April 10, 2020
Roots Less Traveled is a new television program co-produced by Ancestry.com which follows the adventures of two family members each week as they set out to solve mysteries of their family history. The program is airing now on NBC as part of their The More You Know series. It airs on Saturday mornings in most parts of the U.S. but it is currently showing on Tuesdays at 12:30 pm in Colorado. It can also be streamed on NBC.com and Hulu (I would recommend recording or streaming the series since it features a LOT of commercials!).
The first episode aired in Colorado on April 7. I recorded it and watched it that evening. Since each episode is only a half an hour, it’s a quick watch. As a seasoned genealogist, I found that the short format didn’t really allow enough time to do justice to the complexities of family history, but the program is geared towards 13 to 16 year-olds, so perhaps the once-over-lightly approach would be appropriate for that age group.
The first episode featured a half brother and sister who had recently found each other. The brother had been adopted at birth and found his biological sister through a DNA test (through Ancestry.com, of course!). Their father had died when the sister was very young, so neither sibling knew much about their father.
The sister had heard stories that her father’s family was originally from Mexico City, where they were prominent in politics, and that one member of the family had perished on the Titanic. Ancestry obviously did some research in advance, although the audience didn’t see any of it, but a quick reveal proved the Titanic legend to be true. A distant cousin had gone down with the ship after giving up his seat in a lifeboat to a woman, saying “Ladies first.”
The siblings were next taken on a whirlwind tour of Mexico City where a second cousin had been a well-respected mayor. The trip was capped with a day spent enjoying the Mexican holiday Dia del Muertos and learning how to make Mexican sugar skulls followed by a brief pause to reflect on the meaning of the holiday – to honor and remember those who have gone before. The siblings did all of this, while still finding time to strengthen their newfound family bond.
If it all sounds like a lot crammed into a commercial-interrupted half an hour, I felt like it was. As a genealogist, I would have enjoyed a bit more time spent learning how Ancestry actually ferreted out the genealogical information, not just having the host present it in a “ta da” moment. However, considering that the program is geared towards teen-agers, I suppose they felt it needed to be quick-paced.
The host of the program, Faruq Tauheed, is apparently fairly well-known for voicing video games such as Mass Effect 3 and television programs such as We Bare Bears. I was unfamiliar with him, but I’m guessing that the target audience of this program would perhaps recognize him. Even though I didn’t recognize him, I thought he did a good job presenting the big reveals to the siblings and shepherding them around Mexico City.
There is a planned season of seven programs, and each will apparently follow a similar format where a couple of family members will grow closer while tracking down family history mysteries. Right now, while we’re all basically stuck at home, this simple reality show may be entertaining enough to spend a few minutes with, but I’d recommend either Henry Louis Gates’ Finding Your Roots or Who Do You Think You Are? as being as being of more interest to genealogists. Or better yet, I’d recommend one of the many webinars that are available on Legacy Webinars and other venues. Pick one of the case studies such as Judy Russell’s Martha Benschura: Enemy Aliens, for example. You’ll be entertained and informed at the same time.
Researcher/Director at Large