Who Do You Think You Are, Episode 201

The sec­ond sea­son of the NBC series Who Do You Think You Are? pre­miered tonight, with an episode fea­tur­ing Vanessa Williams.

The ances­try of Ms. Williams was traced back to a great great grand­fa­ther (on her father’s side), David Carll. He was born a free black man, joined Co. I, 26th US Col­ored Infantry. For join­ing the infantry, he received $300 bounty money; five days later, he bought land for $200 pro­vid­ing some secu­rity for his fam­ily in Oys­ter Bay, New York. He served for the remain­der of the war, and helped enforce eman­ci­pa­tion after the war.

Another great great grand­fa­ther, William A. Fields, was born a slave in ante­bel­lum Ten­nessee. Not only did he live to see slav­ery abol­ished, but he was elected to the state house of Ten­nessee, and died as a well hon­ored and trusted justice-of-the-peace. While in the leg­is­la­ture, he intro­duced a bill for uni­ver­sal edu­ca­tion between the ages of 7 and 16. Unfor­tu­nately, it died in committee.

The show had pow­er­ful emo­tions, as Ms. Williams iden­ti­fied ana­logues to her own expe­ri­ence in the lives of her ances­tors. An inter­est in edu­ca­tion has been a part of her fam­ily since the Civil War era.

The show moves more quickly this sea­son, with almost no recaps. The show is get­ting tighter, and tells a more com­pelling story. Less is sim­ply handed to the celebri­ties, at least in view of the cam­era, so the show feels more imme­di­ate in this episode than it did in most of the episodes of the first season.

In one of the teasers for future episodes, we hear Rosie O’Donnell say: “It’s not going to be as easy as it looks on TV.” This should be carved into the lime­stone of the National Archives build­ing. The hours of research that went into the find­ings are not really men­tioned. While I don’t think this should be dra­ma­tized or take much time, I will con­tinue to tell any­one who will lis­ten that the genealog­i­cal pro­fes­sion would ben­e­fit if the show had a sim­ple title card read­ing: “Research for this show included X hours of research by Y pro­fes­sional researchers in Z states.”

The show runs on NBC on Fri­days at 8 (7 Cen­tral). Check your local list­ings. The next episode fea­tures coun­try music start Tim McGraw. Sub­se­quent episodes will fea­ture Gwyneth Pal­trow, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cat­trall, Lionel Richie, and Ash­ley Judd.

You can watch the Vanessa Williams Episode, 201: “Mak­ing His­tory” on NBC.com.

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