Television Shows and Family History

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How would you answer that question? Who are you…really…and what makes you who you are? At first glance, these may seem like easy questions to answer. Yet when you think seriously about who you are, you may find it hard to come up with a satisfying answer. These questions flow naturally into thoughts about you and your family. Soon, other questions arise: What is my heritage? Who are my ancestors, and what stories of their life experiences are etched in my blood? What legacy have they left me and what legacy am I leaving to my posterity? These are the questions that are the beginnings of a life-changing adventure.

Discovering who you are can be an exhilarating and satisfying experience. Discovering who you are can create the anchor you need to live in the sea of humanity. Of the roughly 7 billion people in this world, you can discover that you are, indeed, a very unique and special person.

It is perhaps this curiosity that has spawned a loyal audience for a new type “reality TV”—family history television. Shows like Faces of America, Who Do You Think You Are?, and The Generations Project are becoming more popular as viewers enjoy the family history discoveries of celebrities and other ordinary people like you and me. These shows provide a wide variety of inspiring examples of how people just like you begin their search to discover their past…and learn more about themselves in the process.

Understanding our family history can provide strength and insight in our lives today. For example, a young man named Alex from Detroit, Michigan, explained that he didn’t like who he was and wasn’t interested in learning anything more about his past. He knew that his single mother gave him away when he was only 2 years old. “A boy has got to be pretty bad for a mother to give him up when he’s 2 years old” Alex claims. But when Alex found his biological grandmother and learned his mother’s story, he discovered the circumstances that helped him come to terms with why things happened the way they did. He also learned some impressive things his grandfather and great grandfather did while living in California. Alex reflected that, “Learning what I did about my family gave me a sense of belonging to someone, to a family of people who were good people, creative people. It helped me understand that I really am a good person. I have a bright and creative mind. My grandfather and great grandfather showed me what kind of man I can become because I have a part of them inside me. I have something to be proud of. That means a lot to me because now I know I’m OK.”

Every family and every person within that family has a unique history. There seems to be a growing interest across the world to discover that history and learn the stories that make up that history. It would benefit each of us all to learn what we can about our history and see what we can do to add our part to that history for those who come after us.

Family History TV Timeline

2010 – The Generations Project
Explores the family histories of everyday people to uncover extraordinary stories.

2010 –Who Do You Think You Are?

Follows celebrities as they discover more about their family history. Series started in England and is now in several countries.

2009 – Faces of America
Uses the same format as the popular African American Lives series, but the prominent guests come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

2006 – African American Lives
An intimate view into the lives and family histories of several well-known African Americans.

1997 – Ancestors
The original family history series focused more on the “how’s and why’s” of family history.