Thus begins Genealogy Roadshow, PBS’s latest attempt to capitalize on the family history craze that is sweeping the nation. Well, I’m not sure it’s a craze. It’s definitely a popular hobby though.
I honestly had no idea what to expect when I heard about this show. I have only seen a few minutes of Antiques Roadshow, but even so I could not imagine how that show’s format could be used for genealogy–that is about object, genealogy is about people. I thought maybe the producers (or whomever) would perhaps tie the participants’ genealogies into a history of Nashville (or whatever city is hosting), but no, the Antiques Roadshow format worked. A quick overview, stripping away stories, and revealing interesting history. but it is also nearly impossible to write about. I am not writing about a story anymore, just a series of vignettes and a couple of history lessons. PBS however, is truly is the station for genealogical-themed television.
The main players of the show are the host Emmett Miller and two genealogists, Kenyatta Berry and Joshua Taylor. The latter I know of by reputation. I believe he appeared on Who Do You Think You Are, and he is mentioned rather frequently on a genealogy podcast that I listen to. Both Berry and Taylor are excellent choices as hosts.
This week’s episode was set in Nashville at the Belmont Mansion. The participants were an interesting mix. Marguerita Page is an African-American woman whose grandfather’s cousin Albert Roberts was the illegitimate son of the future Governor of Tennessee Austin Peay (who was 14 when he became a father). There was Edwin Kennedy, a white man who presented a photo of his grandfather’s then-toddler brother sitting on the lap of an older black man named Lafayette “Fate” Cox, who was a soldier in the Civil War, a farmer, and then a servant. For good measure, Fate’s great-great-granddaughter was brought in to see, for the first time, a picture of her ancestor. Then Marquita Fletcher learned that while she was not related to the Pointer Sisters or the abolitionist George Boxley, her great-grandmother Mattie Lee Fletcher worked in the house of the philanthropist Andrew Burton (great-grandfather of singer Amy Grant) who supported the preacher Marshall Keeble.
Then there were Michele Fox and David Vaughn, both of whom claimed a relationship to Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, who is apparently one of the top ten most-claimed relatives (for the life of me, I will never understand why people are so eager to claim relationship to famous people). Vaughn’s connection was established (which was very good as he is a Davy Crockett reenactor), but Fox’s was disproved. As a consolation prize, Joshua Taylor found that her husband’s family is descended from a soldier in the American Revolution, and thus her children and grandchildren are eligible for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Following that, Berry gives Chris Hudson, a young African-American man the results of a DNA admixture test (mercifully not attributed to any specific company). He is 84% Sub-Saharan ancestry, a fair amount of Northern European ancestry, and a very small amount of Native American ancestry. I will restate my skepticism of DNA testing and leave it at that.
A lovely woman named Jean Carter Wilson claimed that she was related to George Washington, Jimmy Carter, the Carter Family, and Jesse James. Three of the four were disproved. But Wilson’s ancestor was Jesse James’s great-aunt, or something to that effect (the charts went by too quickly for me to figure our relationships).
Max Scruggs and his family learned that their ancestress Dinah Bell was a slave to a Sarah Henderson who brought Bell to Tennessee in the 1780’s, making them some of the original (non-native) Tennesseans. And there were Janet and Michael, a married couple whose full hyphenated name I did not get, but one of those names was Hatfield, as in Hatfields and McCoys. And yes, Janet is related to those Hatfields.
Finally, there was the story of Sarah Jones, who wanted to know about her father, who she never knew. Joshua Taylor gave her a whole history of her father’s family dating back to her great-grandfather’s immigration from Poland (a week before the Titanic sunk) and ending with pictures of Sarah’s father David. As I, and probably everyone else, wondered how Taylor got those pictures, he introduced Sarah to her cousin Sharon, whose mother had put together a photo album. It was a touching moment. Someone in the audience cried.
And that was the first episode of Genealogy Roadshow. Easy to watch, not easy to review. I’m holding out for the day the show is in Philadelphia, New York City, or Troy, New York. Perhaps one day you will see me on the show. Or maybe Antiques Roadshow; my mother has these mismatched heirloom candlesticks I would love to learn about.