Check Out This Genealogy Programming for TV

by , under Television, Who Do You Think You Are

You probably know that in recent years there have been numerous programs on television about genealogical and family history research.  The other day, I did a Google search for “genealogy on tv” and was rewarded with a surprisingly large number of “hits.” Many involved “Who Do You Think You Are?” the series that recently concluded its 2014 schedule on TLC Network.

Finding Your Roots

In one “hit” in my Google search, I learned that a new season of “Finding Your Roots with Dr.  Henry Louis Gates” starts on September 23 on PBS. The first episode includes horror novelist Stephen King, actor Courtney B. Vance, and Canadian actress-singer Gloria Reuben.

“Finding Your Roots” is a PBS-TV series that explores race, culture, and identity through genealogy and genetics. You may know that Dr. Gates hosted the network’s past genealogy programs: “African American Lives I & II” and “Faces of America.”

The PBS Series will return Tuesday, September 23 for its second season. The 10-part series explores the heritages and ancestries of 30 of today’s leading entertainers, athletes, chefs, and media personalities, including Ben Affleck, Jessica Alba, Khandi Alexander, Tom Colicchio, Tina Fey, Sally Field, Derek Jeter, Stephen King, Nas, Anna Deavere Smith, Sting, and Courtney Vance. The series is scheduled to run every Tuesday through November 25th. Check your local PBS listings for times.

Dr. Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. In the upcoming 10-part season, Professor Gates continues his journey into the past to illuminate the familial histories of 30 of today’s most recognizable names in sports, music, film, television, theatre, and literature

Viewers can view production notes for Finding Your Roots from researchers on the series and even watch past episodes by going to

This is one of the wonderful things about television and the Internet today. You can often access programming you missed during the original broadcast on network or program websites.

Who Do You Think You Are?

WDYTYA, the acronym for “Who Do You Think You Are,” originally was aired by NBC Television in the 2010-2012 seasons. Then it was picked up by TLC Network and slotted in its summer programming last summer and recently concluded its 2014 six-episode summer schedule in August. The subjects of this series included Cynthia Nixon, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Rachel McAdams, Valerie Bertinelli, Kelsey Grammer, and Minnie Driver.

We’ll offer some details from the episode on Minnie Driver, which closed out the 2014 season, as an example of what has been included in the 2014 season programs. Minnie sets out to learn more about her secretive father and traces the highs and lows of his career in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Through military documents, she comes to understand why her father was the way he was, and how his combat experience impacted the rest of his life. Then, since Minnie never met her paternal grandparents, she follows the trail in England until she comes face-to-face with the very first relative she’s ever met on her father’s side, and finds a kindred spirit in a family member she never knew about.

Some of the cities/locations visited include: Minnie’s home, Malibu, CA; Minnie’s mother’s apartment, West London, UK; Brooklands Museum, Weybridge, Surrey, UK; Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London, UK; Rockside Hall, Matlock, Derbyshire, UK; Stockton Central Library, Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, UK; Eileen Wiper’s home, Darlington, Durham, UK; Middlesbrough Central Library, Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, UK; Stockport Plaza Theatre, Stockport, Greater Manchester, UK; and Minnie’s home, Hollywood Hills, CA.

If you wish to go back and view some of this WDYTYA programming, you can go to the website The header for this web page has a button promising Full Episodes, but most of what I found were short segments from the various episodes. If you drill down into the website (use the Load More button at the bottom of the page), you can find clips and episodes from last season as well.

The easiest way to learn who was featured in previous seasons, including those on NBC, is to go to the comprehensive listing on Wikipedia at

The Generations Project

The programming described above focuses on the genealogies of celebrities. If you want to watch programming about research by regular folks, and if you have access to the cable channel BYU TV, you might want to watch or record episodes in a series called The Generations Project. It will be rebroadcast beginning on September 17 at 1:30 pm. BYU TV is the television programming arm of Brigham Young University. The network states that “Individuals go on extraordinary journeys learning about their family history by literally retracing their ancestors’ steps, which uncovers hidden identities.” The series of 38 episodes was originally broadcast in 2010-2012.

The first rebroadcast features the story of Raquel, who explores her Spanish ancestry. Other episodes include research into Native American, African, German, and other ethnic origins. If you go to the website, you can watch each of the 38 half-hour episodes on your own schedule. The videography is great and the stories are engaging.

British WDYTYA on YouTube

You may know that the WDYTYA programming that we see in America is an adaptation of the original program by the same name in Great Britain (For details, go to But did you know that many episodes from the British show are available in their entirety on YouTube? For example, the British version featured a program on J. K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series. I watched it on YouTube and found her program to be entertaining and very well done. You may want to check it out, especially if you have any French ancestry. Go to

Cyndi’s List

My Google search also led me to the website Cyndi’s List. When you go to this website, you can find a heading “Genealogy in the Media: News, Radio & Television >> Television.” Cyndi Howells, proprietor of Cyndi’s List, has complied 46 links to websites that present or discuss genealogical and family history programming that has appeared on television. You might want to delve into this for information on some of the lesser known programming.  Be forewarned: some links appear to be outdated.

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