Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Who Do You Think You Are?" - Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw's story tonight on Who Do You Think You Are? wasn't as compelling in some ways as that of Vanessa Williams -- free black versus slave family lines make for good drama -- but it was easier to find more direct parallels between McGraw's life and those of his ancestors.  Several of his ancestors pushed themselves and didn't play it safe, and he recognized some of that spirit in himself.  I admit I guessed the surveyor was George Washington as soon as McGraw asked about him, but that's because I remembered that Washington started out as a surveyor (a penchant for remembering weird little pieces of information comes in very handy when doing genealogical research).  The Elvis Presley connection was a surprise, though.  I would never have guessed the name started out as Presslauer.

The show overall followed formula.  It was nice to see McGraw start his search by talking to a relative.  It's possible his Uncle Hank might be the oldest family member still around (they didn't mention he played baseball also).  Then McGraw started gallivanting around the country -- Lee's Summit, Missouri; Rye Cove, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; Shenandoah Valley, Virginia; Washington, D.C.; New York City.  He spoke with a genealogist, several professors, a curator.  Records were ready and waiting for him at each stop.  The leaps made based on what was presented on screen were astounding, though I'm sure that the background research we didn't get to see backs it all up.  But it presents an unrealistic picture to viewers who don't understand how many hours that research took, and that most people don't go in person to every repository when doing research.

And of course, the ubiquitous references.  The genealogist who did not say, "Let's look for your ancestor in records," or "Let's look for your ancestor in the census," but who said, "Let's look on"  One of those particularly annoying commercials -- "You don't have to know what you're looking for, you just need to start looking."  If you don't know what you're looking for, how in the world will you know what it is when you find it?  It reminds me of a current Jack in the Box commercial, where Jack is explaining product placement to his wife.

I think my favorite parts of the episode were when McGraw was reading out loud, trying to puzzle out the centuries-old handwriting.  It certainly looked and sounded real as he stumbled over some of the words.  If it wasn't, please don't burst my bubble.

I'm going to go out on a limb here.  I predict that not one celebrity on this season of WDYTYA is going to do any real research of his own beyond talking to relatives, but that each one will simply visit repositories around the country and the world and find researchers who have everything prepared for him, ready to be handed to him on a figurative silver platter.

Of course, now that I've said that, it'll come back to bite me.  But you know what?  That's okay.  I would rather be proven wrong and have *someone* do some research of his own.


  1. On his father's side of the family, McGraw actually had the least to start with of the celebrities, since he was not raised with this part of the family, didn't have many family photos, etc. Of all the celebrities, I saw the most connections between my family and his, including GW connection (surveyed the land of one of my ancestors). I think I'd settle for just a few sentences on the difficulties encountered in finding the relevant documents.

  2. That is one of the most frustrating things about the program -- they make everything look easy, and we know it isn't! But I guess they think saying so would take away from the entertainment value.

  3. I can't see most celebs putting in the work to build a tree. They have the money to throw at someone to do that for them. I wish the show would not tell them anything though until they are filming. It's much more interesting to see a story unfold than for the commercials or intro to telegraph what is to be found out before one is even done watching. I would much rather see the celeb have to dig at least a little, or even see them interview some people for supplementary information.

    I thought this episode was rather boring. I did not understand how it was proven that the other family were ancestors of Elvis Presley. (Has the show already done that tree - is Lisa Marie slated for next season?) At least Tim wore gloves to handle one book, but another book he did not. It bugs me no end every time this show allows someone to handle old paper without wearing gloves! Most of us would never be allowed near any of that. Oh and Ashley Judd sitting on the ancient wood in Brewster's jail cell. Celebrity hands and bottoms damage archival materials just the same as anyone else's would.

  4. Thanks for your comments. They didn't show any of the research connecting the Presslauers to Elvis Presley, but as with everything else on this program, we have to assume that the behind-the-scenes research backs up what they say.

    As for using gloves to handle old paper, that is actually no longer the preferred practice. In general, it's better to handle paper without gloves, because you lose significant tactile sensation while wearing gloves and increase the chances of damaging the paper. The exception is when the paper is extremely fragile.


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