Genealogy on TV: I make a chart

I’m sure I’ll remember the first quarter of 2010 as a time of shoveling snowdrifts and watching genealogy programs on TV. (A classic case of taking the bad with the good.)

Now that Who Do You Think You Are? has kindly stepped in to replace the Faces of America fix, I was thinking the other day  about how interestingly different they are, beyond the obvious fact that each is about what family history research tells us. Since my inner nerd was roaring, I expressed myself in a chart.

Who Do You Think You Are? Faces of America
Cast size One celebrity. A dozen celebrities.
Pacing Emphasis on scope and sweep – a kind of Amazing Race with genealogy. Steady as she goes – time and care spent upon painting detailed portraits.
Graphics Striking and to the point. The genealogy charts that open each segment and the map sequences are very effective in summarizing the story’s progress in a nutshell. Beautifully lit interviews and effective use of vintage photos – attractive and also absorbing. Call it the Ken Burns effect.
Tone Very “Wow!” Revelations shock and dazzle. Very “How cool is that?” Like swapping stories with a fellow genealogy hound.

I could go on, but I hope you can see that I like both shows very much. They highlight two different benefits of family history research, both important.

Faces builds up more detail about how our individual stories flow into the broad currents of history. Who expertly captures the personal drama of uncovering the story of who stands in the shadows behind you.

And both, no doubt, will win new converts to genealogy as a hobby.

Note: If, like me, you end up with dueling children’s athletic events on the night Who Do You Think You Are is on, don’t forget you can watch episodes at NBC’s official site as well as at And Faces of America episodes are being posted at


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