Sausages, Genealogy TV and WTF?

The new Irish series of Who Do You Think You Are? kicked off last week and once again,  despite myself,  I enjoyed it immensely. The franchised format is restrictive and repetitive – a celebrity finds out their ancestry at the same time as the viewer, travels to distant record offices, discovers contrasting family branches and solves knotty research problems by looking in a big book in a picturesque church.

Picturesque church

But RTE (and their production company Animo) have grasped very well that the  genealogy is only a pretext for telling stories and they can make those stories resonate with their audience, humanising history by making it family history. Also getting a celeb to blub onscreen is good.

The bould Damien

I was especially riveted by the first show in the series, which dealt with singer Damien Dempsey, not just because the stories were excellent, but because I had been doing research for him for the past three years. So my jaw hit the floor as what appeared to be my research emerged from the mouths of a variety of historians and genealogists. I paused the list of credits to see if I had a mention, but nothing. Wtf? says I to myself.

So I emailed the friend responsible for organising the show’s research and asked her “Wtf?” She had never heard of my research. So nobody stole my work.  She had had to duplicate it because she didn’t know it existed. I then emailed the bould Damien and asked him “Wtf?” And he responded that he hadn’t told the production company about my research. Wtf?

He didn’t say why, but I presume part of the deal was that he had to be discovering things onscreen at the same time as the viewer and so had to be able to feign ignorance. He did a great job of feigning. I foresee many starring roles in the Gaiety panto in his future.

Damien’s future?

To cap it all, I’m appearing myself in a short segment of one of the next episodes, presenting a piece of research that I didn’t do. Ironic or what?

The moral (to paraphrase Bismarck) is that genealogy TV is like a sausage. Best not to see how it’s made.

17 thoughts on “Sausages, Genealogy TV and WTF?”

  1. I am really glad you wrote this and hope it is widely disseminated, uh, re-tweeted or whatever. I am a writer in a completely unrelated field and can’t tell you how often I have seen my research in my very words published under someone else’s name. I hope RTE issues a ‘clarification’.

    1. Hi Virginia.

      No, no. My research wasn’t stolen. It had to be redone (very well, I might add) because Damien told nobody about it

      John

  2. Boggles my mind! I don’t necessarily blame Damien, but one would think that the producers would ask a simple question when they pick a candidate for the show, “have you ever had any research done before?” The next question is, where did they get John’s results? “Clarification” or not, damage is done. What a total disrespect to an author that has done more to popularize Irish family history than anyone else in Ireland or North America.

  3. Sharing in my large Irish genealogy research group on Facebook, with the lead in –

    A lesson in what should not happen EVER. Attribution ALWAYS.

    I am so very sorry that this happened to you, John.

  4. Why The Face! Damien Dempsey was quoted recently as saying he can’t afford to have children and stay being a singer due to the financial precariousness of that career. Something doesn’t make sense; he was employing one of our most celebrated genealogists for three years to investigate his family’s history – either he has gambler’s weakness for genealogy and has thrown all his spare cash at you or else your services are extremely cheap and very shortly you will be getting a three year commission to research my family’s history!

  5. John –

    With the intense lack of info in Ireland because of the ‘fire’…I feel everybody benefits from such shows no matter how corny or dishonest..

    I have no idea who this Damien guy is…and respect your work immensely…so I would not worry too much…

    At least they did not mismention your name…and say that you were the staff genealogist for Irish-American tours…at Grenham Travels..

  6. History

    Grenham travel is steeped in history and has a very interesting tapestry of the social, cultural and economic changes over the decades

    John Grenham purcured a licence as a shipping agent in 1911. He was an agent for the White Star and had passengers on the ill fated – Titanic 1912.

    When passengers booked for their passage to New York, there was a going away party which became know as the ‘Wake’ . This was due to the fact the majority did not expect to return because of the distance and money constraints.

    To this day, we have customers who call in to share their recollections of members of their families who travelled to the States in the early 1900’s – it is fascinating to listen to their stories.

    John also had a bar, grocery and hardware store during this period. An interesting aspect of the business was the fact that the bar had a snug which was used for match making purposes. Indeed, some wonderful stories were told over the years of how marriages were arranged and long conversations of who was related to who etc… One can fully understand where the infamous John B. got his stories from.

    Our premises is located on the circle of the left bank area in Athlone – this part of the town is renowed for its historical background and old world ambience. You are greeted by the stone castle which dates back from 1210 and was built for King John by his Irish Justiciar.

  7. Hi John,
    Once again someone throws your had graft back into your face.
    I have been doing this work for over 50 years and have rarely been acknowledged.
    The hard part is that people think you are making a fortune out of it.

    This is where a thick skin comes in useful and you just carry on because you enjoy the hunt.
    john holden

  8. History

    Grenham travel is steeped in history and has a very interesting tapestry of the social, cultural and economic changes over the decades

    John Grenham purcured a licence as a shipping agent in 1911. He was an agent for the White Star and had passengers on the ill fated – Titanic 1912.

    When passengers booked for their passage to New York, there was a going away party which became know as the ‘Wake’ . This was due to the fact the majority did not expect to return because of the distance and money constraints.

    To this day, we have customers who call in to share their recollections of members of their families who travelled to the States in the early 1900’s – it is fascinating to listen to their stories.

    John also had a bar, grocery and hardware store during this period. An interesting aspect of the business was the fact that the bar had a snug which was used for match making purposes. Indeed, some wonderful stories were told over the years of how marriages were arranged and long conversations of who was related to who etc… One can fully understand where the infamous John B. got his stories from.

    Athlone

  9. Just a brief whine. We cannot get “Who do Yo Think You Are” in the states. I have scoured the ends of the internet, to no avail. I appreciate the English version when they present Irish genealogy, but that is rather hit and miss.

    1. Derry Girls is a great substitute to genealogy TV…whenever I get bored and feel isolated from Irish fantasy here in India…I rewatch a Derry Girls episode…and then smile my way through the internet haze of Ireland’s past..

  10. Hi John, WDYTYA is just about to start with Bertie Ahern; if at any part the camera lingers uncomfortably as they wait for him to cry at an emotional revelation I will eat my hat/puke. Too much of that sort of thing in this series!

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