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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

"Who do you think you are?"

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, August 11, 2013

“Who Do You Think You Are?” is a television series that began on the BBC in 2004, and continues as a popular show in Great Britain.

It has spawned shows in many countries around the world, and in 2010 was the basis for the American version of the show on NBC.

This summer, this American genealogy documentary shifted to the TLC cable network, and the first show premiered in July.

The program is connected to the largest genealogical research company on the Internet; Ancestry.com.

The Librarian chatter about the show has been positive, and I must admit that most of us working in libraries enjoy watching the research proceed, and the famous person’s ancestry unfold for the television audience.

I would note however that we do chuckle a bit when every librarian approached has found an answer for the star of the show, and everyone’s genealogy takes an interesting twist.

I look forward to the reality that someday, somewhere, some librarian will look the star in the face and exclaim, “Sorry, I can’t find a thing about your relative!”

But anyway, the first show was promoted as featuring singer Kelly Clarkson, and the fact that her genealogy led back to Ohio.

Statewide alerts stated that the show would visit the Ohio Senate chambers in Columbus, as well as the Genealogy and Local History Department of the Washington County Public Library in Marietta.

That caught my attention, as many of you know, I am a native of Marietta and worked years ago at the public library there.

Her ancestor was Isaiah Rose, a Union soldier during the Civil War who enlisted in Ohio, and was a prisoner at the Andersonville Prison; later escaping.

That information alone, made the story interesting, and after the war he returned to his native Washington County, Ohio and a visit to the public library documented that he had served as Sheriff and State Senator in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

The public library proudly presented copies of the newspaper with articles about his term as Sheriff and State Senator, and did a great job presenting the research and what could be found in their department.

The show then shifted to Columbus, and the chambers of the Ohio Senate, where Senator Rose would have served, and followed legislation that he sponsored in the early 1900s.

The Ohio Senate chamber has been restored and looks like it did in that time period, making the presentation quite realistic.

The Senate historian noted that he had even more information for Kelly Clarkson, and he pointed to a book titled, “Washington County to 1980.”

I exclaimed to my wife who was watching the show with me, “Look, there’s the book my mother helped edit!”  Sure enough, my mother had worked editing the family histories provided for that 400 page book, published shortly before she died.

I grabbed my copy from my home bookshelves, and during the commercial flipped to the page containing the family history of Isaiah Rose, complete with a photo of he and his family.

When the program returned, they showed the photo and noted that he died in 1916 and is buried at Coal Run, Ohio, and north of Marietta.

As the show continued and they arrived at the cemetery, I continued reading the item in the book, and found that the premise for the entire show was contained in this one article.

In a librarian’s terms, this is called research-in-reverse or “backfilling the information.”  Oh well, that’s okay, as it made for an interesting show.  Wonder who found the article in the book?

When the show as over, I went back and re-read the article in the book, and then I found my own surprise!  At the end of the article, it said “Contributed by Madeline Gerke.”

She was my English teacher in junior high school in 1967 (and a favorite teacher at that!) and she often made mention of her grandfather who was in politics, using him when she diagramed sentences as an example.

Wow, this all came full circle, and lots of pieces fell into place.  Little did I know that I already knew State Senator Rose from years gone by?