About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Basic guidelines to select GENEALOGY ROADSHOW stories

Four cities were selected to host the Roadshow: in order, Austin, Nashville, Detroit, and San Francisco. But when it came to airing the shows, the order was adjusted slightly and the first filmed is the last to be shown (I have suspicions as to why, but don't want to start rumors, so I'll just say it was a decision by the production folks).

Family history "stories" or questions were solicited from these various cities by way of Internet shout outs and advertisements on the respective PBS stations. Nevertheless, a few applications came in from cities not remotely close to the four chosen locations. In a few instances, promising stories from these "other" locations were passed on to the research team.

From Casting Team to Research Team

Story selection was made by the casting team. They went through all the applications and chose cases based on a variety of criteria, including the applicant's life in the target region (greatly desired were people who had lived in the respective state for some period of time and, hopefully, whose family also had ties to the venue - though that was not always possible). Also of concern was the interest of the story or family line (an applicant whose ancestor had crossed paths with, or was related to, an individual of some renown was likely to catch attention as being of interest to the general public). Those applicants who had fascinating stories that would make "good programming" (meaning "good ratings") were also attractive (a story about a relative who just disappeared - what happened to him/her? - was more intriguing than one about a family of farmers).

Sorting through the many applications was not in my job description (and I was OK with that . . . I'd surely want to do them all!), but those who did make the selections were not always familiar with what sorts of things were likely to produce results. Finally we created a few guidelines: if a genealogist sent in a story that had been researched for over five years with no results, it was not likely that we would have success in the short period of time we had. Also, stories of adoption or unknown parents/fathers with no clues about names, dates, and places were most likely out of our realm (though we did have a few successes). We suggested that unprovable stories be avoided, but usually that still required some research to come up with that conclusion, so we did research a great many stories that ended up in limbo. It was frustrating at many times and often we went away from the question or story submitted by the applicant to see if we could come up with something, possibly unrelated, that would give the applicant a new perspective on his/her family.

Shortly after we began the research process, the casting director suggested a process to help us move through the case selection a bit quicker: take four to six hours per story to determine if it was workable. Now, many times we needed much less time to come up with that conclusion while many times we could have used a bit more - but stories were still coming in and requiring analysis (the last stories were literally received in the five days prior to the last filming day). Also, some applicants sent in over a dozen stories (each requiring four to six hours of analysis, unless some were intertwined with others). Decision-making time constraints probably means that some of the stories we might have addressed were not fully revealed and were passed over. I am sorry if that occurred.

From the Research Team to the Production Team

Once stories were researched and reports were written, they were posted on a website designed for use only by those on the different teams - research (us), casting (the first stop for the selection), and production (the ones who added the history, researched and wrote the "scripts," and verified anything that was questionable). The production folks then turned over what was to be addressed (some stories were less likely to be of interest to the audience and/or the applicant) in a written form for the on-air talent (D. Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry) to review, question, and get comfortable with so that they could introduce the applicants to their ancestors. That on-air talent used their own expertise in genealogy (which is extensive) to polish the things that may have been a bit unclear to the production team, but everyone worked together.

From Filming to Editing and Data to the Applicants

I was in communication with all levels, including the person who was responsible for putting the images together for the back stories and the family histories. But many, many more images were gathered than there could possibly be time to show on air. Applicants were sent packets of images and full reports of the research done (including sources) so they could continue the search on their own and/or hire a professional genealogist to proceed where the GR research team left off. And we did leave off . . . it was impossible to carry things as far as we could see they could go (usually, we included "suggestions for further research" in the reports).

Editing required a huge number of people working with sound, visual segues, syncing different takes, etc. None of the on-site filming was done in sound studios so the sound techs had their work cut out for them from balancing sound in an outdoor environment to filming done in old buildings with 30-foot ceilings!

So when you look at the videos of the show, please keep in mind that the different teams needed to put this together were extensive and dedicated. People put in many more hours than for which they were paid. They worked to make a program that would entertain, intrigue, and maybe even educate a general public for whom family history research is not yet a reality.

A reviewer in the New York Times suggested that the show is unnecessary since all the information found by the researchers could be located by anyone who is Internet savvy - it's all right there. I hope that some of the documents shown by Josh and Kenyatta will let people know that this is far from the truth. In future posts, I will detail some of the repositories and resources we used.

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