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Series Overview

ANCESTORS is a series of ten 30-minute programs. The series is hosted by Jim and Terry Willard, amateur genealogists and former high school teachers, who introduce the topic of each episode.

Each episode has two components, a "mini-documentary" and a "how-to" segment, with the exception of the tenth episode, Leaving a Legacy, which has three mini-documentaries and no how-to segment.

 MINI-DOCUMENTARIES (approximately 10 minutes)

ANCESTORS goes on location to visit with family historians of various social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. The purpose is to find out why they began a search for family history, and how the search has impacted their lives.

 HOW TO GET STARTED (approximately 10 minutes)

Each mini-documentary is followed by an instructional conversation between the hosts and various genealogical experts. These friendly, informative conversations are designed to help beginning genealogists get started.


Along the way, the internationally acclaimed 4:2:2 Videographic Design of Bristol, England, provides ANCESTORS with visual support that is at once elegant and instructive.


Each episode ends with Jim and Terry reminding viewers of research tips and referring them to local resources for further assistance in starting the search for ancestors.



Episode One: Getting Started

The series' first episode explores the simple and universal question, "Who am I?" with tips on how to start a search for roots, including how to fill out a pedigree chart, and why successful research means starting with yourself.

Mini-documentary: Victor Villaseñor, author
Oceanside, California

As a young child, Victor had pride and respect for his Mexican-American heritage. But when he confronted prejudice in elementary school, Victor began to resent his parents and reject his heritage. As an adult, Victor learned that the only way to understand the present and have hope for the future is to discover pride and inspiration in the stories of his family's past.

Guest Expert: Desmond Walls Allen
Conway, Arkansas

Desmond is a co-author of Beginner's Guide to Family History Research. She is a popular speaker at National Genealogical Society Conferences and a member of the Genealogical Speaker's Guild.


Episode Two: Looking at Home

In the second episode, viewers learn how to start at home, in some of the most unlikely places, to find clues to their ancestors and pieces of the past. It includes a brief discussion of how to handle and store fragile items, like old photographs, and an introduction to the Family Group Record.

Mini-documentary: Shannon Applegate, author & Susan Applegate, artist
Yoncalla, Oregon

A family farmhouse in Oregon's Yoncalla valley held silent clues for divorcée Shannon Applegate, who was looking for missing pieces to her life. With the help of Susan, her newfound cousin, Shannon pieced together a rich tapestry of family history through countless objects collected by seven generations of Applegates. This legacy and kinship renewed Shannon's strength and sharpened her self-understanding.

Guest Expert: Antonia Cottrell Martin
New York, New York

Antonia is past-president of the New York chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. Antonia has taught workshops for beginning genealogists, and also served as chairperson of the Family History and Genealogy Committee for the Schomberg Corporation.


Episode Three: Gathering Family Stories

Mining the memories of older family members is the subject of episode three. Tips for interviewing family members include how to help older family members "open up," how to ask thought-provoking questions, and how to record the interviews.

Mini-documentary: Fabiana Chiu, Staff, Museum of Chinese in the Americas
New York, New York

As a recent immigrant to the United States, Fabiana had mixed feelings about her Chinese-Peruvian heritage. Wanting to know more, Fabiana traveled with her parents to Peru to interview living relatives. Through her journey, she made some surprising discoveries about her Chinese heritage and the meaning of "family."

Guest Expert: Bill Zimmerman
New York, New York

Bill is the author of How To Tape Instant Oral Biographies and has been a journalist for 25 years. He is currently a special projects editor for Newsday. In public schools, he conducts oral history workshops called "Grandparent's Day."


Episode Four: The Paper Trail

Ancestors "come alive" through the records they left behind. In the fourth episode, viewers will learn how to search records to fill in the blanks on pedigree charts and family group records. A special emphasis is given to compiled vs. original records and basic research strategies.

Mini-documentary: Rafael Guber, artist
New York, New York

Rafael Guber’s deep respect for his immigrant ancestors prompted him to re-create, with the help of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York, the precarious and profound Ellis Island experience. Rafael also transforms old ship's passenger lists into contemporary works of art.

Guest Expert: John Philip Colletta, Ph.D.
Washington, D.C

John conducts workshops for the National Archives and works part-time at the Library of Congress. He also teaches at the Smithsonian and addresses genealogical, historical, and ethnic organizations across the country. He has published many articles and authored the books, They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor's Arrival Record and Finding Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans.

Guest Expert: Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Silma, Colorado

Sharon specializes in Italian-American family and social history and writing family history narratives that place ancestors into historical perspective. She is currently Editor of the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly and the newsletter of the Genealogical Speakers Guild.


Episode Five: Libraries and Archives

This episode takes the fear out of library and archive research. Jim and Terry go on location to the largest genealogical library in the world, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, where staff and patrons offer their personal tips for a successful research trip.

Mini-documentary: Tom Madrid, police officer
Denver, Colorado

Tom didn't have the first clue about where to start looking for his family history. Being Hispanic-American, he doubted he could find much of his family's records in the States. His paper trail began in his own backyard, at the public library. Traipsing through overgrown cemeteries and digging around the ruins of an ancestor's plaza, Tom finally uncovered hundreds of years of his family's American story.

Library Field Trip: The Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah

The Family History Library is the largest genealogical resource in the world, housing a vast collection that includes more than 1.9 million rolls of microfilm and 68,000 volumes of compiled family history information. Over 3,000 patrons from around the world visit the library each day.


Episode Six: Census and Military Records

Episode six shows how census and military records can be a rich source of biographical information.

Mini-documentary: Garry Bryant, photojournalist
Farmington, Utah

Garry, like many Americans, was a soldier during the Vietnam War. Instead of feeling patriotic about his service, he was depressed and ashamed. After he was discharged from the Air Force, his grandmother reached out to him, and soon Garry was involved in a family history that revealed twenty-seven ancestors who had served in American wars. As he learned of their sacrifices, his image of country and self were forever changed.

Guest Expert: Curt Witcher
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Curt is president of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, as well as first vice-president of the National Genealogical Society. He is also department manager for the Reynolds Historical Genealogical Department of the Allen County Public Library and serves as the Federation’s national coordinator of the Civil War Soldiers Index Project.


Episode Seven: African American Research

Episode seven addresses some of the challenges inherent in African American research. Although it is often difficult, research strategies specific to these ethnic challenges can yield rich and interesting information.

Mini-documentary: Colette DeVerge, bookkeeper
Los Angeles, California

Colette’s experiences while traveling in Africa have helped her connect with the spirits of her ancestors. At the Martin Luther King Methodist Church in South Central Los Angeles, she meets with other members of the California African American Genealogical Society (CAAGS). Colette and other members of CAAGS share personal insights on how the search for roots has powerfully affected their lives.

Guest Expert: Tony Burroughs
Chicago, Illinois

Tony teaches genealogy at Chicago State University and is the president of Black Roots, a company that provides products for African-American genealogy. He is on the board of directors of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society in Washington, D.C. and is a popular speaker at national genealogical conventions.


Episode Eight: Your Medical Heritage

The life-saving potential of family medical pedigrees is the subject of the eighth episode. Viewers will see how a medical pedigree differs from a standard pedigree chart, with discussion about issues that naturally arise for individuals who seek to learn about their genetic history.

Mini-documentary: Carol Krause, news correspondent
Washington, DC

When Carol's parents both died of cancer, she and her sisters created a family medical tree, using death certificates to document their relatives' causes of death. The result was "ominous," but lifesaving. Because the sisters acted promptly on what they learned, they were able to take greater control of their health and futures.

Guest Expert: Dr. Raymond L. White
Salt Lake City, Utah

Dr. White was a pioneer in developing the molecular tools for construction of a map of genetic markers for the human genome. The map has made it possible for investigators to pinpoint chromosomal locations of a number of genes that are responsible for inherited diseases, and several of those genes have now been isolated. He is the Director of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.

Guest Expert: Vickie L. Venne
Salt Lake City, Utah

Vickie is a genetic counselor at the High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She is also the president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.


Episode Nine: High-Tech Help

New technologies, including computers, have revolutionized the family history process. In episode nine viewers see how a computer can be a genealogist’s best friend.

Mini-documentary: Inmates at a state prison

ANCESTORS interviews three avid genealogists who have never made a trip to a library to do family history research. They've never visited an ancestor's grave or been to a genealogical society meeting. In fact, they never cared about their family history until they became inmates in a maximum security prison which allowed access to computers. Through genealogical research, Blaine, Roy, and Dennis are learning about the power of family ties and their responsibility to society. These insights are the most powerful rehabilitation tools some prison psychologists have ever seen.

Guest Expert: Richard Eastman
New York, New York

Richard is founder and manager of CompuServe's Genealogy and Genealogy Support Forums, as well as an experienced genealogist and network consultant. He is the author of Your Roots: Total Genealogy Planning on Your Computer."


Episode Ten: Leaving a Legacy

The final episode explores the provocative question: "One hundred years from now, will anyone know who you were?"

Mini-documentary: Eric More Marshall, President, More Family Reunion
Roxbury, New York

The More family has held reunions every five years since 1889. In 1915, they began filming their reunions. The seventeen films now in existence are a grand montage of familiar faces and rich tradition.

Mini-documentary: Nancilu Burdick, retired school teacher
Buffalo, New York

As a young child, Nancilu slept under her grandma's quilts, but she didn't suspect the stories that were behind them. Years later, at the request of her aunt, Nancilu began to stitch together the fascinating life history of her artistic Grandma Talula and her quilts.

Mini-documentary: Hannibal Lokumbe, musician
Austin, Texas

Gathering his family at the newly-found grave of his ancestor, a former slave, Hannibal celebrated the legacy of his great-great-grandfather in African ritual and dance. Younger family members washed the feet of their elders as a sign of honor and love. The oldest and youngest living descendants were presented to the spirit of the ancestor, and the ritual closed by dancing on the ancestral grave.