“Who Do You Think You Are?” with Rachel McAdams & Kayleen McAdams

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I had a chance this evening to watch the U.S. version of Who Do You Think You Are? on TLC. This week’s episode featured Canadian actress Rachel McAdams and her sister Kayleen McAdams. The two were shown researching their mother’s family tree. Unlike many of the past episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? the sisters were able to research (with a lot of assistance from professional genealogists) two different branches of their mother’s ancestry.

They first traced their ancestry back to a couple in England who apparently met when both were employed as servants in a mansion near Plymouth, England. I was pleased to see an old friend, Paul Drake, featured as the history and genealogy expert in Plymouth. Paul produced a number of documents showing the family and their employment. Paul also mentioned that the mansion is still standing so the sisters soon visited the place and learned more at the place where their ancestors worked and first met.

The scene then shifted to a different branch of the family tree where the two learned that one of their ancestors was a Loyalist soldier during the American Revolution. Loyalists were those who remained loyal to the king during the American Revolution. The McAdams’ ancestors had been living near Lake Champlain, the border between Vermont and New York. They escaped to nearby Quebec province with where the husband joined the British military there. His family was separated from him for most of the war, living in a refugee camp under very harsh conditions. I used to live about 75 miles from there and am familiar with the area and the weather. Anyone who has spent a winter in that area can imagine what it was like to live in a tent or rudimentary shack made of tree trunks and branches, probably with a dirt floor. It had to be a cold and unsanitary experience. One of the children apparently died while living in the refugee camp.

After the war, the soldier and his family received several hundred acres of land to homestead, all of it on or near the St. Lawrence River and therefore very close to the U.S. border.

In Canada, Loyalists are considered to be the true heroes of the American Revolution, unlike the American history books that teach Americans that the Patriots were the heroes.

All in all, I found this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? to be enjoyable, entertaining, and a good example to viewers who are not experienced genealogists. To be sure, there were multiple research opportunities that were not followed to find other ancestors. However, I suspect the producers did show the most interesting stories that could fit into a 60-minute program.

NOTE: I have been told in the past that professional genealogists research ALL possible branches of each celebrity’s ancestry and then select only the most interesting branches for the televised program. Each celebrity does receive a book from the genealogists showing all the details of ALL identified ancestors, even those not featured in the 60-minute program.

You can view a video of part of this week’s episode showing Rachel and Kayleen McAdams’ meeting with an historian in Ottawa to learn about the life of their Loyalist ancestor at http://www.usatoday.com/videos/life/tv/2014/08/06/13674177.

Next week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will feature actress Valerie Bertinelli. She is best known for her work on the television shows One Day at a Time and Hot in Cleveland. She has family roots in Jefferson Township, near Scranton, Pennsylvania. At least part of the program was videotaped at the Lackawanna Historical Society’s Catlin House, the former residence of George H. Catlin, an early financier in Scranton’s Hill Section. The Catlin House now serves as the headquarters of the Lackawanna Historical Society.

Valerie Bertinelli’s episode of TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are? will premiere on Wednesday, August 13 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Check your local listings for the time and channel near you.

17 Comments

Why are we featuring Canadians? Particularly when there’s a British version (since, as they said they’re feel such inner loyalty to the queen). It’s tiresome the number of people, particularly in the entertainment industry, who want America’s opportunities without appreciation or loyalty for the tremendous gift. Why is America so generous with non citizens? There A&R thousands of talented actors and just as many who could be featured on “Who do you think you are?”

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    I find your attitude mean spirited and perhaps a bit ignorant of our history. The Revolutionary War has also been called our first Civil War. There were idealistic, honest, hard working, well intentioned people on both sides of the conflict. And both sides suffered for their beliefs from their friends, family and neighbors who did not share their point of view. I, as do many US citizens with ancestral longevity in this country, have both sides represented in my family tree.
    For the loyalists whose ancestors had been the among original settlers of the 13 colonies for as many as 150+ years prior, the outcome of the Revolution was a bitter end to their life dreams. They lost their lives, their land, their community and part of their heritage. It is a part of our history that is largely forgotten; rather it should be remembered that the victory over the British also came at a terrible cost to many brave Americans. “Who Do You Think You Are” deserves a lot of credit for reminding us.
    That part of our history aside, in a 200+ year old nation of immigrants, how exactly do you expect anyone’s family tree to NOT originate somewhere else? I find our diverse ethnic and cultural origins to be the most intriguing and hopeful aspect of our country today.

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    Unless WDYTYA only researches Native Americans who are the original peoples of North America then there would be no one to search. My many family branches came from all over Northern Europe from the 1600′s to the 1700′s. If I were chosen to be on the show I suppose someone would have a quarrel with what family line to search. I found last nights show interesting. One family line were servants whose later members served their country in the military. Another started their lives in upstate NY and remained loyal to England losing everything when they backed the losing side. Who knows where one’s family search will take them.

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    Is this a genuine comment Cinthia? You do realize some of the “Americans” featured on the show were not actually born in the good ole USofA. Not every American is a born and bred Yankee doodle, some emigrated to the US as kids,teens, etc. so technically not a full bred Americano. Come one now, that is your complaint that a Canadian girl was featured on Who Do You Think You Are? BTW just because Canada is part of the Commonwealth does not mean the country is not independent of itself and its doesn’t mean NON Amercians (who just so happen contribute to the US economy) should not be featured. Nicole Kidman is an American btw, may have that Aussie accent, may have been raised mostly in Australia but she was born on American soil ;)

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    Two reasons for featuring Rachel McAdams on the American version of WDYTYA :
    1.) She’s well-known for her many roles in American films and TV programs;
    2.) To enable people like yourself on both sides of the border to better understand how deep our shared roots actually run. Most Americans who can trace their ancestry back as far as the American Revolution will find Loyalists somewhere on their family tree, while Canadians will often find Patriot ancestors; and
    3.) For the purposes of the entertainment industry, the US and Canada are both part of a single North American market where the producers are hoping to attract viewers with this adaptation of the UK program.

    In point of fact, “America” actually stretches from the Arctic Circle all the way south to Tierra del Fuego, so Canadians have just as much right to call themselves “American” as we do. It’s not their fault that we in the United States haven’t been able to come up with a more geographically accurate name for ourselves. I suspect they’re probably secretly annoyed at our usurpation of the moniker, but are just way too polite to go around complaining about it. On both sides of our mutual border (the longest undefended border in the world) we are truly one family, albeit sometimes a dysfunctional one. In the long run, our blood ties ought to be more important than which passport we hold.

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    Correction (Three reasons, not two)

    Three reasons for featuring Rachel McAdams on the American version of WDYTYA :
    1.) She’s well-known for her many roles in American films and TV programs;
    2.) To enable people like yourself on both sides of the border to better understand how deep our shared roots actually run. Most Americans who can trace their ancestry back as far as the American Revolution will find Loyalists somewhere on their family tree, while Canadians will often find Patriot ancestors; and
    3.) For the purposes of the entertainment industry, the US and Canada are both part of a single North American market where the producers are hoping to attract viewers with this adaptation of the UK program.

    In point of fact, “America” actually stretches from the Arctic Circle all the way south to Tierra del Fuego, so Canadians have just as much right to call themselves “American” as we do. It’s not their fault that we in the United States haven’t been able to come up with a more geographically accurate name for ourselves. I suspect they’re probably secretly annoyed at our usurpation of the moniker, but are just way too polite to go around complaining about it. On both sides of our mutual border (the longest undefended border in the world) we are truly one family, albeit sometimes a dysfunctional one. In the long run, our blood ties ought to be more important than which passport we hold.

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    I totally agree with you. This program was an insult to my Patriot ancestors. Of course the only reason their ancestor was a Loyalist, was that he thought that the British would be the victors…hahaha, didn’t he get a surprise. And then he wasn’t a Loyalist soldier till after he was interred in the refugee camp, and I am sure that the lovely British gave him little choice, except to fight. One of my patriot ancestors, John Thompson, was also a recent immigrant from England, but he choose to fight the Queen, so to speak. And yes, he had to endure a very hard winter also, at Valley Forge.

    I found this to be one of the worse episodes of “Who do you think you are?”, ever!

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I am also familiar with the Lake Champlain area. It has a fascinating history going back well before 1776. Strong words and sometimes worse were already being exchanged back and forth across the lake as a result of the dispute between New York and New Hampshire over the area which ultimately became the State of Vermont. The American Revolution only deepen the fissures between neighbors. Communities, and even families, blew apart under the strain.

Just as the Loyalists were forced to flee northward, Canadians who took the American side were forced to flee south. There used to be a big French Canadian community up around Chazy. Most residents could trace their descent to soldiers who fought on the American side in Moses Hazen’s Continental Regiment. They had a particularly difficult time of it because the Continental Congress and the new federal government had no resources with which to support them, while the individual states had enough to do to support their own regiments and could have cared less about this group of people who didn’t share their background, language or religion. It was Moses Hazen’s refusal to give up which finally secured them the grant of lands at Chazy. Ironically, Moses’ brother and former business partner, William Hazen of Saint John, New Brunswick, was a well-known Loyalist.

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I loved how excited the women became over wearing “the gloves” . It’s the little things that make genealogy so much fun.

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What Cinthia may not realize is that their Loyalist ancestor lived in what was the US before it BECAME the US. And in those days there was no “border”. What is now eastern Ontario was a wilderness. Two of my husband’s ancestors had their land in Vermont seized by the Committee on Sequestrations during the Rev. War, just because they preferred not to fight a war. They were forced to choose sides, since they wanted to remain loyal to the British. One was imprisoned by the rebels, and after he broke out and fled to Halifax, he died in 1783 from the experience. His family stayed behind in Vermont until 1791, trying to get their farm back, to no avail. Though we have no stories handed down, it had to be extremely difficult to stay in an area where they were treated as the enemy after the rebels were successful in creating what became the US. I’m guessing that is why they finally gave up in frustration and exhaustion and petitioned the Crown for land in Canada.

Both of these ancestors received lands in Leeds County, Upper Canada–the same area where the McAdams sisters’ ancestor received his land. To make it more real, the program could have mentioned that the land received is near the present day town of Brockville, Ontario.

I have learned more about American history in Rev. War times by researching these ancestors and learning their stories from actual records, which is far different from what I was taught in US history classes! There are always two sides to any story or conflict.

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I’d like to move on to a different line from the one started by Cinthia, which to be fair, when I first read it – shocked me to the core – but those who have commented have certainly taken the sting out of it.
There is, I suspect another reason for bringing in the Canadian research aspect and that is for those “American’s” who have Canadian ancestry and yet have no idea how to go about researching them, nor have a good grasp of the history. A USA speaker at a Manitoba seminar gave us a good laugh when she shared some of her discoveries about Canada when she was preparing for her talk. We are all here to learn, understand others and be understood, not one of us is better than the other be we siblings or neighbouring countries.
One aspect of the show that gave my husband and I a good laugh was that they kept to the travel aspect of “American” research – for what they unearthed, much could have been done without all the travel, although seeing the house her footman ancestor lived in was interesting and seeing the St. Jean area of the “Camp” also brought in the stark reality – wish they had made mention of another “camp” in Sorel, Quebec. Picture the “camps” today where so many are living in Syria in a “holding” pattern wondering whatever will become of them.
Did anyone note how often they used Ancestry.com or even noted that there is an Ancestry.ca?

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I think that there were two story lines in the show and each could have been their own episode. It would be interesting to find out what happened to the family in England after the father died.

As a Canadian, I am glad that the show finally ventured north of the border. I certainly recognize that we live in North America but would never consider myself as an American – not because there is anything wrong with being American – but I am not American.

Jayne

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I find all of these pro-Canadian posts very annoying, because we live in America – not Canada. England was the enemy and continued to be the enemy as evidenced by the War of 1812. I don’t find anything English or “Royal” to be the least bit valuable. I had many Patriot ancestors, and no, not a single Loyalist. I had two ancestors that fought in the War of 1812, one who took part in McArthur’s Raid, 250 miles behind enemy lines into Canada. I am appalled that this show was produced. Why not produce a show featuring a German ancestor of some pop-star, who was a loyal member of the Nazi party, and a SS officer?

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I thought the history behind this week’s show, regarding Loyalists, was very interesting — we often forget how divided the colonial population (on both sides of the border) was about rebelling against the English. I was a little disappointed that this week’s show didn’t show as much research by the participants (other than traveling all over the place) as the two previous shows. But it was still enjoyable.
I’m surprised (and distressed) at the level of vitriol toward researching ancestors of “foreigners”! As previous commentors have noted, that Colonial boundary with Canada was pretty fluid in the early days, and I imagine there was a lot of cross-border movement even before the Rev. War – after all, they were mostly all British! My father’s ancestors all came in the early days of the Colonial period (Scottish, English, Northern Irish, German, and French Huguenot), and I keep finding more and more ancestors who fought in the Revolution on the American side–I think I’m now up to about eight (Mass., Virginia, North & South Carolina, so far), with more lines to research. But I also have a Loyalist ancestor – born in Northern Ireland, lived in South Carolina, fought on the Loyalist side, and after the war went to Ontario, where he died. His children all or mostly stayed in South Carolina, and his daughter, my 3rd g-grandmother, married a man who fought in the War of 1812 (for the U.S.). I would love to understand why my 4th g-grandfather was a Loyalist. More research to be done.

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I have an ancestor who was a loyalist as well. He found in South Carolina, and when the Patriots took Charleston about 1782, he and his family fled to Nova Scotia, where he died about 1783. But, his sons made it back to the U.S. and were productive citizens.

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