18 February 2010

WDYTYA: Changing the world of genealogy!

Are you - or your genealogy society - ready to ride the wave generated by the US-version of Who Do You Think You Are?

The show - we hope - will create as much buzz for genealogy in the US as it did in the UK.

The British version created - with a captivated audience of millions of viewers - an entire popular genealogy industry.

Tracing the Tribe said, early on, that once the US version hit the airwaves, the same thing would likely happen here. Many of us remember what happened following the airing of the television series "Roots." WDYTYA may well create the Roots 2 phenomenon.

As genealogists, we (and our societies) need to be ready to ride the wave.

In addition to genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, archives, our friends and neighbors - if not already "into" family history - will be looking for answers to their questions.

The show - and the other family history shows now being screened - offers the genealogy community an opportunity to grow societies, increase membership, bring in younger audiences (the next "Generation Gen") as we help educate our communities and the general public on how to find information on their own unique family histories.

Writes Susanne, "this show presents the community with the opportunity to revolutionize, reshape and redefine family history as a whole."

Here are 10 ways in which genealogy societies can spotlight themselves and their resources, and inform members, friends, families and communities:

-- Post flyers, wallpaper, and more. Ancestry.com just launched a Spread the Word webpage with downloadable flyers, computer wallpaper and other ideas for everyone to tell let everyone know about the show.

-- Host a Who Do You Think You Are? premiere party. Invite members of your society and local community to watch the show’s premiere together on Friday, March 5 at 8/7c. Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers provides some great tips on hosting a viewing party. View those tips here.

-- Hold a society open house or workshop for beginners. Newcomers who catch the bug from the show want to know how to find their own histories.

-- Invite local media to your society’s premiere party, open house, or workshop. Local papers usually print news of community events.

-- Send an email to your society members. Spread the Word has a simple pass-along email with a video that includes the trailer and Lisa Kudrow speaking about what prompted her to produce the series.

-- Encourage society members to invite their friends. Who better to promote your event, the TV show, and your society than your society members - already passionate about family history -with networks of friends and family?

-- Prepare getting started materials for beginners. Print a one-page “Getting Started in Family History” guide that beginners can pick up at your event. Post the same information on your society’s website, blog or Facebook page. See below for beginners' tips.

-- Share the Who Do You Think You Are? trailer. Post a link to one of the Who Do You Think You Are? trailers on your society’s Facebook page, Twitter account, website or blog.

-- We all know the benefits of society membership. We just need to explain them to others!Programs, workshops, and community events - with enthusiastic audiences – will help understand why joining a society is a good thing. Consider membership discounts for those considering joining while the series is airing or for a specific time period following the series.

-- Brainstorm more ideas with your society members.

Beginner Tips

Tracing the Tribe remembers what it was like as a complete newbie trying to get a handle on the resources and putting together the pieces of the puzzle. It can be overwhelming when you don't really know where - or how - to begin. We can make it easier for newcomers with some “getting started” tips.

Start with what you know

The best place to start your family history journey is with information you already have. Create an online family tree (Tracing the Tribe recommends MyHeritage.com for many reasons, including privacy and safety, advanced features and more) and enter names, places and dates of birth for yourself, parents and grandparents. This is just the beginning - you can fill in the blanks as you go along.

Search historical records

We have so many online resources today, including Ancestry.com, JewishGen, SephardicGen, Footnote, NewspaperArchive, Genealogy Bank and hundreds of other sites. Help members and newcomers find family in historical censuses, military and immigration records, newspaper articles and other sources.

Ask family for more

Family history provides an opportunity for you to really talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Ask for stories, photos and other information. If you have senior relatives, run - do not walk - to interview them!

Add context to family story

Add and share photos, stories and important documents to your online family tree. Create timelines. Record interviews with relatives by phone, video them if in person, and save them wherever you have placed your family tree online.

Share family history

Share your history and heritage by inviting family members to visit your online family site. Give charts and reports as gifts for lifecycle events (baby, marriage, anniversary, etc.). You could also create a family history book, calendar, poster or other items.

Tracing the Tribe's personal tip

FamilyTreeDNA.com for genetic genealogy. Submitting samples of Y-DNA and mtDNA to the largest database in the industry means more opportunities for you and others to find matches.

There is a reason that nine out of 10 Jewish genealogists utilize FamilyTreeDNA.com. Within that largest sample database is also the largest Jewish database, essential for genealogists researching their Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestors.

The more samples in the database, the more opportunities to find matches and family separated by history and geography. The company's just-announced Family Finder will provide even more possibilities.

Until time machines become common household appliances, genetic genealogy is the best thing we have that to answer some questions about our ancestors.


  1. I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts on the Israeli version of the program, if you've seen it. I felt the first episode (Gabi Gazit) was quite good, but the second one (Tal Friedman) was a big disappointment. He seemed to be mocking the whole experience which I suppose is in keeping with his public persona.

  2. Hi, Amy,

    Just saw #3 tonight starring Ohav Knoller and it was excellent (Budapest-Czernovitz-Bukovina-Yad Vashem-archives-genuine tears-long lost cousins).

    I attended the media screening for Tal's episode. He was genuinely moved (he sat right in front of me and also spoke after the screening) by the entire experience and said so. I didn't see it as mocking the experience, but then everyone comes to this experience with different reasons to be involved. Tal was really hoping his family was Sephardic!

    Best wishes