Friday, February 18, 2011

Episode Three of “Who Do You Think You Are?”

(Note to readers not located on the East Coast: There may be spoilers in the post below, but I hope that I have written it so that it does not really give away anything substantial.)

In the previous Friday Newsletter I mentioned that I had really enjoyed the Tim McGraw episode because his background was so much like mine. Tonight’s episode with Rosie O’Donnell was also a treat.

Rosie (and the researchers helping her, of course) went off on a tangent! Been there, done that - many times. This is a wonderful way to show viewers one of things that genealogy really is about. It is not about just us and our direct ancestors, but also about the many people to whom we are related (or otherwise connected, however remotely) who have their own fascinating stories to tell. Anna and Elizabeth Murtagh definitely had one of those stories, as did the child Patrick Murtagh, who apparently died in Ireland. The effort to track down all of our ancestors’ children, even and especially those who died young, is an important part of the search.

“I feel like I’m on a scavenger hunt - at another time, in another country, in another language.” How true!

I also appreciated the explanation of the workhouse system and of the dire straits a family had to be in to qualify for it, as well as Rosie’s honest response to the horror of it: “Now get me the hell out of here.”

While there are certain quibble-worthy aspects of WDYTYA, I think the cumulative effect is a positive and educational one. Many things have to be simplified or glossed over, but not everything is, and when you add it all up, you get an overall feel for the complexity of the events, for the role that chance plays in shaping subsequent events, for how much and how often our ancestors’ lives were touched by tragedy, and for how resilient the human spirit is in overcoming adversity. Yeah, I know these all sound like platitudes, but this is something that you cannot teach or learn in a history class. There is nothing like tracing that tenuous connection back in time to touch history, nothing like standing in the places where your ancestors lived.

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