Last night, I watched the show, Who Do You Think You Are?, featuring the hunt for Sarah Jessica Parker's ancestry. I had been looking forward to it, although I wasn't entirely sure I liked the idea of this genealogy show being celebrity-based. Nonetheless, I was rather excited the entire hour it aired (but I would have loved it more had it been commercial-free).
First of all, despite my celebrity comment above, I just love Sarah Jessica Parker -- ever since the first Sex and the City episode. But there she played a character, and I was so pleased to find such an engaging and real person during this documentary. She really seemed so interested in finding her history and emotionally involved as well. I just loved her interactions with her family and with the historians she met.
What was really great, however, was watching SJP trace her history, starting with what her mother knew and moving back. I loved how she traveled to each destination to find her next clue -- first Cincinnati, Ohio; then El Dorado, Ca; and finally Salem, Massachusetts. To her knowledge, her family had immigrated not too long ago and came from Bavaria and Eastern Europe. But her German g-grandfather had married a woman with the surname Hodge. The Hodge line is the one she chased in this episode, going back to her gg-grandfather born in Cincinnati.
While in Cincinnati, she learns of an obituary that tells how her gg-grandfather's father had died before he was even born. The show then traces her ggg-grandfather to El Dorado, California, by way of the 1850 census. He had headed west during the gold rush and, in fact, died shortly after. He probably never even knew his wife back home was pregnant. It was exciting to watch SJP in the exact spot in El Dorado where her ancestor had mined for gold before his early death.
Next, SJP goes to Massachusetts because as it turns out, her ggg-grandfather did descend from the New England Hodges. She visits the New England Genealogical Society and finds out about a very old American history dating back to 1635 when her first ancestor came to the New World. Wow! The genealogist tells her she has ancestors in Salem during the awful witch trials and that she should find out if they were affected -- either as accusers or accused. SJP goes to the Massachussets Historical Society where she does indeed find the word “warrant” by her ancestor’s last name in an online index. SJP’s ancestor, Esther Elwell, was arrested for performing witchcraft against her neighbor who had died. No one who was accused had ever evaded execution, but to SJP's relief (and mine) her ancestor was arrested at the end of the trials and never went to court. She lived to be 82 instead!
With the exception of the commercials (I know I said this already), I really liked this show, and I can't wait to see the next one. But I did have a few problems with the show. I know from personal experience how much work it takes to find records and piece together a history. In this show, it was POOF here it is and let's get on the plane to the next destination. And by the way, traveling is not necessary to do genealogical research. I have done all of mine so far from the comfort of my couch, laptop in hand. This is not to say traveling is not a good thing or exciting. After all, I fully intend to follow my ancestors' footsteps, too. I just don't want the budding genealogist to think this has to cost a ton of money. It doesn't. I also think the show should be honest about how many hours and people it took to conduct all the research that went into the 1 hour episode.
Overall, I really loved watching SJP finding out about her ancestry. I am definitely not me-centric when it comes to genealogy. One of the things I love about genealogy that came across fabulously is the history that accompanies the findings. In this episode, we learn about the gold rush in California and the Salem Witch Trials. In my genealogy, it is no different. My ancestors tell their story to me through the historical events of their time.
Finally, I do have to tell about my super-cringe moment(s) in the show -- when the historian at the Massachusetts Historical Society touched the 300 year old document with her bare fingers!!! What??? No gloves??? That was rather surprising!