Thoughts on the Helen Hunt episode and this season's WDYTYA
Let's take this past week's Helen Hunt episode. The episodes were largely biographical focuses on only two of her ancestors. Both ancestors were 19th century figures. While there was a brief mention of the 18th century in at least one of the lines, it was just barely mentioned. The emphasis seemed to be on history -- the gold rush and banking in the first part and the women's suffrage movement in the second. I must confess that I found more of interest in the first part although I know many enjoyed the second portion interesting.
I am a huge fan of putting flesh on your ancestors through the type of research that was done, but I'm missing the genealogical pursuit in this season's episodes. Even when the pursuit does go back many generations, such as in the Reba McEntire episode, they are handing the trees to the celebrities without showing the steps it took to get to that generation. I would love to see an episode where they actually documented the steps they took to get to these earlier generations. For example, in Reba's case, I had done earlier research on that Brasfield family of Monroe County, Mississippi because Susan and her children lived near my great grandfather's half-brother. I had followed their path back into Alabama and had seen that they had come from North Carolina, but when I discovered that they had been in the earlier counties at different times than my Thorntons, I quit pursuing the line. It would have been interesting to see the steps they took to get them to the specific county and earliest ancestors mentioned. Having done quite a bit of research in Mississippi and Alabama, I know that it is not always an easy process to locate the ancestors in the Carolinas. (In some cases, it's not as difficult, but in others, it can take a long time and a lot of case building and proof arguments to reach a conclusion.)
My other complaint with this season is that they begin re-runs before they've made it through the new episodes. I had the same complaint in the first season when they were showing the Sarah Jessica Parker episode repeatedly, and it was one of my least favorites of the season.
I've seen the posts showing how the ratings are lower this season than in previous ones. I've heard some say they prefer to wait until they can view it with fewer commercial interruptions. I had to watch one of the episodes online because tornadic activity in our area pre-empted the show. When I switched to the channel where they normally broadcast the NBC programming if they pre-empt the main channel for weather coverage, it wasn't showing. I found out that they started it a bit later, but the show was already in progress by that time, and I didn't want to join it already in progress. I've given up my usual Friday night activities just so I can be home to watch WDYTYA to try to boost the ratings, but I suspect a lot of people have not done this. However, I can't wonder if the real reason that the ratings are lower this season is because people are finding the series less engaging because people who have watched the earlier seasons have tried to find their family and have not had the success these celebrities have had because their ancestors are not magically popping up when they do a search. I remember one case where the person was searching for an ancestor, and the person typed in a different spelling than the manner in which the celebrity spelled his or her name. It is obvious the celebrity had been told how to type the name. Many of the new researchers don't know the tricks that more experienced researchers have up their sleeves.
It would be nice if local genealogical societies or libraries with genealogical collections could present programs that would address some of these issues to keep them interested in pursuing their family history. In some cases, the societies are inactive or non-existent. In some cases, they won't pay the money to bring in speakers who actually could bring the expertise to help people get over the the hurdles and their own local speakers lack that ability. The genealogical society in my county meets at a time when those of us who work cannot typically attend. Why in the world does a society hold its meetings at 1:00 on Thursday afternoons? It's obvious they are not interested in growing the society. I've been able to attend two of their meetings. In both cases, all they did was sit around and expect someone to ask them questions. I think I did ask them once why they held their meetings at 1:00 on Thursdays when no one could attend. I don't remember what their answer was, but it was nothing but an excuse. (The society in the next county over is much more active, but its meetings are held on the evening that I typically work.) I certainly did not have research questions for them. The county was one of the later counties to be formed so most of the records I really need are in the parent counties rather than the current one. I have no ancestors in the county so the only research I do in that county is what I am doing for clients. With bad meeting times and poor programming, they will never be able to reach those in our community who may be struggling with their attempts to research their family history.