Who Do You Think You Are? with Cynthia Nixon

The new season of Who Do You Think You Are? started this evening with an episode featuring actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her portrayal of Miranda Hobbes in the HBO series, Sex and the City (1998–2004), the film, Sex and the City (2008), and its sequel, Sex and the City 2 (2010). She is an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award winner.

Cynthia had asked the show’s producers to trace her father’s ancestry. Cynthia’s parents were divorced when she was young. Cynthia was raised primarily by her mother with her father having visiting rights on weekends. In the program, Cynthia mentioned that her father rarely talked about his family. Cynthia was curious about them. Indeed, the professional genealogists who performed the research for the television program found one very interesting ancestor: Cynthia’s great-great-great-grandmother murdered her husband with an ax and served hard time for the crime. Apparently, he had been a very abusive husband. A newspaper account hinted that his cruelty was far beyond what was common in those days, so horrible that the newspaper would not print the details.

However, charges were reduced from first degree murder to manslaughter, and she received a shorter sentence than she would have served as a murderer. After serving about two years, she was pardoned by the Missouri governor.

Cynthia’s great-great-great-grandmother became only the second female inmate of the state penitentiary. She gave birth while in prison although the child apparently was not fathered by her late husband.

All in all, I thought this was one of the better episodes I have seen of Who Do You Think You Are? The story was interesting. The research process shown was brief but did reflect the method in which genealogy research should be performed. I can quibble about a detail or two. For instance, you don’t have to go to Washington, D.C. to view Union Civil War pension files; copies are easily available elsewhere. However, I am sure a personal trip by Cynthia Nixon made for better television programming.

One thing I appreciated was the very, very brief review of the story after each commercial, unlike the first year’s episodes, and perhaps even a bit shorter than last year’s series of Who Do You Think You Are?

There were far too many commercials, but we all expect that on today’s television. I think I will record future episodes and watch them later, at my leisure, when I can fast-forward through the commercial messages. Perhaps even better, I will do what I did last year: wait until each episode becomes available online. The online versions typically have far fewer commercials. Watching online or on the DVR without commercials makes for a better viewing experience.

Disclaimer: I rarely watch any television programs. When I do watch commercial television, I am very sensitive to how intrusive the commercials can be.

If you missed this week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? with Cynthia Nixon, you undoubtedly can watch it soon in TLC’s reruns. It also should become available on iTunes (for a fee) shortly and also on Hulu.com within a few days. At least, that was true of last year’s episodes, and I suspect the same will be true this year.

Next week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? will feature Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an American actor known for portraying Mitchell Pritchett on the ABC sitcom, Modern Family, which has earned him 5 nominations for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.


This episode was very personal and handled very well. Like Dick, I felt they gave Cynthia the run-around, sending her back and forth to the same facility for one bit of information that she could have gotten more in one place, since they must have known the outcome before they filmed her. And why did they not find a descendant of Sarah, the youngest child and do a Paternal DNA test on her descendant. Seems that Mrs. Brown had a reason to mistreat her and the baby born in prison.
Doe the participant get copies of every document? Its just weird that they get this amazing information on their family, say thank you, and walk out of the National Archives and Libraries empty handed.
I also DVR these and all other shows I like as the commercials are repetitive and way too long. I would pay a monthly fee to watch TV commercial free.


    —> Does the participant get copies of every document?

    Yes. In previous years, the guest celebrity always received a bound book containing copies of all the documents found. It not only includes the documents that were shown in the broadcast but also many more documents that were never mentioned in the broadcast because of time constraints. The guest celebrity typically receives a lot more information about many more ancestors than what you and I see.

    The information shown in the television program is only a small subset of the information found and given to the celebrity. Also, the camera crew typically records hours and hours of video, then only the most “interesting” parts are selected to be shown on television. Again, you and I only see a small subset of what the celebrity receives.

    I was told last year about each celebrity’s “book.” I assume the producers of this year’s series do the same.


Knowing budget constraints of TV, the producers didn’t send Ms. Nixon back and forth between the same facilities. Probably what happens is the celebrity is given the info up front about their ancestor, and then ‘acts’ appropriately during the filming.

I did like this show as it did follow a research path that most of us should take when researching.

As for the commercials, since this is the only show on TLC that I watch, I do DVR it in order to fast-forward through the commercials.


I did miss this weeks WDYTYA and found that it replayed one hour later on the Learning ch. along with full programs from last year which I had also missed. I haven’t checked yet to see if they are replayed on the LC wbsite which PBS did in past years, which made it nice if you miss a broadcast then could do so at your leasure.


I thought this a great show, as well. I wonder if the book that disclosed the child being born in the prison and her treatment there has been logged into, or scanned into, Google Books? I didn’t catch the name of the book to check it myself. Without that book, her discoveries of her ancestor’s treatment, subsequent pardon, and the pardon request being signed by top politicians might not have been discovered.


I watch WDYTYA more for entertainment value. You might glean a few tips on research, but I don’t believe the show can do justice to teaching “how to research genealogy.” I enjoyed Cynthia’s story. There was the leftover question of Sarah and that is why I wish this program could be 2 hours so more of the story could unfold. In any case, I’m happy the program exists. I have to say that I don’t think any WDYTYA story/program will top Rita Wilson’s ancestor story a season or two ago.


I always use the DVR to tape things I want to watch so that I can fast forward through the commercials 🙂 I found the story very interesting. I will say that I think the show might be a bit disheartening to researchers, especially beginners, who can’t travel around the US (or the globe) to follow their family story.


How about the beginners who now think it is this easy to do your family history…everything you are looking for just pops right up ! they have no idea these stories are well researched beforehand and only the interesting, well documented ones are shown…no years of research or brickwalls here !!


I found it interesting that they hid the fact that they his the name of Find A Grave web site. Is Ancestry that afraid of competition?


    Roger, I doubt they’re afraid of competition from Find A Grave since they own it and use indexes to it on the Ancestry site.

    Unless you mean Billion Graves? I noticed Ancestry has removed the indexes to that site (claiming that it duplicates the Find A Grave indexes [there’s overlap, but there’s also stuff Find a Grave doesn’t have] perhaps the real reason is Billion Grave’s team up with My Heritage).


    Ancestry owns Find A Grave, so I don’t think that was why they didn’t name it. Maybe it was easier to have her type in what she did. Less keystrokes equals less camera time/costs.


I really do love watching these shows. Sometimes you can learn stuff, BUT…….it frustrates me to no end at the same time. I know that they only have so much time but you really do wonder if they do give them “All” the info that’s out there. Did anyone else see on this show where directly under the census that they briefly showed us that there was another family, same name and probably a brother, because of the ages. And if they did their research they could have stated that Noah, the civil war soldier, actually died from Small Pox on an island. They could have taken her to this island and it would have been interesting.
And to the person who stated in another comment…..”Seems that Mrs. Brown had a reason to mistreat her and the baby born in prison.” I would hope once you come to your senses you retract this statement. Did you ever think, that this woman was raped….? Woman had NO rights then, who do you think would have believed her, a murder ? In 150 yrs people still act the same – they speak before they think and we wonder why we’re in the state we’re in. My hats off to this woman who probably spent many lonely hrs in tears trying to keep herself and this child alive in these deplorable inhuman conditions.


JoAnn, I have never lost my senses. A potential rape was exactly the theory behind my comment. The “Mrs. Brown” comment indicated that the baby could have been the result of “Mr. Brown”, the person in Authority at the prison, that employed this female prisoner in their home, if I understood it correctly. This prisoner was young and in her prime at the time of her incarceration, and as you indicated “had no rights” and who would believe a female murderer’ complaints anyway.
Who would or could she have reported this to at the prison. She was the only female on the premises and fair game for any despicable male in authority.
Why else would another female have been mean and cruel and horrible to another female in such unfortunate circumstances. And what woman would stand by and watch a newborn baby freeze to death without giving them blankets and firewood.
And I did notice the younger male of the same name, possibly a brother, in the brief showing of the census. In thirty years of Genealogy research
I have learned a few things.
We were discussing the WDYTYA show, not your interpretation of my sensibilities.


The Missouri State Archives has much more information on this Cynthia Nixon show of Who Do You Think You Are, including the page from the Thompson book. You can interpret it any way you wish. http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/whodo/default.asp


Who Do You Think You Are? is a little contrived when they imply that there is no one in the reading room except the big name personality and the top executive of the big name archive.

Incidentally, Dick – watch out when you are critical about the number of commercials on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Your employer, Ancestry.Com, is one of the primary sponsors – you don’t want to fault the number of their commercials if you wish to remain on the payroll.


    —> Your employer, Ancestry.Com, is one of the primary sponsors – you don’t want to fault the number of their commercials if you wish to remain on the payroll.

    Well, technically…

    Ancestry.com was never my employer and I have never been on their payroll.

    Ancestry.com was the sponsor of this newsletter for quite some time but that arrangement ended about a year-and-a-half ago. They have not paid any of the newsletter’s expenses since then. However, even when Ancestry.com was sponsoring this newsletter, part of the agreement was that I was free to say whatever I felt was correct about any of Ancestry.com’s products or about any of the products of their competitors. I must say they lived up to the agreement fully a few times when I praised their competitors’ products. They never said a word to me about it.


I agree that this was one of the more interesting (and heart-wrenching) episodes of this show, ever. Oddly, I did not find the commercials objectionable. I am grateful to the companies who agree to broadcast this show in prime time. I will watch other episodes later on the computer if I miss them, but will continue to watch on Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. if I can.


I have a few genie friends in NC and FLA who cannot get the show where they live. Both are computer literate. Is there a way they can see the show on the show date via computer? Many thanks, Dick!


    Yes. They can watch it soon in TLC’s reruns on http://tlc.com . It also should become available on iTunes (for a fee) shortly and also on Hulu.com . I haven’t yet checked for the latest episode but all of last year’s episodes were released online within a few days after broadcasting on the air.


Is there any site that you can watch re-runs when you live in Canada? All the sites I’ve tried such as Hulu.com know you are not in the U.S.A. and don’t give you access.


BUYER BEWARE…Several months ago, I contacted the genealogy research organiation that supposedly handles the research for WDYTYA…thinking that they must be about the best…HA,HA!! What a joke!! I asked them to locate the area in Germany where one of our surnames where from…sending them copies of 20 yrs worth of my researching everything on this family online AND in person (in a far away state) along with family “lore”, etc.
They said the charge would be $2,000 because it was “out of the country”…which I stupidly paid them!!!
What I got was a fancy book which included NOT ONE THING other than the info I had sent to them!!!!


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