Family History

Genealogy TV

The “grandfather” of a modern flat-screen television. Television programs can help you trace your family history. Image via Creative Commons.

The “grandfather” of a modern flat-screen television. Television programs can help you trace your family history. Image via Creative Commons.

Reality television meets family history in BYUtv’s competitive, family-finding program, Relative Race. The unscripted series, which recently aired its third season, follows four teams in search of relatives they have never met, but with whom they share DNA. By tackling clues, challenges, and our country’s interstate freeways, they eventually meet their family members face to face, all over a ten-day ‘race.’ Some discover distant cousins, but some find pieces of themselves as they meet biological parents and siblings. Finding family is the true emotional payoff in this series, but a bonus is the chance to finish first and win $50,000.

Relative Race is not the only family history-based television series on the air. Over the last six years PBS has introduced Genealogy Roadshow and Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. TLC currently airs the popular Who Do You Think You Are?

Genealogy Roadshow bills itself as “part detective story and part emotional journey.” It features people from a variety of cities—people who want to explore family myths and stories that have been passed down through the generations, in particular, stories that may connect them with famous Americans or historic events. Experts use DNA, family heirlooms, pictures, letters, and historical documents to uncover the truth. Even local historians get involved and some of the answers are revealed at sites relevant to the city where events took place.

A medieval genealogy tracing lineage back to Adam and Eve. Image courtesy of National Library of Wales.

A medieval genealogy tracing lineage back to Adam and Eve. Image courtesy of National Library of Wales.

Each episode of Finding Your Roots highlights three celebrities and their family histories. They untangle family myths, uncover secrets, and often find connections to famous (or infamous) people and historical events through a paper trail and DNA. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. admits his quest is to “get into the DNA of American culture.”  He has deep roots in genealogical-programming with shows like African American Lives and Faces of America, which were precursors to Finding Your Roots.

Who Do You Think You Are? also focuses on celebrities, with each of its episodes generally following one line of an individual’s family tree. The subject travels from place to place, often overseas if that’s where the research takes them. They learn about their ancestors with the help of trained genealogists and historians at libraries, cemeteries, archives and the like. Ancestry.com is part producer of the series that premiered its tenth season in May.

As we follow the emotional journeys of others finding their roots and making connections with ancestors they once knew very little about, the spirit of Elijah can kindle similar desires in us to begin our own family history journeys.

Where to view these series:

Relative Race: https://www.byutv.org/relativerace

Genealogy Roadshow: http://www.pbs.org/genealogy-roadshow/home/

Finding Your Roots: http://www.pbs.org/weta/finding-your-roots/home/

Who Do You Think You Are?: http://www.tlc.com/tlcme/who-do-you-think-you-are-returns/

Find Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s recent RootsTech keynote presentation at:

https://www.rootstech.org/video/general-session-2018-dr-henry-louis-gates-jr

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