Friday, August 16, 2013

Thoughts on the first four episodes of Who Do You Think You Are this season

So, so far we've seen Kelly Clarkson, Christina Applegate, Chelsea Handler, and Zooey Deschanel research their family trees (or, more accurately, they've had their trees researched for them) - This show is always a little spotty for me. Some episodes just don't interest me, although they still usually make me cry by the end - I'm a sucker, what can I say? - but some episodes are just so full of emotion and soul-searching and thought provocation and just show what genealogy can really be all about. Anyway, thoughts so far:

  • Despite my own Civil War ancestry, Kelly Clarkson's episode just didn't really grab me. I guess a lot of times, I relate to the reactions of the celebrities and she just wasn't all that emotional about what she found out. And despite Isaiah Rose's time spent in the Andersonville POW camp, which sounded absolutely horrific, his story just didn't do it for me. I can't even describe or explain it...emotions are arbitrary like that. 
  • Christina Applegate's episode was possibly one of the best episodes and stories I've ever seen on this show. What a tearjerker. And usually I don't get pulled in to stories that go back only one or two generations, but Christina's empathy for her father's troubled upbringing and her horror and sadness as she learned more and more as her grandparents' story unfolded, the closure she was able to bring to her father regarding his complete lack of knowledge about his mother and her life and death, and how it seemed to bring her and her father closer together...ugh. Talk about a compelling story. I think this is an episode everybody interested in genealogy should see. We all want to find the heroes and royalty that we're related to, but we forget that genealogy is really a study of the lives of normal, everyday people, people who were flawed, who made mistakes, who hurt people, who were just trying to get through each day and live their lives. I think I also related to the gravesite with no headstone. That's the story of just about everybody on my dad's side of the family. But as you can see in this episode, even without a headstone, you can still find out who is buried in the plot - cemeteries are great resources!
  • Chelsea Handler. Eh. She doesn't do it for me as a comedian, and her story had the potential to be so compelling, researching her grandfather's past in Nazi Germany - so many ordinary Germans who weren't necessarily Nazi sympathetic but actively or passively participated in a great evil to protect themselves and their own families...makes you question what you yourself would've done in that situation. This episode is an example I guess of how one or two generations back doesn't usually interest me. I guess I also don't always love when the celebrity goes into the show with a burning question about one particular ancestor they already know about - although, as you can see by my reaction to Applegate's episode, I don't always hate that. I guess I'm just more drawn in usually by the episodes where the celebrity doesn't really have much knowledge about their tree, or only knows rumors and stories, and gets drawn along for the ride, the discovery. Anyway, I think the most interesting parts of this episode were the translation of Handler's grandmother's memoir about everyday life in post World War I Germany - that was a fantastic family find. We should all be so lucky to have relatives who did that! - but also the Jewish-American soldier Chelsea talked with in France who recounted his war story and his personal thoughts on the enemy soldiers he was fighting. I also didn't know about the World War II POW camps here in America, so that was an interesting historical factoid to pick up. But Handler didn't really seem all that emotionally invested in her grandfather's story and so I guess I wasn't either.
  • Zooey Deschanel. Her story had the potential to be blah like Kelly Clarkson's, but I actually rather enjoyed her journey. I found it a little heartbreaking that she didn't begin looking into her family until after her granny died, but I guess it's those life events that usually prompt us to begin the journey. I don't like when people are LOOKING for a specific person or personality, a la Zooey's "long line of strong women," but rather when they FIND that this is the case, but I did like when these people really start to identify with a specific ancestor. Loved hearing Zooey say that she felt protective of Sarah Henderson Pownall. I also loved that even though she was handed a tree back to Sarah and her parents, that Zooey stated that as she went on her journey, she discovered Sarah's identity - genealogy for me is always about more than collecting names, dates, and places. It's discovering the people themselves, and Zooey realized that. I was also particularly intrigued by the Quaker history she was researching. I did not realize that Quakers were quite so progressive on all equal rights fronts, and it was interesting hearing her family's personal connection to Underground Railroad activity. I actually have Quaker ancestry as well, which I know very little about, so this has made me interested in finding out more about that. I will post what I do know in an entry as soon as my little girl lets me (she's sitting in my lap right now trying to type this blog post with me...genealogist and blogger in the making!!)

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