The Archives of Who Do You Think You Are

This Sunday Evening on TLC, “Who Do You Think You Are?” digs into its archives and features highlights throughout the seasons including triumphs and tragedies, delightful discoveries and sobering moments. This special episode also unveils outtakes and never-before-seen footage from the vault.

In some cases, this is footage we see in the screeners, but never makes it to the final version.  I personally think some of this is more interesting than what does sometimes make it to the production version…but you didn’t hear that from me…didn’t come out of my mouth:)

They explore what motivates celebrities to delve into their roots, including those who want to investigate why they never knew certain family members and uncover the origins of rifts that have torn families apart.  Here’s what WDYTYA has to say about Sunday’s archives special edition.

Walking in your ancestors’ footsteps can make a journey especially powerful. We revisit moments with Jason Sudeikis, as he goes deep underground in a coal mine and learns how his great-grandfather died in an explosion; Cynthia Nixon, who stands in the same prison in which her 3X great-grandmother was incarcerated and learns her ancestor became pregnant while serving time; and Rosie O’Donnell, who experiences the horrible living conditions her destitute great-great-grandparents and their children endured in 1850’s Ireland.

Next, we highlight one of the most powerful tools available in ancestry research: the census.

One of the biggest rewards in researching your roots can be finding heroes. Some of our stars have been lucky enough to find great men and women in the family who did the right thing, no matter the consequences. In this section, we review Zooey Deschanel reading a first hand account of how her 4X great-grandmother helped fugitive slaves escape via the underground railroad; and in never-before-seen footage, we watch Julie Chen learn that her great-grandmother was kidnapped and killed by bandits, which motivated her grandfather to establish a school to educate citizens in order to reduce crime.

The only thing more interesting than finding a hero in your past is finding a villain. Our celebrities have come across all manner of scoundrels, scamps, and lowlifes. Here, we see Sean Hayes discovering that his great-great grandfather sued his children in court for assaulting him in a variety of ways, and we follow Sarah Jessica Parker as she investigates whether her 10X great-grandmother was a witch-hunter – or one of the innocents accused – during the Salem Witch Trials.

Next, we put the spotlight on online newspaper databases and microfilm collections at the library, which can be a treasure trove of salacious details.

As we go deeper into the best of “Who Do,” we turn our attention to one of the most painful things anyone can face in a family’s past: slavery. Our celebrities have confronted this horrifying part of American history from both sides of the issue. In this section, Blair Underwood finds that his 4x great-grandfather, a freed slave, owned slaves himself; but Blair discovers that he had to buy his own family members to keep them together. Emmitt Smith is disturbed to hear that his 4x great-grandmother Mariah was possibly a child of rape whose father was the family’s white slave owner, making him Emmitt’s own 5x great-grandfather. Finally, Reba McEntire finds that her slave-trading ancestor bought a fourteen-month-old baby.

War has ravaged family histories since the beginning of time, and our celebrities’ ancestors have been affected by battle in way they could never have imagined. Here, we revisit Rob Lowe searching for proof that his 5x great-grandfather fought as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War – but instead finds he served as a Hessian, fighting against George Washington; Spike Lee discovering that in an ironic twist, his 3x great-grandfather, a slave, was forced make guns for the Confederates during the Civil War; and Lisa Kudrow learning of the horrifying atrocities of which her Jewish great-grandmother was a victim during World War II.

Making a connection to history’s big names is the brass ring of genealogy. Some of our stars have been lucky enough to have ancestors who crossed paths with greatness: Josh Groban finds that his 8x great-grandfather was recognized by Sir Isaac Newton, and Jim Parsons uncovers his 6x great-grandfather’s profession: architect to King Louis XV. And in rare cases, some of our celebrities discover direct royal lineage. Brooke Shields touches her ancestor Henry IV’s heart in a jar, and marvels at her connection to him. And in never-before-seen footage, Valerie Bertinelli is astonished to see an elaborate family tree which illustrates her lineage reaches back through Edward I, William the Conqueror, and theoretically on up through Jesus and God.

Next, we highlight remarkable moments throughout the years of our celebrities discovering information on their journeys that is so surprising, it reduces these great speakers to a single word: “Wow.”

Call it coincidence or fate, we’ve witnessed incredible moments of synchronicity. In this section, we revisit Emmitt Smith realizing that an important piece of information about his ancestor lies within deed book number #22, which was Emmitt’s number throughout his football career; Gwyneth Paltrow finding a parallel with her great-great-grandfather, who was a master in Kaballah, which Gwyneth studies; Josh Groban uncovering information that his ancestor taught music and sang; and Spike Lee discovering that his great-great-grandfather’s name was Mars, which was the name his grandmother suggested when he told her he was stumped on what to call his iconic character from “She’s Gotta Have It.”

Some of the most entertaining moments on “Who Do” happen behind the scenes. Here, we feature our favorite outtakes.

The journey through a family’s past is a treasure hunt, and no find is more exciting than something your ancestor held in his or her own hands. Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate reveal how old photos in particular bring you face to face with your past; Bill Paxton is awestruck seeing a personal account written by his relative; and America Ferrera breaks down in tears as she sees pictures of her long lost father as a young man for the first time.

Anyone who goes on a quest to know their ancestors emerges a little bit changed. Here, some of our stars express how going on their journeys – and what they’ve learned – has changed their perspectives and lives. Some of them even reunite with long-lost relatives, finding roots in places far from home. We watch as Lisa Kudrow and Blair Underwood come face to face with newly discovered family, and Rita Wilson has an emotional first-time introduction to her 96-year-old uncle.

Throughout the years, this series has helped celebrities solve mysteries and uncover truths they never dreamed possible – in some cases changing everything about who they think they are.

In my own case, after watching the Valerie Bertinelli episode, I whined that I was envious that Valerie had found what is known as a gateway ancestor, one who connects solidly to a royal line.  Once connected, you can tie into already completed genealogy – so finding that gateway ancestor is the clue.  Just a few days later, I realized that I too had a gateway ancestor, I had just never recognized them as such.  Plus, I discovered that Valerie and I are distant cousins – not that Valerie knows or cares.  But how inspiring and what fun for me.  That discovery launched me on a brand new journey!  It always pays to pay attention and keep digging.  You just never know who you’re going to dig up.

king edward i

King Edward I of England



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14 thoughts on “The Archives of Who Do You Think You Are

  1. Sounds like this will be an informative episode. Hmmm, if Sarah Jessica Parker had an ancestor that was a witch hunter or one accused it interesting. An 8th great granduncle was John Proctor, was the first male accused, tried, convicted and hung at Salem. There was also a Batchelder that was a juror who along with other jurors wrote a letter of apology to the kin of those killed. But, I have not proven that connection as I also have Batchelder in my tree on at least two lines. Roger Conant credited as a founder of Salem, MA. is a 10th great grandfather. Many Essex county families in this time period. I would almost bet Sarah and I are cousins and certainly our ancestors knew each other. LOL

  2. I’ve long been inspired by so many televised stories of “The Search” .. from Dr. Gates’ PBS “Finding Your Roots” to “Who Do You Think You Are” to some of the lesser known, more reality-TV based programs, Oprah and Dr. Phill. As a long-time Adoptee in search of her name and ancestral identity ANYTHING that may lead me to my next most rational, logical and verifiable (times 3 supportive hard-copy documents) step, these programs are always inspirational and informative, but I have to ask why it’s always a celebrity who gets the “star” treatment? “Genealogy Roadshow” comes closer to the “masses” and I look forward to Season 3. After countless failures of mid-20th Century on-again, off-again old fashion, boots-on-ground backhoe digging, I’ve also boarded the 21st Century DNA Ship (AncestryDNA, 23and Me test kits with raw data to FTDNA & Gedmatch) though still in sub-newbie phase (yes, I’m enrolled in the 4 week “Basics of Autosomal DNA” class that starts later this month via DNAAdoption) … But my question remains … What about the Rest Of Us?? Will some brave voice of John or Jane Q. Public finally be heard or seen as they search and search and search, fall, fail, get up, start again, run into walls, stare at befuddling lists of “cousins” trying to determine where A + B = ME? While I am long past a TV Makeover and would never be “ready for prime-time”, I must not be the only one OUT THERE who might enjoy and relate more closely to someone who is only a “star” in their own home. Yes, I will watch tomorrow night’s presentation AND, yes, Roberta .. your help and encouragement is priceless.

  3. Hi robertajestes,

    I saw your article and remembered that I am related in some way to king edward I. Sadly here in germany I cannot watch TLC but maybe you could tell me who is related to King Edward?

    Regards, Arne

    PS. A spelling mistake under the Photo. [image: Inline image 2]

  4. Hi Roberta

    I watch all the WDYTYA , the English, American and Australian series.

    some are interesting, like the one for
    Tamzin Outhwaite showing the strong Scottish-Italian migrational swapping of people, which I never knew.

    or the American program ( I cannot remember the black actor ), but it was about his family living as being always free-blacks in Virginia before the civil war, during the civil war and after and that he found his free Virginian ancestors had to buy their parents from slave holders in the northern states, I think it was either Maryland or Delaware.

    Rob lowe was good program and so was Rowley.

    But the Billy Connelly show made me laugh to much.


  5. That was interesting about Rob Lowe’s ancestor being the in the Revolutionary War. My 6th ggF was Second Lieutenant of the Marines and fought in The Battle Of Valcour Island in 1776 on Lake Champlain. He served on General Benedict Arnold’s flagship “Congress”. General Arnold personal torched his flagship to help block the bay that kept the British Fleet from advancing down from the North. General Washington used that winter to help prepare the Continental Army. It was shortly after this battle General Arnold defected to Britain. It was pretty neat to know that your ancestors had an interesting part in history.

    • Selected people in the press are sent links to “screenings” so we can see the episode before it airs. They are hoping we will cover it and provide them with some free publicity. I happen to like this series in particular, so I do. They tell us what we can and cannot say about the various episodes. In this case, as you can see, most of what I published was a direct quote from what they provided to me. Often, they tell us that we cannot reveal some specific findings before the episode, so we don’t, or they give us dates that we can’t publish before. That’s called an embargo date. This is all part of how relationships with the media works.

  6. 20 years I guess I’ve nailed down as much as possible since being disabled and cannot do much traveling. The “Grasshopper” Of England or better known as the Gresham, Grisham and ect. family, Nicholas di Goto, “Pozzo di Goto’ Sicily, now Barcelona Pozzo di Gotto. American Patriots of the Revolutionary War. Possibly descended from Simmons who landed in Massachusetts, settled in Duxbury, and believe one of his sons married into the Alden and Mullins families.

    Remember “you can always eliminate data proven not associated with family, so don’t overlook something until you disprove it. ! And if you can DNA will get you farther faster than looking and reading.

  7. Pingback: DNAeXplain Archives – Entertainment Articles | DNAeXplained – Genetic Genealogy

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