One of NBC’s newest primetime shows, “Who Do You Think You Are?” follows seven celebrities as they work with genealogy experts to uncover their families’ hidden pasts. The show is produced by Wall to Wall Entertainment, best known for their PBS reality shows “Frontier House” and “Colonial House.” According to online promotional video clips, viewers will have the opportunity to follow alongside well-known celebrities as they travel through time to uncover their ethnic roots. The seven part series is done in partnership with Ancestry.com, the online website database used by individuals and institutions for genealogical research. Promotional clips show the seven celebrities at moments of shock and contemplation as they learn about the lives of their ancestors. While a couple of future episodes appear to follow some of the celebrities’ to their ancestors’ foreign origins, others investigate the celebrities’ American roots.
Matthew Frye Jacobson delves deeply into American’s determination to discover their ethnic heritage in his book, Roots Too. He stresses the influence of public media through television and film in prompting an increase in the white middle America’s search for connections to their past. A rebellion against “video assimilation,” or diminished ethnic elements in television and film, the universal popularity of the mini-series Roots, and the patriotic centennial celebration in 1975 all contributed to a boom in genealogy and ancestry. Individuals were searching and hoping for their own unique identity. “Indeed, in trying to explain the boom in genealogical research in 1977, one archivist in Fort Wayne, Indiana, called it “bicentennial fallout.” It was not just that Americans were hoping to discover a revolutionary soldier in their family’s past…but that the images conjured in this national celebration adopted ethnic diversity as a central motif.” 
With the new information generation, genealogical research appears to be entering yet another upswing, but instead of individuals seeking what Jacobson describes as their hyphen ethnicity, individuals, as demonstrated in NBC’s new show, are seeking their American roots. In contrast to post-civil rights ethnicity investigation, this new movement does seem interested in connecting individuals with famous ancestors as a way of proving an individual’s connection to American history. The first episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” followed actress Sarah Jessica Parker from New York to Cincinnati, Ohio to El Dorado, California to Salem, Massachusetts in search of two of her ancestors. Throughout the program genealogists and historians were able to determine that one of her ancestors was involved in the California gold rush in 1849, and another was indicted in a Salem witch trial in 1692.
The episode concludes with Sarah Jessica relaying her new found information to her excited mother in New Jersey. “I went into this thinking that I wasn’t connected to anything historical. That was the feeling, like there was no link to the past. But there is. There are strong links to a historical time, and I was terribly wrong…thrillingly.”
Is this the beginning of a new generation that is no longer interested in their hyphen ethnicity but instead interested in their American ethnicity? Instead of Hollywood portraying blurred or stereotyped ethnicity in fictional settings, celebrities are now using their own heritage to promote a new homogenized American identity.
Sarah Jessica Parker’s episode ends with her candid declaration, “I believed in America. I believed in the things I love about being American. But I never felt that I was really American….What I’ve learned is that I have real stock in this country. And real roots. And I have belonging. I’m an American. I’m actually an American.”
NBC, http://www.nbc.com/who-do-you-think-you-are, (accessed March 5, 2010).
 Matthew Frye Jacobson, Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 75.
 Ibid, 55.
 “Who Do You Think You Are?” Sarah Jessica Parker. http://www.hulu.com/watch/132794/who-do-you-think-you-are-sarah-jessica-parker (accessed March 14, 2010).