Monday, April 11, 2011

Real Genealogy

Since the football season ended NBC has had more prime time space to fill so on Friday nights (the graveyard shift of primetime) aired the series Who Do You Think You Are? at 8PM.  In it stars like Gweneth Paltrow, Steve Buscemi (he pronounces his name Busemi but the proper way in Italy is Bushemi), Rosie O'Donnell (who was taught by my uncle in the high school band), Lionel Richie, and others celebs learn about their family histories.  You can see the episodes that were missed until Sept. 18 at the link below.

The series was interesting but there are some striking differences from the experiences I had studying my family tree.  First the episodes that I saw only concentrated on studying lineage in English speaking parts of their trees.  Many have ancestors in non English speaking parts and in the US speaking and reading a second language is a problem for many.  I learned enough Italian at college to do research.  Buscemi would've found out the proper pronunciation if he'd studied the Italian side.  Many immigrants, not just Italians, who came here before WWII tried really hard to forget their ties to the old country

Second the celebrities had considerable help in sifting through the archives of birth, marriage, census (your descendants might be very disappointed if you do not participate in the census every 10 years, it's a wealth of information), and other old records.  I did all of it myself including the Italian records.  I was lucky that the Mormon Church keeps a considerable library of microfilms of these records from all over the world including my grandparent's hometowns.  This help can be expensive for the average researcher.  This series is a slick informercial for these services.

The discovery process is fascinating and the series does represent it well.  Each discovery ends up raising more questions than it answers.  The things that the celebrities discovered (such as Kim Catrall learning that her maternal grandfather abandoned her mother's family at age 8 and illegally had another family) may not be as dramatic in your family.  I'm sure they were looking for the most interesting stories for TV.  Also you may not want your most tantalizing stories broadcast on national TV. (I know my relatives might not).  I did include a photo of my nonno (grandfather) standing and his younger brother Bartolomeo in 1916.  Below that is a photo of their mother Teresa whom they never saw again after leaving Italy.

In the long run I believe it is more satisfying to do the research yourself and to share it with relatives but the problem is who has the time.  There are tools online that can be of assistance though.

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