Can you find your deep family history by watching T.V. ?

I am just about to watch a show called “Finding Your Roots”. It’s about the questions and findings of famous people, not about Finding Your family history. Wait! Can we find our roots by watching it?
That’s the question I gave you in the title, “Can you find your own family history by watching T.V., programs like Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are, and Genealogy Road show, to name three.
I am going to watch a show and comment here with information I gleaned from watching T.V. i.e. Finding Your Roots, titled Unfamiliar Kin, Season 4 Episode 2 watched today: 10 October 2017.

Here we go:

What I first notice in the introduction, is the reactions each of the three celebrities, Fred Armisen, Carly Simon and Christopher Walken, the same reactions you and I would probably have. This makes us curious to see what the genealogists found and how they went about it.


Fred Armisen is shocked by the findings, Carly Simon wants to know why her relative never told her the information discovered about her ancestors- if she knew about it, and Christopher Walken shows that overwhelming feeling when you are first given your family history.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr is the narrator and the first quote I get from him is:
fundamental fact about human nature:
That who we are is as much about how we choose to define ourselves,
as it is about our biological origins


Tools used:


– combed through the paper trail, left by their ancestors

20171010_213956  – utilized the latest advances in genetic analysis

Book of Life


– compilation or record of all of their discoveries

[I won’t go into their personal history, but will mention the places and items used that we can also use if that is where our story leads us]

The show begins with actor Christopher Walken.
Most notably beginning with “The Deer Hunter”,  he portrays intense and strange characters for which he has become famous, but that is not how he defines himself as a person. Christopher2His Immigrant Mother wanted a career on stage. (This is the first clue, his mother was not born in America.)

The next guest isCarly2 Singer/Songwriter Carly Simon whose talent surfaced almost by accident. She came from a singing family.

The third guest is comedian Fred Armesin.Fred2
He states, “Dictators are so transparent in how broken they are, with the medals, that to me they seem like little kids.” He wanted to be a musician as he was growing up.

“Each [celebrity]had close ancestors that embraced radical life changes, in some cases leaving their relatives who they really were”, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


ChristopherChristopher’s mother was an immigrant from Scotland. He knew almost nothing about her life there. She had a powerful attachment to her homeland although she never went back. She was proud of her heritage, and had a very strong accent.

1st picture- where his mother grew up, “she never talked about it”, Christopher said. He had heard from other people that it was a tough part of town. Glasgow’s industrial center which had gangs and poverty.
So what can we learn from this?

1. find the town where she grew up (or the person you are looking for)
2. find the history of the time period that she was living there (or the person you are looking for)
3. What time period did she live there? (or the person you are looking for)
4. When did she leave, and how old was she- we know that she was an immigrant from Scotland(or the person you are looking for)
5. how did she immigrate? Is there still a ships manifest for that trip?
(or for the person you are looking for)
6. did anyone go with her? (or the person you are looking for)
Christopher states he did not know who her father was. The man he called his grandfather, he understood was not really his grandfather. So, he does not know who his mothers’ father is.

Research- [*actual genealogical research on the show]
1. Find birth records of his mother in Glasgow, Scotland (or the person you are looking for)
2. Find newspapers for the area and time his mother lived there
(or the person you are looking for)
3. *National Archives of Scotland – but there was a road block, even though there was a birth record. The birth record stated that she was illegitimate.
4. *on micro fish/microfilm,

*in 1935, just months before her wedding, Rosalie requested that a new birth certificate be issued back in Scotland. This new certificate contained the name we were looking for.

Confusing findings-
Why didn’t Rosalie tell Christopher about her father. Why did she have a different maiden name than her father’s last name?

2nd photograph – a mug shot of his grandfather
(He’s a Boyo- a Scottish term for a rough neck – Christopher tells us)
5. *court records – in 1883
6. *Pentonville Prison – more records to find – Is there anything special about this prison? Yes, it was a rehabilitation prison, but how did they do this? Was Isolation the only treatment?
7. *then he was sent to another prison in Dorset, England. Find more information about the prison and about him. Now we are building a time line.

8. When was he released from prison? What was life like after prison?

CarlyCarly Simon had a mystery:
When we asked my grandmother about her background she said “When it comes to my history, when I die you will find nothing, nothing.” “[I guess she didn’t understand about genealogists]



Research- What Carly was told about her grandmother
1. Her grandmother was born in Valencia Spain, the illegitimate daughter of the king and his Moorish slave.
2. Sent to a convent in England to be educated
3. Raised by a foster family in Cuba
4. None of it was true, no facts could have been discovered

Research- What facts were actually found
1. *go to the marriage record of her grandmother and grandfather.
2. *the record has the birthplace and father and mother’s maiden name
3. *maiden name – leads to a passenger list of a ship that arrived from Cuba in 1892
4. *ship carried a family name that was very similar to her maiden name

1. one story was that her grandmother was given to a women named Asuncion
2. *Sunsia is an abbreviation of the name Asuncion
3. *Sunsia was on the passenger list, she was her grandmothers older sister

1. *other documents show that Carly’s grandmother was 4 when her mother was 50 on the passenger list,
2. *1900 census, the ages are 11 and 60.
3. *its possible that she had her at 49 years old, more questions: adopted, foster, birth?
4. DNA – 3 women were found that had descended from Maria and do they match Carly?
5. *Yes and it is possible that another daughter Lauriana was her birth mother
6. Lauriana was just shy of 15 when she could have been born.

1st photo – Lauriana, looks exactly like Carly’s grandmother

[Now where did the photo come from? possibly one of the distant relatives of Carly that were DNA tested, I am just guessing here]

FredFred Armisen had questions about his father’s father.
Fred’s father was born in Germany in 1941, the child of a woman and a professional dancer from Japan. The couple never married or stayed together very long. Very limited contact with him. It’s been difficult to get any depth in this line.


1. Go to Japan and see what you can find about this Japanese dancer
2. *our search began in Tokyo where his grandfather attended college and launched his career
3. *our researcher took photos at the Kuni memorial room in Tokyo
4. *there are dance notes, tickets for performances, scripts for plays

1. How did Kuni get to Nazi Germany and what did he do there
2. *photos of him dancing in Germany in the 1940’s
3. Japan and Germany were alliances during that time (what is the history at this time?)
4. Newspaper articles
5. *clippings and photos found
6. *Untied States Office of War Information, in the archives, (or the person you are looking for)
7. was this person a spy?

Henry Louis Gates Jr, states “My guests now had the answers they had been looking for. They had finally uncovered the secrets harbored by their grandparents.”
Then he adds, “But their journey wasn’t over” [it never is, it seems, ]
still unexplored branches on their tree, still more secrets to be revealed“.

ChristopherFor Christopher Walken, this meant looking towards his Father’s side of the tree.

Research –
1. What did his father do for a living?
2. What time period did this happen?
3. How did he react during the stock market?
4. “There was this level playing field, he came to America when everyone was having a hard time. He knew he was going to have a hard time, but so was everyone else. He was an example of “you work hard and you do well’ “.
5. *photo of his father’s store.

Research –
1. Where did his father grow up
2. Newspaper article from the time
3. *newspaper of the bakery and family
4. *Christopher’s great grandfather started the bakery business
5. immigration records

Research –
1. what happened to the family that stayed in Germany?
2. *Who were the Reserve Police?
3. find the history of the area, the history of the police

CarlyCarly’s grandmother was from Cuba, so we headed to Cuba
1. *Almost all vital records prior to 1880 are in individual churches, none of it is digitized and so it is extraordinarily labor intensive.
2. *Baptismal records
3. this will give information, status in society
4. *Pardos Libres means – is a description of status in society, “Free mixed-race people”
5. *this also means that they probably descended from slaves.
6. what was slavery like in the Cuban economy?
7. * in Cuba about 2 and1/2 times the number of African slaves shipped to the United States.
8. *DNA showed 10% African, sub-Saharan African ancestry (wow)

FredFred Armisen’s grandfather was discovered, now we went to find his roots
1. more archives, newspapers
2. written in Japanese so it needs to be translated to American
3. *in a newspaper article, we discover that he was Korean, not Japanese
4. *What is the complex history of his homeland?
5. *1923 massive earthquake
6. *Japanese newspaper reports
7. The tensions between Japanese and Korea exist today.
8. Kuni reinvented himself as a Japanese

1. *researches found family still living there
2. *the family was willing to talk and share information about the family
3. *a book, known as a Jokbo, contains the families genealogy. Traces the family back centuries,
4. *the book went back 63 generations, 69 B.C., the founding Monarch of Silla, one of the three kingdoms of ancient Korea

At the end of the show, a family tree chart was presented to each of the celebrities.

Fred traveled to Tokyo to see the Memorial of his grandfather.

So the next time you look for some of your family history, perhaps this will give you some ideas of where to look and to look in places you may not of thought of before. Our ancestors had their own lives to live, just as we do. What choices did they make and what was the circumstances around them as they made these choices? These people did not go on this journey by themselves, it took a team of researchers, historians, archivist, DNA experts, and family members, to name some, to help find the information and to help complete the story of their families.

These celebrities did not go on this journey by themselves, it took a team of researchers, historians, archivist, DNA experts, and family members, to name some, to help find the information and to help complete the story of their families.

You don’t have to do this alone, just start asking questions, especially if your family is from places further than your own local community.

Ask the questions, seek the answers.


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