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.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Peeking behind the camera and production crews - GENEALOGY ROADSHOW

As I mentioned back in July, I was hired as the lead researcher for the new PBS television, Genealogy Roadshow. As of this date, two episodes have aired with two coming up on the next two Mondays (Oct. 7 & 14). As expected, many comments are being received by genealogists, bloggers, production people, the applicants to the show, and anyone who asks, "What did you think?" In some cases, there is just some venting about the errors noticed; in others, there are those who are trying to answer the complaints and concerns. I have tried to do the latter in various places - on blogs, on Facebook, and in person. But I am getting weary saying the same things. So I think it would be appropriate to try to do some mass responses to the concerns (and also accept any accolades sent my way). I do have to say that the issues that are addressable in any future seasons we might enjoy WILL be forwarded to the production folks, so please DO include questions and comments here . . . but I am a sensitive person so please be thoughtful about your wording and logical about your complaints (yes, it would have been nice if we could have taken the family line of an applicant back to the migration of a slave, but consider that we were asked to answer specific questions and our available work time and resources - no, no funding for a quick trip to Africa, darn - prohibited weeks and weeks of research).

OK, first of all, if you have not read the post below about my personal trek, shared with the amazing research team, please look at that first. From that, let us keep in mind that we were creating a television program (translation: entertainment) and, in spite of its position (on PBS), the educational focus was not intended to be more than a basic "these things can be found," not a step-by-step DIY. I know that a lot of genealogists wanted to know the "how was that done?" but that would be likely to bore the non-researchers in the audience (i.e., the bulk of the viewers) and cause the show to drop in the ratings. So a major issue was making it flashy, enticing, mysterious, exciting, and emotional. While those of us who would be thrilled with details on each step of the research may not be as enthralled by the moving graphics and views of onlookers' faces as the "average viewer," we have to ask, "what will encourage people to look into their own lineage?" A minority will say "show me dusty archives and hours of microfilms," it is the majority of the viewers that the show has to play to in order to (1) be sold in the first place and (2) be renewed for another season.

So, if the show doesn't change at all - that is, we continue with flashy images and focus on surprise findings, omitting the step-by-step I promise you occurred - would you prefer us to just forget it? Or should it be renewed and continued in an effort to reach those who have not even considered searching for their ancestors? And, hopefully, eliminate the faulty ideas "out there" (straight black hair does not mean Native American Ancestry, a surname shared with a famous statesman does not mean a relationship, a love of music/art/science does not mean that an ancestor was a renown musician/artist/scientist, etc.).

My hopes for the future season are, first, for their to BE a second season, and, second, for us to have a website that people can access for the step-by-step reports that we did prepare for the applicants. This would require permission from those applicants, at least for the names of any living individuals. But that is what I am pitching to the powers that be. Wish me luck. Meanwhile, in the next few weeks I hope to give some "behind the scenes" research info for the stories I did (and maybe my teammates will give theirs), but they have to be carefully handled as we are under a confidentiality agreement.

The Oct. 7 episode is the last one filmed (in San Francisco) and I will be on it (I understand), though only for a moment or two. And the Oct. 14 episode is the first one filmed (in Austin) . . . look closely and you may see a young man with a familiar surname.

OK, roll in those comments . . . let's work together to give the powers that be some great (and workable) ideas for the next season. And don't forget to email your PBS stations so that there will BE a next season.


  1. So how does one let PBS know they enjoyed the concept? I tried the PBS website, but couldn't find a feedback link.

    1. Thanks for asking. I meant to include this and forgot: http://www.pbs.org/about/contact/viewer-services/

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  3. Jean,

    Thank you for your work on Genealogy Roadshow! It's awesome!

    I want to let you know that two of your blog posts are listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/10/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-october-4.html

    Have a wonderful weekend!

  4. What might be an option is to have actual research logs posted that identify the public sources checked (and where they are located or accessed) and the next steps taken in the process. I think most of the genealogy crowd is interested in thought and research process taken and resources checked. It would allow more of the currently active researchers to both benefit and understand how the exciting conclusions were reached. It is hard to please both audiences but since most professional and novice researchers use a log to perform the steps to arrive at a conclusion, they would both understand and appreciate this very novel facet of a program. This gives us an education about new sources we can check in our own searches by watching the experts "work" and think through the problems. I think it would be extremely popular in the genealogy community as well as showing a more realistic amount of effort needed to the inquiring viewer (a common complaint in the genea-community about the TV genealogy shows). I would think this would also be much less invasive of personal guest details found in the initial presentation of problem and summary which would be best viewed on the show. Love the show myself as it is, but would really appreciate the educational component of the research logs.

    1. This is a great idea. I will present it to the powers the be. And it would show what was sought, where, but with no results. Thanks for the idea!

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