Its ancestry may go back to Ireland, but the new PBS series “Geneaology Roadshow” will remind public television viewers of a cross between “Antiques Roadshow” and “History Detectives.”
Like those series, “Genealogy Roadshow,” which begins tonight, travels around the country to help solve mysteries with historical roots.
Inspired by a popular Irish series called “The Genealogy Roadshow,” the U.S. versions begins in Nashville and travels to Austin, Detroit and San Francisco.
Though there have been other TV shows involving genealogy, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and Henry Louis Gates’ “Finding Your Roots,” those shows dealt with celebrities.
Executive producer Stuart Krasnow, from his home base in Los Angeles, says, “The two things I liked about the concept for this show are you didn’t have to be famous to be on the show and you had to have a very specific question. If you have people on who just say, ‘I want to find out everything about myself,’ I’m not so sure I want to watch that show.”
Segments in the Nashville episode include an African American woman who wants to know if there are white people in her family, specifically a past state governor; a woman who wonders if she can trace her ancestors back to the American Revolution; and another woman who thinks she’s related to Jesse James.
What’s striking is how much of American history is wrapped up in finding the answers to these questions. Issues of raxce, segregation, rebellion and immigration are woven into these stories.
Genealogists Joshua Taylor and Kenyatta Berry explain to both the people onscreen and viewers how they’ve tracked down family connections.
In the Nashville episode, a man who likes to dress up as Davy Crockett believes he’s descended from the pioneer.
“Davy Crockett is always on the top 10 or 20 list of people to be related to,” says Taylor, also calling from Los Angeles. “It’s incredible how these famous figures become these sought-after ancestors.”
Other popular names from history that people wonder if they’re related to, says Taylor, include Pocahontas, Abraham Lincoln and anyone who sailed to America on the Mayflower.
With four episodes completed, the crew of “Genealogy Roadshow” is waiting to see how the show is received and if PBS orders more episodes.
If that happens, Krasnow and Taylor share an idea for a future episode.
“I have relatives in Oregon,” says Krasnow. “It’s such a rich place for a show like this. Hopefully, if we get another order of episodes, we can come there.”
Taylor echoes that enthusiasm. “I would love to do research in Portland,” he says. “I’m interested in the Native American populations that were there. And anywhere that’s near the ocean and that has an open port has fascinating immigration stories.”
For people who can’t wait for “Genealogy Roadshow” to come to Portland, Taylor has some do-it-yourself suggestions.
“You can go to findmypast.com, and do a quick search. Or if you want to get a more personal experience, find a local genealogical society.”
Taylor recommends consulting the Website for the Federation of Genealogical Societies (fgs.org) to find a society near you.
“Go to a meeting, learn how to do the research. It’s a great one-on-one way to get involved.”
“Genealogy Roadshow” premieres Monday night at 9 p.m. on PBS (10).
– Kristi Turnquist