A few years ago, my mother discovered a dangerously addictive, time-sucking website: Ancestry.com. She already knew quite a bit about both sides of her family, thanks to relatives who shared information and an amazing album her father’s father left, filled with photos of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, their names carefully written underneath in his distinctive script. Ancestry.com just opened up a door to thousands of other relatives we didn’t know existed.
I like to make fun of my mother (lovingly, of course) and her addiction to tracking down new fourth cousins twice removed. I’m interested in my family history, but not to the extent that I want to spend hours sifting through online documents. Now, I’m starting to think a bit differently, thanks to NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?
The show, sponsored un-surprisingly by Ancestry.com and now in its second season, airs Friday nights at 8 p.m. I found it a few weeks ago on a Sunday, when I was too lazy to function and the only thing I was capable of doing was search Verizon’s On Demand for something new to watch.
The premise of the show is to find out exactly where celebrities – including Lionel Ritchie, Tim McGraw, Steve Buscemi and Vanessa Williams – come from. The first episode I watched followed Rosie O’Donnell as she went from Jersey City (where she met some newly found relatives) to her ancestral homeland of Ireland, where she discovered – to her complete shock – that her great-great grandfather was so destitute, he and his family had to live in a giant, creepy looking dormitory where small children were separated from their families and taken to a different area. Eventually, they made it to North America, but Rosie, and viewers, were chilled to the bone seeing the inside of this now-abandoned, dilapidated building.
I had to watch more. I love a good mystery, and some of the episodes were more suspenseful than others. Kim Cattrall’s episode was my favorite, which I watched immediately after Rosie’s was finished. Her mother had been wondering for seventy years why her father had abandoned her, her mother, and two sisters when she was just a small girl living in England. Kim traveled from British Columbia where her mother lives to the Manchester area, where she discovered – to her horror – that her grandfather was a bigamist. After he left his family, he married a young woman and had several children with her, before ultimately moving the entire family to Australia. It was heart-wrenching to watch Kim deliver the news to her elderly mother and aunts, who were obviously shocked and hurt.
The fact that they were willing to share such private moments was astounding. If I had no idea about a certain relative, especially one that just up and abandoned their young family, I would be reluctant to learn the truth about them on camera. I’m a relatively private person, and I wouldn’t want anyone to know my family’s dark secrets. Are these people more brave than I am? Or just so curious to learn more about themselves that they’ll do whatever it takes to get the full story?
After I watched all the available On Demand episodes, I looked Who Do You Think You Are? up on the guide, and saw that the next new episode wasn’t until tomorrow night, when Steve Buscemi learns that his roots in Brooklyn don’t run that deep. I’m excited to catch the episode, and I think I’ll actually record it instead of wait for it On Demand.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s into this show! Do any of you watch? Are you a family history fanatic? While I still can’t see myself sitting side by side with my mother, plugging away on Ancestry.com, I do appreciate what she’s doing, and now better understand her excitement when she finds a missing birth date or a brand new relative.