Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Finding Your Roots: Kushner, King, and Dershowitz

My wife and I sat down last night to watch Tuesday night’s episode of Finding Your Roots. I prefer the series to Who Do You Think You Are?
  1. I like how there is no pretending that the celebrity is conducting the research. The show is presented realistically, telling the viewer that a staff of genealogists has conducted research, and the information is presented to the guest stars in a “This Is Your Ancestry” format.
  2. There is a greater diversity of guests.
  3. The show appears to be less of an advertisement for Ancestry.com
In last night’s episode, we even got to see a database hosted by JewishGen appear on the screen. The website wasn’t mentioned on the show, but the database JRI-Poland was clearly visible, and anyone interested could easily find it online.

Last night’s episode was especially moving for me. The stories of Carole King, Alan Dershowitz, and Tony Kushner felt very familiar. Not because I’m related to them, or because I knew about their genealogies. I’m not, and I didn’t. But their stories are very similar to the stories of my ancestors. During the Holocaust, instead of deaths to firing squads, many of my Lithuanian cousins faced townspeople with axes. Most of my 19th century immigrant ancestors crossed the ocean in the steerage section, and originally settled in depressed slums. My maternal second great grandfather would have likely been sent back to Transylvania if he hadn’t had cousins sign affidavits. And just as Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was able to surprise one of the guests by tracing one branch of their family to the late 1790s, a cousin of mine has been able to research one of our branches (the Cruvants) back to the late 1790s. Many of the European records have been destroyed, but not all of them.

Some may have noticed one aspect of most episodes was missing. Professor Gates didn't discuss DNA testing results with any of the three guests. My guess is that the tests were done, but for all three of them, the results were the same: 100% (or close) Ashkenazic Jewish. The primary reason genealogists do DNA testing is to find cousins to help them in their research. The primary interest for most of the guests on these shows is their ethnic breakdown. For many of Jewish descent, the ethnicity results yield no new information.

You can view the full episode here or watch it below.

1 comment:

poemblaze said...

I've enjoyed this series, and prefer it to the other as well. I do wish they had a bigger budget and could go to some of the sites mentioned.