Why I Don’t Watch the Genealogy Shows

When I mention this in certain circles, it is almost as if I have insulted Mom, apple pie, and the flag in one fail swoop. I assure the reader that I love my Mother (may she rest in peace), can down an entire apple pie (Grandma was a believer in 6 pieces to a pie) and have great respect for the flag. That said:

I don’t watch the genealogy shows. Not one of them.

It doesn’t bother me if other people want to watch them. I just don’t find them that engaging or interesting.  It’s perfectly fine with me if other people want to watch these shows, but it’s also perfectly fine i there are genealogists that have no interest in watching them. It doesn’t mean we are bad, uncaring genealogists–far from it. But one should not have one’s genealogical interest questioned simply because one refuses to watch these shows. Actually I have watched them: a total of four times. In summary:

  • The first time my wife changed the channel after I complained repeatedly about how “easy they were making it look,” that’s “just not realistic at all,” “you simply don’t find things that way.”
  • The second time I convinced my youngest daughter to watch one with me after it had been significantly hyped as “new and improved.” It was supposed to be “interesting and engaging.” At the first commercial break she and I looked at each other with that “look.” I think we went out and walked the dog and I may have told her an engaging (but short) story about one of her ancestors.
  • The third time the actor was critical and judgmental of his long-dead ancestor. His attitude could have been edited out. I found the actor taking on the role of judge and jury just a little too much. He’s not Perry Mason and he certainly doesn’t play him on television.
  • The fourth (and last) time I watched an episode the actor looked bored and disengaged. His facial expression kept saying “I wanted a sitcom and all my manager could get me was this genealogy show.”

Those are the reasons I don’t watch them anymore. If I have time to devote to genealogy, I would rather perform some actual research, write up something I’ve already discovered, or learn about a new research skill or method. I’m probably not going to do that watching one of these shows.

I recently read a comment a home remodeler made on a message board about one of those ubiquitous “flipping homes” shows. The remodeler indicated that he never watched the shows, largely because they were unrealistic and overly dramatic. The remodeler even advised a newbie to not rely on the shows for real world advice.

I could not said it better myself.

It’s fine if you watch the shows and it’s fine if you don’t.


11 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Watch the Genealogy Shows

  1. I didn’t think genealogy shows were that bad until I saw an episode of Genealogy Roadshow where they had a guy on with the last name Remy. The genealogist on the show claimed to trace his line all the way back to some St. Remy in the 8th or 9th century which was just ridiculous.

  2. Genealogy shows are more interesting than anything else that is on TV! Lots if research goes into each show and has to be codensed down to the time allotted. We all know or should know it’s not that easy They still are intetrsting. I would like to see a family tree that is perfect so in my opinion why be so critical we all do the best we can and make changes in our trees as we go along and find more information. I say relax and enjoy the shows and the people that put them together. They do a great job

  3. Jean Stilwell says:

    Genealogy shows are NOT about the process but about people’s family stories. You definitely do not see the research process but you do experience the effect that hearing part of your story can have on a person. I found “Genealogy Roadshow” disappointing because they tried to tell too many stories while having the most respected genealogy people be the hosts but I think Henry Louis Gates does a fine job, again with the caveat that the focus is not the research but the story. Some of the things they do find are amazing and cause me to wonder if they research first and then invite people to be guests. Despite the lack of research, these shows often remind me WHY I work on my genealogy.

  4. Certainly it is the story behind each show, and not the records they come up with. To see Reba McEntire crumble and sob when she found out her so many times great grandpa split up a family of slaves by selling the child, really makes you realize the times your ancestors lived. Then, to see Bill Paxton read his so many times great grandfather’s will, where he left EACH OF HIS SLAVE LAND after he died, was inspiring! To find out that Brooke Shields had a so many times great grandmother who was put in a DUNGEON, RAPED, and KEPT THE CHILD to go on to much better things later, was astonishing! I then found out in my own research that my own 4 times great grandfather became a Mormon in Tennessee, and then he “manumitted his slaves” (have you ever heard that word?) which means “FREED” because he took on the path of Joseph Smith, and then some of his slaves stayed with him so they, too, could go on that path….. Seeing someone else’s story just makes me feel like we are all in it together, and that “big elephant of research” doesn’t seem quite so big, after all. As someone once told me: “How do you eat an elephant? … ONE BITE AT A TIME.” Because of these shows, I feel like we are all family, and are just sitting on the other side of the dinner table, but we are all one!

  5. Genealogy shows are in the “reality show” classification, so my expectations are not very high. I do feel that WDYTYA, by focusing on one celeb, was able to show brief snapshots of the actual process. As I remember the celeb would first gather information from family members and then meet on location at a repository with a professional to take a cursory glance at actual records. Sure the process was prettied up and condensed into the 45 minutes of the show (excluding adverts), but it did give encouragement to dilettantes like me that it is possible, with enough research, to discover and meet long lost relatives.

    On the other hand, Finding Your Roots has the “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!” feeling. Each of the three celebs is just sitting there getting a (boring) lecture and then have to simulate shock and/or awe for every (boring) disclosure….and are relegated to turning the page of the scrapbook (boring). It appears that the whole point of the genealogical stories is merely background for the ultimate DNA revelation. Boring boring boring.

  6. I have never watched one. I think I tried to once, but it couldn’t hold my interest. People who know I am working on my genealogy always seem surprised I’m not interested, but as you said, I’d rather explore my own roots than watch someone else have their roots revealed. To be honest, I watch very little television anyway, outside of live sports.

  7. I love these shows because once in a while, I find connections with my own ancestors. When I saw the prison cell where “my” Pilgrim William Brewster was held in Britain, it was a heart stopping moment for me. Nothing about these shows is realistic but the results can be real.

  8. Just think how splendid it would be to be able to pick up the phone, call state archives, courthouses, etc, and say “Hey, would you find all you can on (Fill in the blank), born about (fill in the blank), died assumed (fill in the blank), possible spouse and children are (fill in the blank)!” “Oh, I need to hop a plane and visit (fill in the blank)? Then hop on another plane to meet the head of the Genealogy Department at what university?”

    I agree these shows are about the family stories and not the process. I do love the process though. Each new substantiated, documented nugget of information makes me want to jump up and run around like a lunatic.

    I have been in old country courthouses that afford you hands on search, I mean holding my great, great grandparents marriage certificate in my hand! Where laptops and scanners aren’t an issue. These places are worth a night or two in a hotel so I can return and dig and dig. But then you go to the bigger places where you have to practically be strip searched just to look at an index book. Places where checking the “genealogy research” box will not suffice.

    My goal is not to go back as far as possible, well I’d like to go back as far as true documentation will allow. But I want credible information in my tree, documents, with as little speculation as possible. (And I always include “theory”, “assumed”, “speculation”…because once something is repeated on the internet…it’s etched in stone don’t you know!

    And yes, I watch all the genealogy shows on television. Mostly for motivation and for a good interesting story.

  9. I too am bothered by the “judge and jury” attitude toward their ancestors. I believe that if you are going to delve into your ancestors, you have to accept them for who they were. Remember, 200 years from now, some descendant may be discovering all our dirty little ‘secrets’.

  10. Shirley E. Weller says:

    I love the shows. Some histories are boring, some are exciting. But all are worthwhile when you stop to figure that records WERE kept and lives COULD BE traced. And who has more money to throw at a project than a famous celebrity? They never say how many weeks, months, or years of research might go into any one project; and why should they? All that goes without saying, if you are a researcher of your family. I’ve been at it a quarter of a century and it is often slow-going. The shows for Josh Groban, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Lisa Kudrow, and oh so many others have fascinated me and I’m sure have enriched their lives.

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