Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review: Who Do You Think You Are - Vanessa Williams

Genealogists are passionate. We are probably even more dedicated to our hobby/career/avocation than the most rabid Super Bowl fans. To have a television series that we can call our own is more than a big deal. It's a Really Big Deal. It has been with great anticipation that we have been waiting for Season 2 of NBC's Who Do You Think You Are.

The producers made a wise choice in selecting Vanessa Williams for the season premiere. The actress and singer, known as the first Black woman to be crowned Miss America, was eager to learn if she had any ancestors who had made contributions to their community. She was not disappointed.

Her journey began at her father's grave. After paying respects to him, she looked at the other tombstones of family members to find any clues to her past that she may have missed before. Her research took her on a journey to discover her great great grandfather, a Union soldier in the Civil War. She visited the actual location where her ancestor fought in the war.

A different approach taken in this episode was that Ms. Williams was able to explore two lines of her father's ancestry. This was certainly a good technique, so that those new to genealogy will recognize there is more than just one line to research. Her research connected her to the ancestor who served in the Tennessee State Legislature.

It has been the general consensus of geneablogger viewers that the format of Season 2 has improved over last year's freshman season. The time-wasting "recaps" after commercial breaks have been eliminated, much to the delight of the viewers. This provided more continuity to the viewing experience and gave more time for real content.

It also appeared that Ms. Williams was more actively involved in the research process than were the celebrities shown last season. Ms. Williams actively took notes in her research journal, and narrated the episode. Again, the consensus of geneabloggers has been that Season Two is showing more of the research process. The fear remains that genealogy newbies will think that documents and photographs will appear like magic without doing legwork. We all know that it doesn't work that way. But I think that many television viewers realize that most reality shows are not reality, but are more scripted than what the producers would like people to believe.

Season Two has shown that it has a hit formula with this series. And sponsored, in part, by Ancestry.com, the series is clearly bringing more people into our hobby.

WDYTYA Viewing Parties


Some local genealogy societies are hosting viewing parties to watch the series as a group. If you don't have access to such a gathering, you can join other genealogists in the virtual world to "watch" the show together.

You can chat online with other viewers on Twitter by using the #wdytya hashtag. This was great for those of us who were in on the East Coast/Central time zone first viewing of the show. Our comments provided some spoilers for those in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. So if you don't want to find out what's going on, wait to join the Twitter chat until the show airs in your time zone.

Immediately following the first airing of the show, Thomas MacEntee launched the first ever episode of Geneabloggers Radio. If you missed last night's show, you can listen to the two-hour show here. You'd think that Thomas has been doing radio all his life. Many of our favorite geneabloggers phoned in to discuss WDYTYA, while the rest shared our thoughts on the live chat (typing our comments). How Thomas managed to interact in the chat room AND carry on a conversation with the callers still amazes me. Everyone had a great time and it was fun to listen to some of our real-life friends as well as our virtual friends in the genealogy community.

Read what others in the geneablogging community have to say about WDYTYA.

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