Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on March 4, 2011 in Who Do You Think You Are?

Lionel Richie grew up in the same house as his grandmother – so why did he never hear a thing about her father? You’ll discover the whole truth on tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? Lionel travels from his childhood home in Tuskegee, Alabama, to Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, for the details. Along the way, he makes the amazing discovery of the impact his great-grandfather had on the American Civil Rights movement and realizes just how much his great-grandfather’s actions have affected the people around him.

The show, sponsored by, airs tonight at 8/7c on NBC. Hoping for a head start? Watch a preview at

And visit on Saturday morning following the show for how-to steps and clues to help you with your own family’s history.

Jeanie Croasmun

Jeanie Croasmun has been working at while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...


  1. Bella

    I just want people 2 know what my last name means!!!
    Ancestery said im not living!!!!!!! 🙁

  2. Jeff Record

    3-4-2011 – Not a bad show. Excellent use in demonstrating the use of various resouce materials to help Mr. Richie investigate his American and Black American ancestry. I do feel that he was humbled by the experience, but as with Ms. O’Donnell, it seemed that once he had the answers to this set of questions he was ‘done’ with it all. I can only hope that this is not true. Genealogy is an ongoing study, work, even a battle against dead ends sometimes. Nevertheless, it is a work that continues to the grave – so that the records, and the passion for the study of the whole family picture can be passed (or even cursed!) onto the next living soul to keep the story going. I think Mr. Richie told a moving story, and I am proud for him that he was able to discover so much about his heritage. I hope he will continie to search for “Mariah” – and to preserve and appreciate his white heritage as well as his black. In the end, with regard to the “whole” story it is “human, all too human.”

  3. Patrick D Dolan

    I truly enjoy this show. However, for me there is a drawback. These celebreties are generally wealthy and if they really wanted to know something about their genealogy they have the means to do it on their own or to hire someone whenever they choose. In our eyes many of the featured guests already have everything, so this is just icing on the cake or more or less something that is being thrust on them.

    So why not have one lucky “ordinary” person’s family history investigated on each show. Choose someone that has been working on their own but doesn’t have the means or the know how to get all their questions answered.

    It would do my heart good and hopefully others as well. As some are fond of saying, “speak to the heart and you’ll never want for an audience.”

    In any case, the program is great. It is very interesting to see all steps that are taken to reveal someones past. I will continue to be a fan regardless.

  4. Louise

    I agree with Patrick Dolan. I really enjoy the show and hope it continues. But the average person who doesn’t have the means would love the opportunity to seek his heritage in the way the stars are researching.

  5. Wendy

    I love these shows but I am surprised at what some of the blogs say. I have seen both the show with Tim McGraw and Lionel Richie and do not see that they did anything that the average researcher can not do. On my near 30 year quest to research my family and help others who are distantly related I have traveled to the National Archives and DAR library in Washington DC. I have been to the Maryland Archives. I have visited court houses to find wills, deeds, marriage license etc. My husband believes we have visited every cemetery in our county plus a few out side the county. This is all part of research. To me Tim McGraw did nothing that a good researcher would do. To find information you have to go the the source. As he stood on his ancestors land, I have seen the many parcels that belonged to my ancestors in the 1700’s. And I must say I am an average person who loves to seek the many lines of my family. You do not need a lot of money to visit a courthouse for a record, and if you can not go there you can write them. I have also found sources in Germany who have searched archives and am on many lists where you can post a query. But don’t talk about them not being average because they have become successful. Anyone can do what Tim McGraw did you just have to be willing to go and find the answers.

  6. Alice

    I would like to see a program on tracing Native American roots; researching if there are any logs of the trail of tears marches and reservation records?

  7. Mary

    These are great stories. With all the nonsense on TV now what a relief to have stories about real people both the living and those who have gone before us. And real people who aren’t eating bugs to get on TV.

    History came alive to me when I traced my own family and I took my son on that journey. He tests at the highest levels for history and I believe it was because he was able to make a personal connection through his own family history.

    Lionel brought a sense of compassion to each person he looked at. One of the fascinating things about family history is that we usually have to throw out our preconceived ideas or the views other family members have given us. He didn’t discount his grandmother but he looked deeper and found a man he could sympathize with and appreciate.
    This is actually an important research tip. Use the material you obtain from family members but keep some objectivity.

  8. Norman

    I agree with Patrick Dolan in that the celebrities who are featured in this series are wealthy by today’s standards.

    That being said, I was somewhat disappointed that Mr. Richie, at least in this presentation, has not indicated any desire to restore his Great-Grandfather’s final resting place to a place of honor.

    True he was very compassionate and humbled by the experience, but I would like to have seen some indication on his part that he intends to give this great man who was the precursor to the civil rights movement his rightful place of dignity and honor.

    Hopefully he will start a movement to restore the entire 20-acre all-black cemetery to its original beauty.

    Not to do so makes his family history quest a tragic farce!

  9. kymberli

    I love watching “Who Do You Think You Are?” It is the one show on TV that I watch. It gives me encouragement to continue searching, even when I hit very tall, thick brick walls. I hope the show continues on, and I look foward to seeing who else is curious about their family and sets out on this great adventure to uncover the stories.

  10. Marda

    After watching Lionel Richie searching his roots I was somewhat dissappointed in Lionel not acknowledging his white ancestors to his immediate family. It seems to me he was ashamed his beginnings were half white. I sure hope that was not the case.

  11. Janet L

    I googled Morgan Brown and both Dr. Morgan Brown and Morgan W. Brown were wealthy, powerful men in Nashville. Lionel seemed to be a lot more open minded than Spike Lee was last year.

  12. An outsider

    It seems that whenever an African American person is featured on these programs, there is the usual “why not explore his white roots?” or “not acknowledging his white ancestors with his immediate family.”

    You don’t think Lionel knew he had white ancestors? Come on. Of course he did. But like most African Americans, he is keenly aware that his white ancestors were most likely OWNERS of his African ancestors. African Americans acknowledge every day that their ancestors were most likely slaves – just as our First Lady Michelle Obama has.

    It’s a very different feeling and experience for those who have white ancestors who are more recent and post Civil War born.

    And that’s the ‘interesting’ thing: For many years, after the Civil War, marriage between white and black people was against the law. Therefore recent mixed marriage ancestors during that time would certainly be hailed as groundbreakers. Remember the Vanessa Williams episode? She was very proud of her groundbreaking ancestors.

    Before the Civil War, Lionel Ritchie’s gr. gr. grandmother Mariah was a piece of property to the Morgan Brown family. NOT a person. I’ve seen families fight to the death over what is written in wills. Dr. Brown’s son Morgan didn’t even have to honor the will freeing her and her son if he didn’t want to. And she was powerless to contest it and could have been hung for being a defiant slave.

    Children who are the product of rape, by any race, even today are usually not all that interested in learning who their biological father was. And it is still a deep source of shame to many of them. I think that the graciousness of people like Lionel for example when they are faced with the truth they may have wanted to avoid, is to be appreciated.

    Thank you ancestry for this series.

  13. Stan Sikorski services is useless in Europe. I could not find any info about my grandparents.

    To make things worse their trial 1 month subscription does not automatically expire. If you do not cancell the subscriptioin they will continue to bill you even though you stopped using the absolutely useless account.

    This is a misleading practice. They sould clearly state that you are signing up for a permanant account.

  14. Mary

    It is understandable that in situations where there may have been rape, the descendant has less interest in that person than in other people. However even with Vanessa’s white ancestor she was not spoken of much either. She was clearly a remarkable person for her time. How did she make a decision so few made? It likely cost her a great deal. To ignore her you may be ignoring many strong woman who had their own struggles for equality.

  15. Susan

    I second Norman (comment 9) is the hope that Mr. Richie will work to have the cemetery restored.

  16. Stan Re: #15

    The terms of the 30 day free trial are CLEARLY stated- either cancel before the 30 days expire or it will be renewed. That is NOT a misleading practice by any means.

    The fact that one doesn’t practice due diligence and reads and understands the terms of what they are subscribing to is not Ancestry’s fault but rather the fault of the subscriber- period.

  17. Mary

    Sometimes family and history collide. A family member may chose to ignore a certain line. Historical research cannot make that choice. For a TV show it may be respectful of the living person to understand their disinterest in someone and within the limited timespan they can chose their focus. However, researchers cannot have that luxury. Strictly speaking resarch needs to be more objective and present the findings. Irregardless, of how someone feels about an ancestor there are issues of science and health that will not go away just because that person was not a good person. WDYTYA has some tough choices here but I hope the message is not sent that you can pick and choose your ancestors. It seems they have portrayed enough variety of personalities that they are not sending this message but be careful about ignoring the caucasian lines.

  18. I to enjoy Who do you think you are shows. Hope this continues. Have enjoyed learning the different things in history that I may of not known. Have watched with everyone the people that have had the chances to explore there background. At least one thing we all can say is we are all the same. Some in the past have done important things and help show a lot of people the path to take. Then some you dont even want to bring it to notice. That is our history though some good and some bad. Hope to see more of this show. Like to have it as an every week show instead of the few weeks we are having.

  19. Joyce Weber

    I just love “Who Do You Think You Are” it has helped me want to find more about my family history. How to look, where to look and the adventures you can go on. I just have one wish as to how to find the relatives on the first try (like they show on the show). I tape the shows and rewatch them often. Keep up the good work.

  20. Abigail Banks Dennison

    I think your shows, “Who Do You Think You Are” are a grand idea and wonderful research tool. I too would love to see an “ordinary” person featured on your show. Is there any day or time when all of these shows will be repeated? I have missed some of them.

  21. MsWinston

    Why so many negative comments about this program? First of all, it introduces many people to tracing their family history because they watch a favorite singer or actor doing it (we understand that they are doing it with much assistance behind the scenes that we don’t see). Second, why so critical of Mr Ritchie? I don’t totally agree with #14’s post that Maria was NOTHING but property: the fact that Doctor Brown provided for her and her unborn child in his will indicates that he recognized his responsiblity (either as the father or the grandfather of the child). And we cannot automatically assume that the relationship was based on rape, although rape was ALWAYS a possibilty for a woman held in slavery. A good discussion of this topic is in the book “The Hemingses of Monticello,” by Annette Gordon-Reed. Human relationships are complex, and Ms Gordon-Reed, a distinguished scholar of Jefferson and slavery, points out that in addition to forced sexual relations there is always the possibility of mutual attraction that exists “outside” the bonds of master and slave. But even if Maria and whichever Brown fathered her child had regard for each other, the fact was that the Browns owned Maria (and had the literal power of life and death over her), so that has to be a factor in Mr Ritchie’s reaction to seeing the will and the picture of Brown the younger.

  22. Mary

    I think there are very few negative comments about either the show or Lionel and in fact the reaction seems to be mostly positive to the show and supportive of him. Personally I am just trying to encourage people who research to be objective enough to research the lines irregardless of the ethnicity. Speaking for myself-love the show and impressed by Lionel’s grace and dignity.

  23. MsWinston

    For me, one of the most difficult things with which I have had to deal in my family research has been the knowledge that some of my ancestors owned slaves. This was a revelation to me, as up until just recently I only knew of the ancestors who fought for the Union in the Civil War, and who had strong anti-slavery feelings. Having roots deep in Virginia on both sides of my family, I have come to accept the fact that at that time and in that place many people owned slaves, my ancestors among them. I cannot undo that, but I do agree with you that we need to explore all of our ethnic and racial backgrounds. We just need to be mindful that not everyone is going to have the same reaction to meeting an ancestor that owned another ancestor. Last season, Spike Lee expressed anger, while LIonel Ritchie was more subdued, althought I am sure his emotions were just as strong.

  24. Monika

    I could not agree with you more! ancestry Europe is not of much value. In particular, is one of the most worthless programs I can think of! I have not found ONE thing for my tree that could be of any value on On the contrary, when I show a German ancestor in my tree to have been born and to have died in German territory in the 18th century, I find “leaves” on this ancestors profile view, and when I press on that leaf it gives me a 1930 Census for that person in the U.S., just because that person in 1930 in “Milwaukee” had the same name! Give me a break! The only reason I placed my tree on is that I have invited all my German relatives onto that tree, and, since they do not speak English, I thought that this would be a better site for them to view that tree, since all the preprinted wording is in German. However, there are also many grammatical errors in this preprinted wording. So, I wrote to about a year ago (before inviting anyone onto the tree) and sent them the appropriate corrections (e.g., all nouns in German start with a capital letter, etc. etc.). It should have taken them less than an hour to make all the appropriate corrections. To this day, none of these corrections have been made. I found one minor error in the ancestry France site, and wrote to that I had found this minor error. I immediately got a very professionally written e-mail back from them saying “Minor or not, a mistake is a mistake, and we will fix it”, and they did so promptly! I guess the individual sites are managed by different people, some more qualified than others. Fortunately, more and more German and Czech Archives are coming on line, which I have found most helpful. Hopefully, ancestry can find a way of connecting us with them, as they do currently connect us with other sites on the American site, with these blue underlined key words. But, still has a lot of work to do in Europe. Having said that, I have recently found (Canada) and (Australia) invaluable to me. Good job on that, ancestry!

  25. Jeff Record

    Nothing is perfect ….. is a wonderful tool. To think that it should be anything more, as if it were to be a “reveal all, or tell all” is simply giving into folly or worse – vanity. Genealogy is hard and relentless work. The study of one’s ancestors does not yield answers as easily. “Dead men tell few tales..” To expect to be all things to all people is like trying to use a hammer for a screw driver. The shows are good, the people are flawed, their ancestors were flawed…. its okay, we’re all in the same boat. Thank-you for what you try in earnest to achieve.

  26. Monika

    And what, pray tell, does that have to do with making some grammatical corrections and, thereby, giving the appearance of being more professional? Particularly when somebody has already done the work for you, and all you need to do is take a few minutes of your time to make the corrections and thereby appear more educated? Having supervised and managed up to 40 people at a time, I can reassure you that it is appropriate to tell someone for whose services you pay for what you like about their service and what you dislike about their service!

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