Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's Really Not That Easy!

Did you watch the Cindy Crawford episode on Who Do You Think You Are? last night?  I did.  I liked that she did a little census work herself, then went off to a repository or two for consultations, and then off to England (two locations) and Germany for history lessons.  In the end, she found connections to Ernest Hemingway (a 6th cousin, as I recall), a New England immigrant (Thomas Trowbridge) who left his young children in Connecticut and went back to England, and eventually Charlemagne.

The blog posted Cindy Crawford: Turning 1,000 Hours of Research into One Hour of Television  today.  Researchers did over 1,000 hours of research in order to glean those three small pieces of Cindy's genealogy and turn them into 40 some minutes of television programming.  Let's see, at what, $100 an hour for professional research (heck, it may be more!), that's $100,000.  If one person had performed that research, it might have taken them several years to find all of the information.

My guess is that they followed several promising paths, once they found the New England connections.  Then they searched for connections between Cindy's New England immigrant ancestors in the early 1600s until they found a likely connection to European royalty.  The latter effort is not difficult - there are several well-sourced books available on European royalty, and especially on English and Scottish royalty.  

What I loved was seeing the ancestral charts that they created for Cindy.  The one with her New England ancestry back to Thomas Trowbridge showed at least one identifiable name in my tree - Amos Gates (I have a sixth-great-grandfather named Amos Gates (1706-1781), but I don't think he was the one on the chart).  I think the one on the chart was Amos Gates (1714-1799) who married Mary Trowbridge; that Amos was a great-grandson of Stephen Gates (I looked in Ancestry Member Trees), my ninth great-grandfather.  So Cindy and I are probably 10th cousins or thereabouts just on our Gates ancestry alone.  That makes me feel important, but I doubt that it would impress Cindy.  

Back to the charts - the roll-out of the large chart (it looked like 5 or 6 feet long) with the ancestry of Thomas Trowbridge back to Charlemagne was equally impressive.  A chart like that would fit nicely on my Genealogy Cave wall - or maybe it could go in the entryway by the front door.  How much does that cost - not the research, just the chart, if I provide the research information?  Because, like most persons with English ancestry, I also have a line back to Charlemagne.  Where's my copy of Gary Boyd Roberts' book The Royal Descents of 600 Immigrants to the American Colies or the United States... I found it.  

Maybe I'll list one of my descents from Charlemagne in another post to impress my readers.  Or add the royal lines to my database so that I can make a chart in RootsMagic (or buy one from Family Chartmasters) - that might impress my heretofore uninterested in genealogy brothers, cousins, daughters and grandchildren.  I can hear it now - "who's Charlemagne?"

The point here is that when you have money and an army of researchers, it's easy to create a story into 40-some minutes of television.  They skipped over about 38 generations of Cindy's ancestors as if they were just names on a chart.  Each of those ancestors contributed their genetic material to create Cindy, and their stories deserves to be told.  But then it would take many more thousands of hours to do the research and write the book and we would never see the results on television.

I bet that there are many more really interesting stories, at least interesting to me, in Cindy's heritage.  If genealogy study really interests her, I hope that she finds the time to pursue all of the ancestors that made her a unique person.  

As for me, I'm having hours of genealogy fun every day reading, writing, researching and working to find records and family stories that define the lives of my own ancestors.  If one of them happens to be one of Cindy's, I'll be happy to share them with her.  Maybe she'll send me an autographed picture of herself that I can put on the wall next to my chart showing my descent from Charlemagne.

I think that the value of Who Do You Think You Are? is the example it sets for the viewing public - that it is possible to find a connection to historical events and significant historical persons, and that there is "help" to do it.  What is missing is how difficult, time consuming and potentially expensive that it really is. 

I think it's fair to say: "It's really not that easy!"

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2013, Randall J. Seaver


CarmenMJ said...

That has always been my beef about the program. I've never had someone go find the document and bring it to me. I'm not sure I would really want to. They have missed out on the moment of discovery. I suspect that someone like Cindy Crawford will probably explore a bit more. She is intelligent. From what I saw on the Twitter account - she took her sisters and mother with her and they explored a lot of the places and such...but you don't see that on the program. You can take years of research and boil it down to a simple statement - but only someone who has done the work recognizes what goes on in the background. I have enjoyed the search sometimes more than the results.

Unknown said...

Great post, Randy - it would be nice if the show did a special or behind the scenes snippets emphasizing all the work put in by the professionals before the celebrities get to each location - my cousin and I joke that we'd like to show up at some genealogy research repository and just be handed our scroll of our family tree without having to put in any of the work ourselves!

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Your point is exactly why I wanted to share that "it took 1000 hours of research" information with all my Facebook followers - that include my blog readers - who need to 'get this point!"
We know, it is important for them too, which I think is the point of social media. Everyone won't read it - or pay attention - or care. But with your post, my share, etc. etc. the word does get out... even sometimes to the people we hope get it! ;-)

Discover Genealogy said...

Isn't everyone related to Charlemagne?! That is a subject I find most annoying about public family trees. So many historians eventually find their way back to this particular monarch. If there is a familiar name in someone's pedigree it can be added in, linked to royalty and away we go! My other problem with Cindy's ancestors was that there was no confirmed link between the missing Thomas Trowbridge in Connecticut to the one who appeared back in Taunton, Somerset. Did someone find a passenger list for the 1600s on which he appeared on his way back to England? Unlikely!

Anonymous said...

Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I'll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I'm
thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but
I'm still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for novice blog writers? I'd certainly appreciate it.

my webpage; schody strychowe (

Fax said...

I have a chart like that... and it certainly has a "WOW" factor. I think my chart covered 22 generations and I added an ellipsis to Charlemagne. Cost was $39 from Wholly Genes. If you have The Master Genealogist, just create the chart as a .vcf (very simple), then choose the Report option "Chart Printing Service." You can use as many colors as you like and customize it however much or little you choose. Love it! I give away family-specific versions as gifts. They really make a hit.

Celia Lewis said...

Since I'm also down from Thomas Trowbridge, I'd love to know about the research 'proving' the link to Taunton. Sigh. Is anyone posting that lovely research analysis/proof?? Could we ask nicely?? :)

Dan Stone said...

I think the episode, and your post, brings up a good discussion point of when is it time to call in a professional genealogist versus continuing to research by myself. While the research and discovery process is very thrilling, what if a professional genealogist was able to uncover something I had not (for whatever reason: not having access to the record online/locally, not being aware of where the record may be found, etc.), and this subsequently allowed me to break through a brick wall and/or get even further back on my line. Since one never knows how much time they have left, I strive to find the right balance between continuing the thrill of the hunt as contrasted with gaining as much knowledge as I can about a particular line of ancestors by calling in an expert. Cost of hiring a professional researcher also plays into this equation.

While I think it is unlikely to happen, I also wish the show would profile interesting stories about non celebrities. Perhaps ask people who have uncovered interesting stories/connections in their research to submit leads to the show. They could then pick the most interesting of these to actually feature on the show periodically. I'm sure not all of the celebrities they've initially selected have turned out to have ancestors interesting enough to make the show, and I know there are plenty of non celebrities who have ancestors who are equally as compelling, or even more so.

Untangled Family Roots said...

As always, well said Randy. I had some of the same feeling while watching it. I really prefer the episodes when they focus on one ancestor and really try to uncover that ancestors whole story or the ones like this where they try to trace the ancestry back as far as they can go. At least when they focus on one or two people story they show a lot more of what goes into discovering the story.

Chris said...

The origin of Thomas Trowbridge of Dorchester & New Haven, as being from Taunton, Somerset, England is very clear. The Trowbridge Genealogy, shown in the episode, cites many original documents verbatim in the text, including on pages 46-47, portions of New Haven Land Records, volume 1, page 202 which state -

“… I Thomas Trowbridge of Taunton in ye County of Somerset, Gen. doe hereby make ordaine, constitute and depute and in my place and stead put my three sons Thomas Trowbridge and William Trowbridge of Newhaven and James Trowbridge of Dorchester in ye Bay in New England in ye ports of America beyond ye seas …"

You can see the Trowbridge genealogy in its entirety at

Other articles that detail the Trowbridge ancestry in England in considerable detail with documentation in include "The Trowbridge Ancestry in England," prepared for Francis Bacon Trowbridge [author of the above Trowbridge genealogy] by Donald Lines Jacobus, published in The American Genealogist, 71(1942):129-37; and Charles Fitch-Northen, "The Trowbridge Ancestry," The Genealogist, 9(1988):3-39.

Anonymous said...

I do enjoy the show because sometimes I pick up ideas for where to look when I get stuck in my research. One thing I thought I picked up watching the Cindy Crawford episode has confused me. She is confirmed as a descendent from Thomas Trowbridge but it looks to me like he married into the line that descended from Charmlemagne. Am I wrong or is there not a blood connection there? I just rewatched the scene where all is revealed and I am thinking I must have misunderstood. I thought the line she descends from was already in America and Thomas left after their births.

Unknown said...

I have the same issue with "This Old House"

Unknown said...

I disagree, I think it really is that easy. IF, and it is a big if, one's ancestors were in the English colonies prior to 1650 and IF one already has the data on them at least going back to the Revolutionary War (DAR helps here).

If all your people came through Ellis Island or were refugees from famished Ireland, forget it. Your ancestors were likely peasants of unknown lineage, and so many poor women were prostitutes even while married, one would need to confirm documents with DNA (there are some royals with questions too).

The key is to trace each branch back to a 1600's immigrant and to know something about surname origins, names of history, and names of towns and counties. When I found a derivative of a Norman surname, the line just opened up, because the noble families are well referenced, and sure enough, there was William I. A surname that places are named after is also a clue. Talbot is one of several in my case, and that name is all over Maryland; as I am descended from George Calvert, First Lord Baltimore. It seems like a lot of non-first born sons of nobles came to the colonies, but that is just my impression.