Sunday, January 2, 2011

Genealogy or Private Investigation? Review of Searching For ... on OWN

Last week I mentioned a new show debuting on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) called Searching For . . .

The OWN web site describes the show as a documentary look at the work of a professional investigative genealogist, Pam Slaton. She works to help clients locate their long lost relatives. At first, I thought this sounded quite similar to Troy Dunn's The Locator on the WE channel. But the fact that the OWN publicity referred to Ms. Slaton as a genealogist intrigued me.

The program premiered yesterday and my original hunch was correct. The program is almost a carbon copy of The Locator, except that The Locator does it better. I would describe Ms. Slaton more as a private investigator, but I think a person has to be licensed before they can call themselves that. Perhaps that is the reason she is referred to as a genealogist instead.

The premise of both of these shows is that the investigator/genealogist/relative-hunter attempts to reunite people with long lost living relatives, such as birth parents for adoptees. The difference between yesterday's episode of Searching For . . . and The Locator was that Searching For . . . actually showed that the birth mother didn't want anything to do with the children who were looking for her. The Locator has a set formula and always ends with a happy reunion.

Neither show focuses on any details of the search. And for good reason - if the general public knew they could do this on their own, these investigators wouldn't have any clients. On both of these shows, the only research I see the investigators doing is using the "pay for public information" web sites. I've used them and I've found people easily, so I know it can be done. But it's a far cry from what a genealogist would consider research.

These shows are not Faces of America or Who Do You Think You Are? But I do think they serve a purpose for offering hope for those who have a hole in their life where a parent should have been. These shows do give those people hope and optimism that they might find their family member(s) some day.

Genealogy? Not hardly.

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