The Seneca County Genealogical Society
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    Who Do You Think You Are   -
    Meshing Your Genealogical Programs With TV’s Programs
    2011 Annual ALA Conference:  New Orleans
    June 24, 2011
    Rebecca B. Hill, Head Librarian
    Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Library
    Fremont, Ohio

              The popular NBC TV show, Who Do You Think You Are?, aired in early 2010. It traced the family histories of various celebrities showing how their roots could be searched via various genealogical tools. Other TV programs include Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates and The Generations Project from BYU (online). These shows can provide  an opportunity to showcase your library’s collections. Becky Hill spearheaded a series of programs for her local genealogical society which took the concept and applied it to their county, choosing to research the family history of local “celebrities”.  Three programs were given in the Fall of 2010 with two more planned for the Fall of 2011. This session explains who were chosen, how we did the research and ran the program and what kind of feedback we received from the community.  Libraries could do the same kind of program, on their own or working with their local society, and highlight their collections.


    I.             Beginnings

    A.    An officer of Seneca County Genealogical Society, Steve Frank, suggested doing one program highlighting Seneca County (Ohio) people

    B.   Committee of 3 members set up, picked up 4th member later in year.

    C.   Snowballed into 4 separate programs in one year.


    II.            Committee

    A.   Decided to do local “celebrities”. Various people discussed- priest, sports people, etc. – decided on Tiffin mayor, local State Representative, and Tiffin newspaper feature writer (hoping for good press coverage).

    B.   Contacted each person for permission and eventually met with each one, finding out what they knew already about their families and what they would like to know.

    C.   After doing some preliminary research, we decided that we would have too much material and needed one program for one person. Set them up for Sept., Oct. and Nov. 2010

    D.  We divided up the labor for all three programs, usually along the paternal and maternal lines. Gave ourselves April thru Sept. to do the research.


    III.          Research

    A.    Different members used different methods  - I used my library’s resources a lot, along with and other online sites, e.g. Ohio Obituary Index,, USGenWeb, FindaGrave, Heritage Quest, Footnote, Newspaper Archives and even Google.

    B.   Other researchers use library books, society publications, word-of-mouth, local connections, visits to farms, cemeteries, etc. taking pictures when appropriate.

    C.   Online networking – One of the researchers was successful in placing queries in appropriate mail lists, etc. and finding people in local towns to help, including a Calif. priest who was visiting Salt Lake City and spent a day working on our lines and a person in another town who took a photo of a stained glass window in a church in memory of one of the celeb’s ancestors.

    D.  We  entered the data in genealogical software, gedcom-ing each other.  I combined the committee’s efforts into a RootsMagic program – one file per celeb.


    IV.          Format of programs

    A.   For each session, the celeb was introduced and asked what they knew and would like to find out about their ancestor, we would then give our findings, summarizing each line at the end of presentation and gave them a binder of info. on their family, then the celeb would give their reaction to the research, followed by Q & A and lots of refreshments. We tried to keep each program to about an hour plus socializing time.

    B.   Each program was given by at least 2 members of the committee.  I introduced the celeb, usually started the program, and concluded it.  We usually did a  PowerPoint presentation, other times we just projected an image on the screen; we were connected to the internet so we could actually use the web live if needed.  Some stories were told with no illustrations.

    C.   Each subject was given a 3-ring binder of family info. we had accumulated which included pedigree charts and narrative reports printed out from RootsMagic, with the documentation divided up into the four major family lines. This included obits, census records, maps, pension records, death certificates, etc., a CD with the PowerPoint presentation on it, along with gedcoms.

    D.  Also liked to have some 3 dimensional material if possible – Hayes Museum had artifacts from one family that I could bring to program (a Revolutionary War-era sword and tomahawk), published family history books celebs were not aware of, surprise guests.

    E.   We publicized before each program in the usual outlets; emphasizing the Who Do You Think You Are angle which people easily recognized, had a member take photos at each program to be used in press releases afterward.


    V.            Bonus program

    A.    After completing the 3 programs, we decided to give another one – in Feb. when the weather is difficult and it is hard to get speakers.  This one would be a panel discussion given by the committee members showing the various genealogical tools and methods used by them to do the research.

    B.   We had an online connection to show websites used.


    VI.         Lessons learned

    A.   One program per celeb.

    B.   Have one person oversee programs to make sure all are treated equally, but use various members to do research. Different people use different research techniques – there is not one right way to do research. Gets more people involved. Be sure you keep the quality and format about the same. One celeb shouldn’t be shortchanged

    C.   Announce lines being researched ahead of time at meetings so if members are related they can add their findings. (For Societies)

    D.  We tried to have the presentations videoed, but found it was more difficult than we anticipated. Might want to contact local TV or universities for help.  Hard to get a good video when you are giving a PowerPoint presentation of documents, tombstones, etc. in a darkened room. Needs to be edited for best results.

    E.   Do research on people (celebs) with a variety of backgrounds  - some with deep county roots, others with out-of-county roots.  Don’t do all German Catholics or all WASPS, for example – mix it up, if possible. and indispensable when researching beyond immediate area.

    F.   Designate someone to take photos.

    G.  Doing the first program on the feature writer of the local paper helped get us more press for the following sessions.

    H.  EASY to get carried away and spend a lot of time on this research.  Get stuck on a brick wall? Put it down and complete another line if possible. Pace yourself and don’t burn out. 


    VII.       Outcomes

    A.    The tie in with the Who Do You Think You Are TV show generated an interest with the general public about family history.

    B.   This series brought in new faces  - some because of the TV shows, some because of their relation to the celebrity.  It was an easy concept to promote. We did gain new members for the Society.

    C.   This series invigorated and increased our society’s membership and increased attendance.  Gave participants ideas on how to do research, with what tools, and also gave them incentive to do their own.

    D.  It took up 4 slots of the 9 programs we have annually.  As program chair, this is a good thing.  Inexpensive. Society should help volunteer researchers with their expenses.

    E.   SCGS will repeat in 2011.

    1.   Will be running a raffle to have the committee do the winner’s genealogy.

    2.   Could also use local businesses for some help- received some offers of support from a local framing shop and graphics business. Possible use - print out and frame a newly discovered family photo.

    F.   The afterglow following each program was really heartwarming.  The celebrity and their family were very grateful for the work done and the rest of the audience were abuzz with the findings.  Follow-up publicity was also enthusiastic.


    VIII.     A.  “Who Do You Think You Are” -  Shown Jan – April 2011;  renewed;  rerun later in the year.

    Episodes can be watched online.

    B. “Faces of America” -  ; some segments available online.  Also African American Lives – on video.

     C.  Generations Project” - - online only;  regular people, not celebrities are featured.

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