For those not familiar, these are two shows about genealogy.
Finding Your Roots is on PBS stations in the US, and is hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In each episode two or three fairly well-known people (actors, athletes, TV news anchors, and so on) are presented with a big book of their previously unknown ancestors, plus a big family tree at the end. The source materials are existing records such as census, birth, death and marriage records, newspaper accounts and wills, plus DNA for certain things.
Who Do You Think You Are is a show from the UK, and I have only ever seen it on YouTube, where they chop it up into segments so that it’s hard to get the whole story. It shows a completely different process – the famous person/guest goes around to the various places their families lived and consult with genealogists at each place to try to piece the family story together. They generally come back at the end and share what they’ve found with their immediate families. Some of my favorites that I’ve seen are Patrick Stewart and Olivia Colman.
Pros for Finding Your Roots: you get a fairly compact and yet thorough and extensive story in 30 minutes or less per person. There’s no way of telling whether the facts have been arranged to be more entertaining, I suspect they routinely are. But everything we see is supported by documentation of some kind.
Cons for Finding Your Roots: they propagate the notion that who you are is virtually entirely due to actions and character traits of some of your ancestors. Gates has the very annoying habit of asking the guest “How does that make you feel” after every revelation, especially if they aren’t emotional enough. And fairly trivially, they show the same “here we are doing research” clips every single show.
Pros for Who Do You Think You Are: it seems a little less manipulated and more visceral and real. The guest often talks to the camera when they are driving to the next place and that feels fairly unrehearsed. Sometimes you find out really surprising things, like when John Hurt found out that, contrary to his lifetime’s beliefs, his background is not Irish, or when Olivia Colman found out she had a woman ancestor from India who was treated very badly by the man who made her pregnant.
Cons for Who Do You Think You Are: I couldn’t really think of any, except that so many of their guests are people I don’t know anything about to start with. That seems to take the edge of interest off that episode for me.
Does anyone watch either or both of these shows? Do you enjoy them? Are you interested in your own genealogy (I am, a little)?