WDYTYA Episode 205: Lionel Richey

Morgan W. Brown, Possibly Lionel Richey's Great Great Grandfather
Mor­gan W. Brown: Lionel Richey’s Great Great Grandfather?

Fri­day night, NBC aired the fifth episode of the sec­ond sea­son of Who Do You Think You Are?, its flag­ship geneal­ogy real­ity TV show.

The show is more com­pelling, with a quicker pro­gres­sion of facts and dis­cov­er­ies, and a focus on the emo­tional and very human reac­tion the celebri­ties expe­ri­ence as they dis­cover, or are pre­sented with genealog­i­cal facts. Lionel Richey is pre­sented with a real­ity about his great grand­fa­ther, John Louis Brown. Brown appeared both to have aban­doned his fam­ily and been sued for divorce by his wife. In addi­tion to being appar­ently about 35 years the senior of his wife, he was also a man who was born a slave, edu­cated and freed, and who was the leader of a national black fra­ter­nal orga­ni­za­tion, the Knights of Wise Men.

It’s quite an inter­est­ing and pow­er­ful show. Richey is con­fronted with the legacy of slav­ery, but also with incred­i­ble strength of pur­pose to raise for­mer slaves to equal­ity of sta­tion. He may also have dis­cov­ered an ances­tral con­nec­tion with a white slave­hold­ing family.

Pro­fes­sional geneal­o­gists will con­tinue to quib­ble about the way doc­u­ments are han­dled (usu­ally with­out gloves, and with much more con­tact than is war­ranted), as well as how, every time we turn around a researcher says, “I have another doc­u­ment.” How­ever, real­is­ti­cally, none of these doc­u­ments is being seri­ously dam­aged, and as for the sud­de­ness of the dis­cov­er­ies, this is tele­vi­sion. In order to keep audi­ences inter­ested, there must be quick results. There are fewer than 45 min­utes avail­able to com­plete the show. But I still think that a sim­ple title card at the end could give a sense of the amount of research required to pro­duce the show.

I was glad to see J. Mark Lowe fea­tured as one of the researchers. He is a well-known pro­fes­sional geneal­o­gist and lec­turer, who lives in what we call “West­ern North Car­olina,” but which a lot of other folks now call Ten­nessee.… He’s a friend of mine, a top-notch researcher, and an amaz­ing racon­teur. Hope­fully, Mr. Richey got some time to chat with Mark with the cam­eras and time pres­sure off.

Until the 18th of Sep­tem­ber 2011, the show is avail­able in its entirety on the NBC web­site. I have also embed­ded it below.

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