Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Only A Small Part Of The Story
Recently, TLC brought back the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” My wife and I enjoy watching the weekly episodes and learning about the interesting family histories that some celebrities are willing to share with the world. Seeing the reactions on the faces of those people can also be just as intriguing as we both know that feeling well of when something unexpected is discovered.
However, for me there has always been something missing. One of the fascinating aspects of genealogy for me has been the vastly different stories that our ancestors have. Many times, if you trace enough lines, you can find your ancestors in opposition whether it may be north against south, Indian versus settler, or some other means of conflict. These are the stories that shape us.
We are shaped by all our ancestors and the lives that each one of them lived both the remarkable and the ordinary. Sometimes it is more about the place rather than the person that adds depth and understanding. For instance, knowing that one of my ancestors came from Alsace Lorraine region in France by considered himself and was recognized upon immigration as German adds an interesting complexity to my ancestor’s life and to our family history.
Do we consider ourselves only German as our ancestor did or do we more accurately consider ourselves both? This is the kind of interesting internal question that really doesn’t have an answer as it is nearly impossible to balance the considerations from an ancestor’s life and how they view themselves with the facts that shape the world around them. This is the type of question that is frequently missing from the series.
During each episode the story of discovery is fascinating but it is by no means an accurate depiction of the process. Anyone who has done any kind of in depth genealogy understands the time and energy it takes to sometimes find just one item. Generation after generation the tedious process repeats until finally, after countless cycles the leaves of the tree begin to come into focus.
There are times when information is readily available, especially with the constantly expanding digital databases like ancestry.com, but that is still not the norm as many records remain confined to paper or microfilm. When you have to sort through piles of paper and reels of film in order to find a single document you have a much deeper appreciation of your heritage and you hold fast to the knowledge that you had to earn. It was not given to you in front of a camera; you had to work for the information, you had to sweat to find out who you are.
That is what is missing from this show. It is not about being handed your family history, it is about earning your heritage and connecting with your ancestors. That is how you truly find out who you are.
Many of you in the states may have missed this episode about J.K. Rowling as it is part of the UK series of the same name so I thought I would share it will all of you. There are subtle differences between the UK and US but they are equally entertaining. Enjoy!