“Who Do You Think You Are?”: Two Top Genealogical Resources

By Diane Haddad

Here, our “Who Do You Think You Are?” reporter Shannon Combs Bennett shares her favorite genealogical resources highlighted in last night’s “best of” episode:

Sunday’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” episode was a first for the series. As the narrator explains at the beginning, “This is the best of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’… the most shocking discoveries … most moving moments … never-before-seen clips… secrets, intrigues and lots of white gloves.”

And it was. I laughed. I cried. I gasped. I relived some of my favorite moments over the last six seasons and was excited to see new ones.

The show touched on so many episodes that it would be difficult to capture them all here. (You can see all the Genealogy Insider’s posts about past episodes; just note that some of the videos embedded in these old posts are no longer available.)

But I did notice the educational moments inserted into the series, which makes my genealogist heart happy. While episodes usually have segments giving historical background to help viewers place guests’ ancestors in context, we don’t hear a lot of background about how to use the records shown. Two of my favorite pointers from last night’s episode discussed:

  • Census records: The show called the census the “workhorse of documents.” It’s easy to agree with him on that description. Usually the first record set genealogists consult, censuses can be extremely useful. In addition to the annual US population schedule, enumerators sometimes recorded population subsets (such as manufacturers or those who’d died in the year prior to the census) in nonpopulation censuses. Our US Census Workbook is a thorough guide to finding and using your ancestors’ US census records.
  • Newspaper research: Newspapers can give you hard-to-find information on everything from scandals to marriage dates, and they can show you the communities your ancestors lived in. You see old newspapers in episode after edpisode. It’s like looking through a window into your predecessors’ society and times. The free Chronicling American website is a good place to start newspaper research, and try our video class Three Cool Tools for Finding Your Family History in Newspapers.

Other segments reviewed episodes involving slavery, military endeavors and royal connections (with quite a few parchment scrolls unrolled). Over the past six seasons, there certainly were many of these stories sprinkled in. Many were shocking. Many were jaw dropping. All reminding us that we can have amazing stories in our family sprinkled with the unsavory and shocking.

The show’s website now has a cool interactive map (shown above) you can use to retrace celebrity guests’ journeys through video highlights, recaps and photos.

The show closed with some of the most moving reunions of celebrities with long lost relatives. My two favorites were Lisa Kudrow and Rita Wilson, who met family members in their ancestral homelands. Capturing such joy was the best of endings. I think many of us want to have reunions like this.

Next week at 9/8 Central on TLC, we’ll watch actor Bryan Cranston’s journey to discover his paternal roots.