Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What will be the impact of WDYTYA?

I received an email from Anastasia Tyler, the public relations person at, suggesting a discussion theme for genealogy blogs about how family historians can take advantage of the popularity of Who Do You Think You Are?

Popularity of the Show in Britain -- The idea for “Who Do You Think You Are?” originated from a phenomenally successful UK show, which has traced the roots of some 50 individuals in the last 6 years. During the last season, more than 5 million viewers tuned in to watch the UK show. Nearly 12,000 Brits attended the Who Do You Think You Are? Live conference in February 2009. Of those, 84 percent say they started researching their family history since 2004. The show has generated a surge of family history interest in the UK – and the U.S. version of Who Do You Think You Are? could net the same reaction.

Potential Impact in the United States -- The U.S. version uses the same format as the UK show – each hour-long episode taking one celebrity on a journey of family history discovery, focusing on the stories discovered in their family trees. The celebrity appeal and the family storytelling nature makes Who Do You Think You Are? perfectly poised to appeal to the masses. Naturally, the show will inspire viewers to begin thinking about and asking questions around their own family history.

Of course, the show’s format also means that the episodes do not necessarily delve in to research processes or methodology or the challenges one can face when researching. On the other hand, Who Do You Think You Are? is a fantastic opportunity to educate people about what family history is and how to successfully research their heritage.

Jan Alpert, president of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), hopes that Who Do You Think You Are? encourages people to take advantage of resources at court houses, libraries, archives and genealogy societies. She adds, “Many people are interested in knowing more about their heritage, but have no idea how to begin.”

A Suggested Discussion -- Taking this into consideration, we’d like to pose a question to the family history community and encourage discussion among bloggers and blog readers – How can family historians take advantage of the show’s popularity?

* In what ways could genealogists reach out to those who are newly interested in family history because of the show?
* How can family historians teach proper research skills and methodology to those just beginning their journey?
* What’s the best way to help beginners get started in family history?
* What ways can genealogy societies, libraries and similar organizations benefit from the show as well as reach out to those just starting?
* How can commercial websites, such as, help educate people about family history?
* What lessons from the popularity of Roots in the late 1970s could help genealogists prepare for the potential impact of Who Do You Think You Are?

Some readers will recall that genea-bloggers asked similar questions about one year ago when WDYTYA was first announced as a summer replacement show. In response to the questions, many of us said "societies need to get their Beginning Genealogy classes ready for the onslaught of interested people," "adult education classes at libraries should be planned and held" and "society members should be trained to help new researchers one-on-one."

Two of my local societies, and myself, are pretty well prepared. San Diego Genealogical Society offers four 90 minute beginners sessions on their regular monthly meeting day twice a year. These have been very well attended in the past two years, and resulted in a flurry of new members. In addition, SDGS just started their Wednesday education classes at the SDGS Library - with monthly sessions on Genealogy Methods, Computer Use, National/Ethnic Topics, and brickwall problem discussions. There are classes four times each month.

Chula Vista Genealogical Society is planning an all-day seminar for beginners as part of Family History Month in October. CVGS will probably offer a four-session eight-hours Beginning Genealogy class starting in the summer, based on my OASIS class.

My own response has been to develop the four-session eight-hour "Beginning Computer Genealogy" class at the San Diego OASIS senior adult education center in San Diego, and to speak at local libraries giving my 90-minute "Genealogy - Be An Ancestor Detective" talk. I've also developed a 45-minute version of the latter for local social, business, church, etc. groups.

What other ideas do researchers and program organizers have? Please share them so we can all benefit from them!

Thank you to Anastasia for jump starting this discussion.

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