Southern Belle's History

History from a southern belle.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” is awakening Geneology with celebrities

NBC has created quite the jewel with the show “Who Do You Think You Are”. Obviously partnering with the Geneology giant, Ancestry.com, the show is in its second season of awakening the geneologist in us all with the help of its celebrity features. Each season, several celebrities are followed on their quest to find out more about their ancestral roots, traveling wherever the next lead takes them and meeting with the local geneologist or librarian to share with them records of the family member they are searching for, and plugging Ancestry.com wherever they can.

The most integral part of the series is not the celebrities themselves, or their ancestors, but the overhanging idea that the journey to find out your familial ties can take you to places you never expected; and, not unlike most road trips, the journey itsself is often more important as what you find when you come to the end of it. Is the show unrealistic? In one way, maybe; most people cannot afford to travel all over the place meeting with this geneologist and that expert, but with the help of places like Ancestry.com, it is an attainable idea to learn about who and where you come from. Also, these people are but a phone call away, and with modern technology, their help is a tangible idea.

Just like my article on remembering the library, this show reminds people of the importance of using the help of this free and very public service. These celebrities get a chance to travel to many different places, even including different countries, and meet these public servants who desperately want nothing more than to share with these people the gift of history that lies within the pages of the documents they care for and hold every day. Often times, excitement and wonder comes across the faces of these celebrities as they discover their family were pioneers on the forefront of what is not written in the history books, but was an extremely important movement towards our society today. Then there are the ones who feel full of disappointment, but also a sense of closure to a missing chapter in their lives, and it leads to greatfulness  or appreciation for what they have now.

We can all feel this same sort of satisfaction and excitement if we awaken the geneologist inside us all. Many of the tools available to these celebrities are also available to the layman. Speaking to our family members who are alive is a great way to start. Internet searches can help a great deal and often will lead you to the sites you need to start your search. You can often step up and use Ancestry.com, it is a great tool and the databases it employs can help you more than you could imagine. There is a fee, and several plans to choose from, but it can be cancelled at any time and your information will be saved if you choose to get the service later again. You can also call the local library or probate office for deed records and census information. Many states have their records online now and are free to search, and very affordable to order records.

Awaken the geneologist in yourself. Learn more about where you come from, and perhaps you will learn how fun the journey can be. Bring together your siblings and make it a family project, or find a friend and help them search out their past too. Also, be sure you don’t miss “Who Do You Think You Are” on NBC, Friday nights, you’ll be glad you did.

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March 6, 2011 Posted by | History | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The place that time has forgotten, the Library

I recently visited both Auburn public Library and Ralph B Draughn Library on Auburn University’s campus. I was amazed at the amount of information that I, a self-proclaimed historian and researcher, had forgotten a library holds. I was doing research on a book I am co-authoring with two of the best local historians I know and I found myself not wanting to leave. I stayed hours in the special collections, reading all about anyone who was anyone in Lee County, Alabama, and I felt almost ashamed that I had replaced the great rush I used to feel spending hours in the library for a computer and my couch. Don’t get me wrong, the Internet is a wonderful research tool, but it cannot always give you the excitement of holding a document in your hand that is so old you must wear gloves to touch it, knowing that your favorite author had held it in his/her hand as they autographed the first-edition copy “To RBD library, thanks for all your help, I couldn’t have done it without you!” and letting your imagination wonder, for just a moment, that maybe someday you’ll be autographing the same thing.

Innovation is a wonderful thing, and computers are available for a great deal of use even at the library. But, as historians, it is up to us to keep the library going. We must take our children there, encourage them to read real books, and smell that wonderful musty book smell that only a library holds. We must visit the microfilm and microfiche section and browse the old articles and papers with such eloquent and educated writing styles, that anything published today looks like a school newspaper. We should be encouraged to sit down with the staff at the library, and use them as a neccessary tool in our research. These men and women are about more than the Dewey Decimal System. Furthermore, it is important for us to REMEMBER the Dewey Decimal System! There is so much that can be learned from a book than a section scanned in an online library. 

One day, I strive to visit the University of Texas library in Houston, Texas, just so I can feast my eyes upon the feet after linear feet of journals written by Samuel H Stout, the head surgeon of the Texas Confederate Hospitals. We should all strive to visit the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and admire the beauty and vastness of its architecture. We should appreciate the many documents they have hidden, locked away in some dark room because the light fades the ink, and it is almost impossible to read, and we can only dream that we may one day get to look at such a document and know that the ink was put their by our founding fathers.

Each of us should re-commit ourselves to learning history, not only from the Internet, but from a real book from a public, or even private library. I am ashamed to say that I had forgotten just how wonderful a resource the library is, and perhaps time has forgotten it as well. I know that I have re-committed myself to checking with the library first, if nothing else, just to smell those wonderful books!

March 5, 2011 Posted by | History | , | 2 Comments