Yesterday evening a discussion arose in a genealogy-oriented Facebook group regarding the episode. Several posters were appalled at Kelly's lack of historical knowledge. "How could she have never heard of Andersonville?" "You mean she had never heard of temperance?" "How could she possibly think the cause of the Civil War was slavery?" "I just can't forgive her for her ignorant comments." Other posters on the discussion thread also criticized her personality and reactions to some of her findings, saying that "she was so phony" and "way too scripted." Someone even said that her ancestor's story wasn't "all that important."
These comments made my blood boil. I immediately dubbed these people 'smug genies' - defined as genealogists who think only certain people should have an interest in family history. If you don't know enough about history or documentation, you should not even try looking for your ancestors. Oh, and if your ancestors were nothing but coal diggers, they are not worth finding OR telling other people about.
Do you know how much knowledge of history you need to begin looking into your family's past? ZERO! Oh, sure, it can help a lot with the search, but you learn along the way. I took AP American History in high school, got six college credits from it, and I don't remember hearing about Andersonville. Would any average American really know about all the complicated states' rights issues that preceded (and caused) the Civil War? No, and it's absurd to imply that a personal search for ancestors should only be done by someone who has full knowledge of our country's history. By the way, criticizing a person's knowledge (or lack thereof) of history, or research sources, or documentation, etc. is the best way to keep people (especially, YOUNG people) away from genealogy. So, let's keep that up genealogy community, and watch the numbers dwindle.
As far as the comments about Kelly's personality and reactions to the findings...I'm fairly sure that the people who commented negatively have never seen Kelly in other interviews or venues. That personality she portrayed - that was the real her and if her reactions were maybe too honest for some people, well I don't feel like she should have to apologize for that. Yes, I'm sure there was editing from the producers and probably some prompted discussions and responses, but, hey, that's TV for you.
And the comments about her ancestor's life being too "boring" or "not super-special." Can we all agree that every ancestor of every person deserves to have his/her story told to the best of our abilities? That's right; my immigrant factory-worker great-grandfather's life story is equally as important as your ancestor's story, even if that man might be Thomas Jefferson.
Thank you for reading my rant. Fight the Power (of smug genies)!
©2013, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder