping out of my seat if they tied into one of my family lines!

  7. Rosamary Lindsey

    I enjoyed the show with Rosie O’Donnel very much. I also have a family line that goes to Ireland and probably came here because of the Patato famine. I have found them arriving in NY then going to Missouri then I lost track of them. I know my father was in Michigan as he married my mother there but no other clues. It is said that he had a relative in Dublin who had a Irish Linen Mill.

  8. John-Paul DeRosa

    I have seen about five of these episodes and each has been a masterpiece. They have chosen archetypal journeys of the American heritage–slavery, the potato famine, New York tenements. So few TV shows have so much to say, so many things to remember and keep thinking about. The stars have been so human, so believable in their vulnerability. The pace of the program is extremely slow, and yet that somehow works and mirrors the time it must take for the discoveries to sink in for the participants.

  9. mcwasthere

    Rosie’s episode is, by far, the best of the season. Previous episodes sometimes seem scripted, but maybe some celebrities need a script to respond to any interaction with ordinary people. However, Rosie spoke from the heart, and her interest in her family appeared very genuine.

    This episode showed some of the elbow grease that accompanies research. Even though has made it much easier to research, there are still long hours at library microfilm machines. Just wish you would place them in a library where they have to crank one by hand and where the old machines are nearly worn out.

  10. Jeff Record

    While interesting in terms of Irish history and the value of Canadian records in researching genealogy, I found last night’s episode somewhat disjointed. Rosie’s exploration of the family of her father’s 1st wife seemed like a sub-plot, and outside the story of her search for her Irish roots. I agree with the comment made above that it was good to see the light come on in Rosie’s eyes that genealogy is HARD WORK. However, I never got the feeling that Rosie would ever have a passion for genealogy, that for her it was merey about “getting to Ireland”. For some of us, perhaps that is what genealogy is all about. Yet for the “rest of us” it is a life long passion and struggle to find our roots that never ends. Rosie seemed to be glad the show was over, and that she was done with it. This is sort of too bad. If she simply puts all the tools and information you have provided her in a shoebox in the top of her closet, all of the history she unlocked will just go back to oblivion. I never got the feeling from Rosie during the show that she wanted to preserve any of what she was finding out. It was good to see her connect to her Irish history though, and one can’t but help to wish her all the best should she consider looking further into her family tree.

  11. John Belz

    Rosie’s father, Edward Joseph O’Donnell”, is “living”. She should have visited County Donegal and Tyrone where her father’s family came from.

  12. Love this show! Can not wait till the next one. They are very informative to other people as well as the person that family is being traced. It is showing that the rich and famous people are the same as every day people. That to trace your family and see the struggles they have may make you feel like your life has a purpose no matter how small or large your history is. I hope this show continues and praise to all the people that are doing the leg work for this show.Again great show.

  13. John Belz

    Seeing the workhouse made me think of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. “Are there no prisons?” “And the union work houses – are they still in operation?”. “…I help to support the establishments I have named. Those who are badly off must go there”. The collector “And some would rather die”.

  14. Jade

    I laughed at the promotional email you sent me focused on the O’Donnell show. It said “Step 1: Identify your first American ancestor. U.S. Censuses from 1850 on are a great place to start, as they contain birthplaces for everyone in the household.”

    Since my first known Euro-American ancestors came over on the Mayflower, and little on would have helped do the research establishing this, my first thought was that someone who knows how to do genealogical research should have written the promo.

    The promo goes on to say, “Historical records can hold more information than meets the eye. Learn how to read between the lines to discover clues in birth records, city directories and other records.”

    None of my ancestors lived in cities before the 1930s; this is a silly research recommendation. is not a good source for birth records, either, most of which were kept locally (for the USA) in Town, County and Church repositories.

    I did not appreciate the promotional link to ProGenealogists (wholly owned subsidiary of, who do not do on-the-ground research except maybe for the show.

  15. James W Cummings

    I think all the celebrities seen so far seem fairly close to their roots as to Rosie not going to Donegal / Tyrone, Ireland it would perhaps of complicated things. Dors anyone recall Hugh O`Donnell the sixteenth century ‘Fighting Prince of Donegal ‘? not unlikely her O`Donnells are of that family. O`Donnell is in gaelic Ui Donnell meaning Descendant of Donnell it is a fairly well known royal race or dynasty in that section of Ireland. I have a few irish familes including McGuire, Harper, Colman and interesting a family known as Donnell though all came to North America a century and more before the famine and became farmers and fishermen. I would not be suprised if my Donnells escaped or were run out of lreland by the English during their big move to colonize fair Eire so the damn Popish gaels had to give vast estates over to the righteously minded Protestants from England and Scotland.

  16. Diane

    I agree that it would be nice to also research Rosie’s father’s side of the family, but in a show of this short length, it’s impossible to do it all. And since Rosie lost her mother when she was only ten years old, it makes sense that she would have a longing to know more and to feel more connected to that side. In addition, the mysterious photograph would be something any genealogist would want to figure out, wouldn’t you agree?

  17. Anne

    Very well done. Went to Ireland 3 years ago and felt when I stepped off the plane I had come home. My huband and I were the only ones to have ever gone back to the land of our ancestors. It’s emotional just seeing a workhouse. I can’t imagine what the conditions were like. Agree with Rosie, this needs to be told. She did a great job. Thanks for sharing your experiences. She stepped out of her comfort zone and I’m grateful that she did.

  18. Jan Murphy

    I disagree with the comment above that the show is too slow-paced. I think the show skips over too much in the interest of getting things done in the short timeslot. People new to genealogy will not know why there is no 1890 Census or how to look for clues in the census records. If you look at the 1900 Census with Michael Murtha, it clearly shows that Michael and his wife have been married for 14 years, so it’s obvious that the ‘next census back’, 1880, he would not be married to the same woman. Nor did the genealogist point out the questions showing how many children the wife has had, and how many were still living. There are clues in the citizenship questions about how long the family has been in the US. If the show were an hour long, the experts could spend a few moments pointing out things like this. As it is, the show encourages the worst kind of genealogy — cherry-pick the records for the one bit of information you want to focus on, and ignore the rest.

  19. David

    If one replies “I don’t know” to a question “what are you looking for?”, should he be checked by psychiatrist?

  20. Diana

    Loved this episode. Her reactions to the information as it unfolded were genuine and I really felt like I was there with her on her journey as she searched and learned. This episode seemed to go by so quickly and I wished she would have learned a little more about her father’s side.

    Can’t wait to see the upcoming episodes and I hope they keep the series going. I enjoy the celebrity’s, but I enjoy learning about the process more. Keep it up!

  21. David Farr

    I agree with #18 Jan,Also the show implies if you see a green leaf and click on it another person will appear with another green leaf.The promoters should stop showing this One should take the info in the hints very lightly and then examine it carefully before using any of it.The show overall is entertaining.

  22. Mary

    The advertistments were certainly about green leaves but the show was not. They used a variety of records and the majority were records which were viewed in person. If I remember correctly she even got on the microfiche. Very little of the show focused on the ancestry on line documents. As one person pointed out there was more in the census and hopefully different shows will bring that out. They also don’t show all the dead ends that with Irish research can be plentiful but they did point out that she was down to one date to make the connections back which implies that even with all that brain power sometimes there can be brickwalls.
    I do wonder why they don’t follow certain lines, perhaps it would be an unpopular line as one poster suggests but I would be inclined to agree with another poster that many children who have lost a parent want to know more about that person. Understanding the family can help someone understand the lost parent.

  23. John O'Brien

    seems like some peole missed the point, they didn’t track her father’s line, likely because she knows her father’s family history…

    she said her mother died when she was 10 or 11, and that she didn’t know anything about her mother’s family….

  24. BEE

    Hate to be the one to get off topic, but it’s so tiring to sit here the past two days to add/edit information and not have it record.
    Is anyone else having this problem?

  25. BRENDA



  26. Margaret

    IMO, it was the best episode aired to date and the only episode that actually held my interest from start to finish.

  27. Monika

    #25 and #26 – No, you are not alone, it is just that the rest of us have given up complaining about it. I feel like a worn down stone! I also kept getting the message that I should sign in as “guest” even though the weekend staff acknowledged that I paid in full for the entire year 2011, in January. But, the weekend staff said that–while “this happens on occasion” they are not qualified to assist me and I will have to wait until Monday! 🙂

  28. Nancy

    Found it interesting that Rosie’s family of Murta and Murtagh are the same as my grandmothers. She came from County Mayo tho.

  29. Carol A. H.

    #25 Bee, #26 Winlee, and #29 Monika:

    I too have noticed I have had to make entries or save records more than one time to get the system to save it.

    Also, sometimes it doesn’t give me the option to save a census record. I have figured that I must start from the person I intend to save the record to and be in that tree.

    I try all the tricks, but one thing I just can’t change is the slowness of the whole system. I’ve seen snails move faster than Ancestry. Good thing all my other programs work just fine, or I’d toss my computer in the dumpster.

    Other times, I reboot, or log off and then back on the internet. In the last 2 to 3 years, the speed keeps going down and down and there are more and more clicks to accomplish anything.

    No amount of complaining seems to change anything.

    Monika: There is a weekend staff??? I’m in the USA on Pacific time.

  30. Winlee

    Carol #31 the same problem here, it seems to get slower and slower every time they make changes to the format and your right it seems like they want us to make twice as many clicks to get the same thing done, and you know what, I don’t they care. And I’ve heard other people on here talking about how we need to give them time to fix their new formats and make them run better, but if you keep changing it every few months its never going to get fixed, and I hate to whine about it because I don’t blog much, but when I see that other people are having the same problem then something needs to be done. I mean this is not rocket science we just want to look up records on the computer, how hard is that.

  31. Monika

    #31 – Yep! There is a “weekend” staff. Probably because is in all countries worldwide. And, of course, when it is the weekend here, it may already be Monday somewhere else. But, I suspect it is a “skeleton” crew!

  32. Rich

    I also think they should pick every day people and not just famous ones.
    I think the leaves are nice, but not always of much use. I click to disreguard them , but they pop back up sometimes. I’ve even had them give me my own information.
    I also don’t care much, when you do a search and check exact, it tells you it can’t find anything. Uncheck it and you get 50 million hits. I don’t know about other, but I don’t have time to gho through 200 let a lone 158000 or more. It’s set up to search for words and it does. They may not be connected to what your looking for, but put in Robert Daniel Smith and see how many Roberts, Daniels, and Smiths you get and how many are more then the one word.
    I wish they’d do here like they do with their Family Tree Maker and let you search and combine Duplicates.

  33. Barbara

    Re: #35 Rich
    If you are using “New Search” and getting pages of random results I suggest you try the “Old Search”. The results come grouped in categories such as each census year, WWI Draft registrations etc. and then you can select the category you are interested in and vary your search criteria.

    To switch to Old Search scroll over Search in the header and click on Search All Records. When that page comes up in the upper right there will be (in small print) Old Search. If you are already in Old Search it will say New Search.

    If I had started my searching using the New Search I would have quit a long time ago. I think it is useless.


  34. Barbara Re: #36

    New Search also provides results sorted by catagory- just change the way you want to see results at the top of the results page. You can change “By Relevance” to “By Catagory”.

  35. pat

    I have especially enjoyed this season of the show. The “guests” seem more informed and ask some really good questions during the research. I also like seeing them get sidetracked by an interesting tidbit and chasing that down before returning to the main search. I have done this so many times in my own research, and have also brushed up against famous historical figures in odd connections. I am really seeing some of the very same emotions and discoveries that I have gone through in my hunts. This season is by far the best, and reflects the hard work involved in searching for answers.

  36. Janet

    36 Barbara, Thank you. I have been trying to get back to the “old search” but couldn’t find my way.
    The new search is a pain, trying to find someone in the census records is so cumbersome I just want to give up.

  37. I enjoy all of the ancestry related programs. Those with interest in The Great Starvation and mid-19th century Irish migration should read “Galway Bay” by Mary Pat Kelly. It was published in hardcover 2-3 yrs ago and I understand it is about to come out in paperback.
    It is fictional history but based upon her family’s recounting their story.

    It is spellbinding and answers the question why Irish descendants don’t know much about their ancestors’ struggles getting to The New World—too tough to discuss. I think they just wanted to put it behind them.

  38. Carol

    Problem mentioned concerning issues with saving items appears to be better. If the problem is truly fixed then thank you ancestry.

  39. BEE

    Carol, you spoke too soon! All was going well until a while ago – now “check back” or really weird things appearing!
    I do a thorough cleanup of “history” etc at the end of the day, but I guess I’ll do it now.

  40. I really appreciated the Rosie O’Donnell segment of Who Do You Think You Are. I just caught up on last week’s episode today as I was away last week in Connecticut visiting my 91 year old grandmother and for her birthday and telling her about some of my latest genealogy finds. On our way home, we drove through Brookfield, CT to go take a look at some cemetaries where we suspect some of my father’s ancestors are buried.

    That particular family has connections in NY that we’re trying to prove up and watching this particular episode gave me some additional ideas about where to go in New York City when I visit there on a planned research trip. I’d already put the Brooklyn Historical Society on my list of places to stop, but the archives in Manhattan have now joined the BHS and St. George’s Church in Hempstead. Following Rosie’s footsteps through New York felt a little bit like a preview of what I’m about to tackle in the next month or so!

    Thank you.

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