Lessons Learned from WDYTYA – Part 2

On March 28, 2010, I posted Lessons Learned from WDYTYA in which I found some element of the research process in each of the first four episodes that offered  valuable lessons to genealogists.  The “lessons” I highlighted in that post were:

1) Don’t trust everything you read in the newspapers; try to find primary sources for vital information.

2) If you uncover something distasteful about an ancestor – and who among us has not – you might want to consider you have become something better.

3) Don’t overlook the obvious when searching for relatives!

4)  It becomes our responsibility to honor our ancestors by remembering them.

Now that the first season of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? is complete, I’d like to comment on lessons learned from the final three episodes.

Episode #5 – Brooke Shields

Brooke Shields’ episode focused on two branches of her family: her maternal grandmother and her father’s long line of noble Italian ancestors that initially came from France.  While both stories were interesting, the comment that struck me the most was during the portion of the episode about Brooke’s grandmother.  Brooke knew her grandmother, but was not very close to her, and her main interest in researching her grandmother’s life was to determine what events may have “caused” her to be distant.  Brooke said, “I want to be able to like her.”  In finding out facts about her grandmother’s early life and the tragic events she endured, Brooke was able to understand her better.  Lesson:  Don’t judge a relative’s personality until you learn what shaped them into the person they are (or were).

Episode #6 – Susan Sarandon

I enjoyed this episode the most because the mystery surrounding Susan’s grandmother was so interesting, several resources were required to solve the mystery, and both Susan and her son participated in the research themselves.  But the key moment for me was when Susan visited her family’s grave – only to discover that there is no grave marker.  I knew exactly what she was feeling at that moment, because most of my ancestors have no tombstones or markers.  Lesson:  You may not always find what you are looking for.  Susan had a great idea when she said she’ll have to get a grave marker for her family.

Episode #7 – Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s episode was exciting because I got to watch it with several hundred other genealogists in Salt Lake City at the 2010 NGS conference last week.  It was a very poignant story about Spike’s ancestors transcending slavery to success.  Spike’s grandmother, who was an important influence on his life, lived to be 100 years old.  But, despite his career as a filmmaker, he never thought to record her stories for posterity or ask her questions about her family’s history.  Lesson: Don’t wait until it is too late – talk to older relatives and record their stories!

On May 4, 2010, the Ancestry.com blog had an article along this same idea called Seven Great Lessons from Who Do You Think You Are? Jeanie Croasmun also found a genealogy lesson in each episode.  Only one of our “lessons” is the same; Jeanie focused more on resource-related lessons while I focused on something that just struck me personally in each episode.  There is one thing we all can agree on…we can’t wait for Season 2!


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