Some of my favorite TV shows are historical documentaries and I am also a big fan of several genealogy shows that have been on – too sporadically for me. A search to see how I could re-watch some of them turned up even more shows that I’d never heard of, and a number of them are still available to watch on various subscription TV services or online. I was surprised to find at least 11 series with various numbers of episodes listed in a recent online article on the Family Tree Magazine website, including one that will be starting next week (May 19, 2020)!
In the past I have watched these shows because I’m interested in the historical search, no matter whose family it is, but I found I was also learning about resources and techniques I had not used in my own search.
In one instance, I had a “gee, I AM a professional-caliber researcher” moment when the host suggested searching for other family members (especially in census records) if the person you are looking for isn’t showing up. While helping a library patron use Ancestry Library Version to locate family in a 20th century census record, we couldn’t find them where she was sure they would be. Finally I said, “This daughter is young enough to still be with her parents and her name is rather distinctive – let’s look for her” Bingo – we found the family on the first try in the city where they were supposed to be. The parents were Italian immigrants and had given the enumerator the nicknames they were using while my patron was searching for them by their given names. She didn’t remember hearing her ancestors’ nicknames until we found them in the census records.
The first American genealogy series premiered in March 2010 on NBC. Who Do You Think You Are U.S. was based on the British BBC series by the same name that had been airing since 2004. The BBC version spawned shows in seventeen other countries around the world. For this article I’m focusing on the U.S. shows that I could find TV or web services to watch them on. If you are interested in trying to track down some of these other countries’ versions, I found a list in the Who Do You Think You Are British TV series article on Wikipedia. Warning: they’re probably not in English.
These shows’ producers helped famous people search for ancestors by guiding them to cities or towns where their ancestors lived, to meet with history and genealogy professionals who found original documents with information about their ancestors and sometimes took them or directed them to a location where their ancestor lived.
After being on NBC for three years the show was on the TLC channel for the next seven seasons. It was announced in 2019 that it would be returning to NBC but I haven’t found any information on the start date. There are lots of episodes available on YouTube.com. I found that even searching for “Who Do You Think You Are U.S.” gets results scrambled with the British and Australian versions, and there are full-length episodes, but also a lot of short trailers available. I could not find any episodes available on Netflix; Amazon Prime offers seasons 8, 9, and 10 included in a Spectrum subscription (it didn’t specify what kind of subscription) and when I checked Amazon.com I found various seasons of the U.S. and British shows available on DVDs or as downloads for various costs.
NBC has added two new genealogy programs to their Saturday morning The More You Know time block. Both shows focus on everyday people and their target audience is teens. I enjoyed watching both, but the focus is more on the discoveries and less on the sources of information and search techniques. Roots Less Traveled partners two family members who may not know each other well, and with show host Faruq Tauheed they travel to places their ancestors have lived while learning more about them.
A New Leaf is hosted by Daisy Fuentes and focuses on a different young person’s search for their family heritage in each episode.
PBS has produced an assortment of genealogy and genealogy-related shows. Finding Your Roots with host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. has aired for six seasons starting in spring 2012. He and his staff help well-known people in each episode to trace their ancestors in history. Season six is projected to run from October 2019 to October 2020, with two episodes in October 2019, eight episodes starting in January 2020 and six episodes starting in October 2020.
Dr. Gates has also hosted two series previous to this in 2006 and 2008, African American Lives and Faces of America. He has also produced at least five other TV programs or series about black history, mostly with PBS.
Genealogy Roadshow was on for three seasons starting in 2013. It has the same format as Antique Roadshow. People who have sent in an application for research attend a show at various historically significant places in the U.S. to have their requests researched by genealogy experts. Several people’s stories and new information are highlighted in each episode, along with the techniques used.
BYUtv, a free cable TV channel owned and operated by Brigham Young University, offers three genealogy shows. Ancestors is a two-season, 23-episode series that covers topics in how to research your family trees and shows some segments of people on their own genealogy journey.
The Generations Project aired for three seasons from 2010 to 2012 and consists of 38 episodes. The show focuses on genealogy experts helping everyday people looking for family and family history.
Relative Race is a twist on the usual find-my-family genealogy show. Four teams of two compete for a money prize while looking for relatives and learning their family history. They are guided by a host and staff to their discoveries. I found adding contests to the show a bit odd, but after watching two episodes of season five, I can’t wait to watch the rest of the season to see how it all works out for the contestants’ searches for their family members and history.
Next door, in Canada, a series focused on searching for “regular” peoples’ family history ran sporadically. It appears from the listing on www.imdb.com that Ancestors In The Attic aired 15 episodes in their first season beginning in October 2006. Season two had 11 episodes, season three had two episodes, and IMDB lists one episode (#7) for season four. I found segments from a few episodes on YouTube.com but re-runs seem to have disappeared from TV sources.
On Tuesday May 19, 2020, ABC will premiere a new series, The Genetic Detective. Genetic genealogist CeCe Moore will help solve crimes with DNA reports.
We all have been dealing with the stresses of self- or family-isolation and maybe you’ve taken the opportunity of having some extra spare time to do genealogy research and gotten to the point if wanting to take a break. (It happens sometimes) This may be just the time to find a couple of episodes of one of these shows and just enjoy – but keep a notepad handy for notes in case an interesting search technique is mentioned!
Have fun binging!