Christina's father never knew his own mother. In fact, he didn't even know her name until a few years ago. He was raised by his paternal grandmother. He felt there were many other things he didn't know about his mother's life, including the circumstances of her death. Christina Applegate then set out to find out as much as she could about the woman, obviously aided by the professional genealogists used by the staff of Who Do You Think You Are?
There was no surprise when the truth turned out to be a very sad story. While not all the facts are known, it is obvious that Christina's grandmother led a short and difficult life. She got married and soon found herself in a difficult marriage, abandoning her reportedly abusive husband before the birth of their first child. A contentious and disputed divorce followed. Unable to earn a living and simultaneously raise her child, supposedly without financial support from her ex-husband, she moved in with her parents and the baby was first raised by the maternal grandparents. After a few years, the maternal grandmother died. While not documented, the paternal grandmother apparently gained custody and then raised the child until he was in his teens.
Christina Applegate's grandmother died in her early thirties with alcoholism being a major factor in her death.
If you missed this gripping story about Christina and her father's search for the truth, the entire program should become available on several video web streaming sites within a few hours. I suspect a Google search of "Who Do You Think You Are?" "Christina Applegate" will find it soon. You then can watch it on the Internet, either on your computer's screen or on your television set, depending upon the hardware you have available.
Having now seen two episodes of this year's Who Do You Think You Are?, I was impressed by several things. First, both last week's show and this week's focused on finding detailed information about only one person in the family tree. This is a change from the shows of previous seasons in which the celebrity guest usually walked into a major research facility and some professional there said, "Here's your entire family tree" and produced documents and charts showing relationships. Admittedly, I am simplifying things a bit but that was the impression given by many of the shows of previous seasons.
In contrast, the first two shows of this season focused on one person in each episode and then tried to find as much information as possible about that person. Research for other ancestors was left for another time. In fact, I would suggest this is the better way to show the public how genealogy research is done: identify a person and then find out as much as you can about his or her life. Don't become a name collector. Instead, find out as much as you can about each ancestor's life, including the good things and the bad things.
The television program obviously used professional researchers to perform all the research work. Christina Applegate did visit each research facility and was shown the information previously found by the professionals. She did not do the research work herself. I might protest that isn't the way that most genealogists learn about their family trees but I also will admit that having the information presented by the professionals does make for better entertainment for the majority of viewers: those who are not experienced genealogists. After all, what do you think the ratings would be if all we saw was a celebrity cranking the handle on a microfilm viewer for hours and hours? This year's format is still a bit artificial, but not as bad as that of previous seasons. In addition, it also is more educational: here's the information that can be found if you visit in person or look on microfilm or online.
The other significant change I have seen in this year's episodes is simply one of format. Last year's episodes typically featured five or six minutes of new information at a time, then a commercial break, then would return with an announcer recapping everything that had been covered before the commercial breaks. These "recaps" seemed to last forever and ever. The two episodes shown so far this season also featured a recap after every commercial break but it has always been mercifully brief. I didn't time it exactly but I think each recap was about thirty seconds or so. I hope the show's producers continue this format. It is far better than the drawn out (and boring) recaps of previous seasons.
I didn't feel that the episode covered the entire story. I suspect there is more information to be found, such as how and why custody of the child (Christina's father) was given to the paternal grandmother after the death of the maternal grandmother. However, the reality is that the program was limited to about 30 minutes of content plus another 30 minutes of commercials. 30 minutes isn't much time to provide all the details. The professional researchers may have found all the information and may have given all of it to Christina. All of the details may even have been captured on videotape by the camera crew. Most television programs record a lot of video and I suspect this episode was no exception.Then the producers and their staff go through all the captured video, extract the better and more entertaining segments, and use only those segments to create the show for broadcast. A lot more details may have been captured on video but probably were left "on the cutting room floor." We can only guess at what was omitted in order to squeeze the story into 30 minutes.
This week's episode told a sad story. There is no changing that. After all, the stories of our ancestors are always always a mix of happy and sad stories. I do like the format of the two episodes shown so far this season. These episodes seem to be more focused than those of previous years, do a better job of showing how proper genealogy research is conducted, and were more entertaining for me. They weren't perfect, but they certainly were improved when compared to the episodes of previous seasons.
Again, the video should be come available within a few hours after this article is posted. You also may be interested in next week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, featuring comedian, actress, author, talk show host, and producer Chelsea Handler. It will be broadcast on Tuesday evening, August 6, on TLC. Check your local listings for the time and channel in your area.