Going into this week’s episode of Finding Your Roots I wanted to approach viewing the series from a different angle as I watch each episode. With many of the programs similar to this the central theme is based around the genealogy of celebrities.
I asked the question is this the element of the programs that make them successful? At the various shows core is basic genealogy that those of us who conduct research are familiar, nothing new! However there must be something that make these programs viable and have advertisers, sponsors and various donor foundations contributing what I have to believe are sizable sums of money to keep them on television.
With this week’s show “In Search of Our Fathers” the basics of genealogical research didn't change from one guest to the other and the fact that all were celebrities with different backgrounds the other thing that was compelling to their story in my opinion was the fact each knew very little about their father and until approached by Professor Gates, they didn't seem motivated enough to conduct research on their own to satisfy any curiosity they had on their father or their paternal ancestors.
This made me consider even more how much does this attitude pervade our society? We all have people in our own family who may not have as intense an interest in the family genealogical history and they go on to have “successful” lives without this knowledge.
Yet what we saw last night with the new found knowledge of their fathers each guess was emotionally touched by the information. What is it about us as people that we resist knowing our ancestors yet have in the back of our mind the need and longing to know that history that in many cases was never told to us as we grew up?
As a “family historian” I’m keenly aware of the various fields of study that go into thoroughly researching genealogy; census records, geography, law, computer science, graphic arts, photography, writing, research, library science and the list goes on with the many disciplines old and new that help me become a “good” researcher.
That should not be an adequate reason for these people to accomplish so much in their lives and still have that void of who their ancestors were and what their lives were like. Certainly we saw that lives circumstances made them gaining knowledge challenging.
It had to one of the major causes for Courtney Vance’s father taking his life, not knowing who his birth mother and father were? It had to wear on Stephen King that his mother did not mention his father after he left them when King was such a young age. With Gloria Reuben having a father who was elderly when she was born, she had to have felt robbed of his presence as a child growing up.
Despite all of the adversity of their childhoods all three thrived but clearly had a void that was healed just a little bit when provided with just the smallest bits of their father’s stories. So again, what is it that makes these shows, these stories so compelling to watch when all it is is basic genealogy?