Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Not my reality

I freely confess that I enjoy watching the Who do you think you are television series. I like the British original, I loved the local SBS version, and I even watch the American episodes.

But I was concerned to read a piece that referred to the series as forming part of the continuing passion for reality television.

Reality? The shows are entertaining and, at times, quite informative but they have nothing to do with the real world of how I do family history.

How many of the celebrity hosts who began by chatting to a close family member encountered anyone who said any of the following?

  • Why on earth would you be interested in all that?
  • They will still be dead when you finish, you know.
  • There were a lot of photos, but who knows where they are now.
  • Mum and Dad didn't talk about that much.
  • But what if you find someone awful in our past?

Then they fire up the website of this.season.sponsor.com and search on-line resources. Have you noticed that each ancestor's details appear in exactly the order they are needed? No-one ever has a cousin of the same name to confound the issue. There is no such thing as a variant spelling after the sixteenth century.

Next it is off to the archives to view the few(?) sources that have not yet been captured for viewing over the interwebs. The microfilm or packet of fiche that is needed is always available and there is never a wait to use the good reader. When the document is found (amazingly always near the beginning of the roll) there is not a single frame that is skewed, out of focus, too dark or shows a torn page.

And then we have the segment that really irks me. In the field, at a site significant to the history, we meet a local expert who offers some general background before opening the envelope to reveal a "document we found". Most of us can only dream of that.

Somewhere in the vaults of the producers there must be a whole lot of preliminary research on the family history of actors, sportsmen and other celebrities whose tale did not make it to air. I wonder would it be worse to be told that the program would not proceed because the evidence needed cannot be whipped up in the required timeframe, or that there are plenty of documents to show that your family was really ordinary and boring?

Which gives me an idea for the next big hit. Watch our for the 2013 series of Why do you think we care?

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