Sorry AB, I confess I was teasing you to make a point.
Originally Posted by Anastasia Beaverhausen
He found out on the show when the borders were closed, yes.
He also found out the fates of both his grandmothers.
Neither of these is a matter of genealogical interest. You are enthusing about the program because Springer is told stuff he didn't know about his grandmothers. I think that's a poor reason for enthusiasm.
VH1 has a series called Rock Docs which usually takes the standard biographical documentary approach to famous musicians, filming the band on tour, that sort of thing. Well, 50 Cent went another way. His episode is called 50 Cent: The Origin of Me and it's his personal search to find out more about his South Carolina heritage. It's really, really good. Who Do You Think You Are? needs to take lessons from this one-off, because this is how you do an hour of television tracing the history of a celebrity.
I'ma spoiler this in case you prefer to watch the show, which is available online, before reading a summary.
Fiddy starts off talks to his living relatives, grandmother (she adopted him after his mother was murdered when he was 12) and great-aunts, about his great-great grandfather. He goes to Edgefield, South Carolina, where his great-aunts still live, to find out more about him and his life in this small town. Thanks to local historians and good old fashioned microfilm and paper census records, death records, draft records, court records, wills and deeds, he's ultimately able to trace his line back to the 1840s, a rare thing for African-Americans whose searches often stop at the 1870 census, the first census in which all black people are recorded.
The Internet is not involved at all. It's refreshing and a real testament to the dedication of small town historians, the depth of their knowledge and generations of careful record-keeping.
There are a couple of excruciating encounters. One is with a Daughter of the Confederacy who's a docent of some kind at a local plantation house and talks a lot of shit, like that there were tons black men fighting for the Confederacy, that the Confederate Battle Flag thus represents them as well, that there were "Mongolian slaves" in Edgefield who were indistinguishable physically from African slaves, and my personal favorite, that the local "redshirts," a Klan-type organization, were defending the plantations from the uncontrolled violence and plundering of the freed slaves. Fiddy is really quite kind to her, but he doesn't just politely swallow the crap. He questions her assertions.
The other is with the descendant of the slaveholder who owned his great4 and great5 grandmothers. The guy is gracious and gives Fiddy a present and everything, but his great-aunt is with him and he can tell she's extremely uncomfortable so they hightail it out of there.
It ends with him visiting the local high school felicitously named, wait for it, Strom Thurmond High School, where he talks to the students in an assembly. It's downright joyous.
To sum up: great show that should be a template for other such programming. I couldn't recommend it more strongly.
I've been watching a few of the British Who Do You Think You Are? shows and they are so much better than the American version it's hard to believe they're even related. They are packed with information instead of constantly repeated summaries and there isn't a single plug for subscription genealogy sites. The three that I've watched so far don't go back very far, but rather focus on a fairly close circle of relations who are of particular interest to the celebrity.
My favorite so far is Emilia Fox, aka Georgiana Darcy from the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice. Her family history is fascinating and her living great aunts are priceless, especially the blind, half-deaf who was 103 years old when this was filmed.
Proquest and Ancestry worked with the makers of the American version, hence the plugs. I was at a Proquest genealogy focus group at a library conference and mentioned the British and Canadian shows in passing and the rep told me they were involved in making an American one. This was six months to a year before it aired.
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