About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 25 times over and a great-grandmother of 19. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega with Genealogy Journeys where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that can be found at http://genaandjean.blogspot.com and more about my own business projects is on my Circlemending website.

Friday, October 4, 2013

What resources were used to investigate stories for GENEALOGY ROADSHOW?

The continuing belief, which many people have, that an individual's family history is all there on the Internet, just waiting to be uncovered, does cause many genealogists to snicker. Really? Of course, commercials, such as those from a large company that is well-known as the most popular pay genealogy site, perpetuate that rumor. And it can be hard to counteract that belief . . . but we keep trying.

When I was hired as the lead genealogist for Genealogy Roadshow, that was the belief of the folks who planned the show, and they were a bit surprised when I said we would have to enlist the help of others in varying locations to pull records and take photos, but they accepted my assessment when I explained the types of records available on line as compared to those that are not. And, I have to admit, they were impressed with some of the sources we were able to access (via other genealogists around the world), so we got that myth of "everything is on line" expunged. At least in house.

But we did use the Internet, of course. We were able to get a lot of information from Ancestry.com, FindMyPast, Archives.com, Fold3, FamilySearch, FindAGrave, GenealogyBank, and many others. We contacted libraries, archives, museums, the Family History Library, NARA facilities (at least four different locations), individual research experts, and more. And we were able to talk to and email the applicants for information (note: the applicants were NOT told what progress we were making or even given an idea of whether or not there was any validation to their stories until they were on camera).

Of course we used Census records (state, federal, military, slave, etc.), city directories, vital records, military and pension records, immigration and naturalization documents, wills and probate documents, deeds, family letters/journals, etc., and anything we could access. Many of these items are not found on the Internet. But even many of those required some sleuthing techniques to uncover (different name spellings, browsing microfilmed books for a record that could have been generated on any date within a certain time span, handwriting interpretation - in any of a number of different languages, knowledge of research techniques that vary depending on the record format, etc.). The amount of education required to know how to do this is extensive - our research experts are all well-versed in research techniques that have been learned over decades and by attending courses, workshops, webinars, seminars, and lectures, plus reading help books, syllabi, etc. And, at the same time, being in a constant "learning" mode, since new websites, search formats, and other technology are developed to make our resource searches more effective and time-efficient, and we need to be ready to change approaches as the situation warrants.

So, what resources were used to investigate stories for GR? Every ones we could get our hands on or get others to access. And networking with each other, including the production team, to make the best use of time and resources, was of prime importance. We were a team and we used each other, down the line, to help each other. Our different skills were of access to each other. I would not say, "Don't try this at home" - because that's a great place to try it! I would say, "Don't try this by yourself" - use the networking option and ask for help! I'm really glad I did!


  1. I been disappointed in the cheap commercial feel of this PBS program. You are so right that it promotes the appearance, originating in Who Do You Think You Are, that family history research is all fast, online & there for the asking. I get it that thorough, arduous, brick-walled research is not interesting to watch. But for a Public Broadcasting program, it is light on education & large on amusement. As a participant in PBS "Viewers LIke You" focus group, I've seen the language "the big reveal". Is this PBS or HGTV? As I say, disappointing.

    1. They are still focusing on a general audience. Much of the research is definitely not on line, but it isn't clear what is from on line sources and what is not. Maybe next season they'll let us have a website to tell the back story for those like you (and me) what with went into things. I understand your disappointments, but the final appearance is truly out of my hands. I will pass asking your concerns, tho.

  2. Hi Jean - my husband and I were under consideration for the Nashville show and were told we would be provided with a copy of the genealogy research done. Is it possible you can help with ensuring that we do get a copy? Thanks!

    1. Please email me with your last name and I'll check to see if there is anything we have. I know some things have not been sent because of a miscommunication as to who was =1supposed to do it! They cut most of us from payroll before this had been done so confusions shouldn't surprise me. Email me at jean@circlecending.org