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.