Put Down Roots
Austin woman among those to be featured on PBS' 'Genealogy Roadshow'
Do you know where you and your people come from?
Millions of people are asking that very question and thanks to websites like Ancestry.com, they can now dive right into their family trees and become genealogy detectives. A 2012 ABC News story estimates genealogy may rank second only to gardening as Americans' favorite pastime. According to a study published in 2012 by Global Industry Analysts, people spend $2.3 billion per year on genealogy products and services.
Genealogy also means big television ratings. Genealogy Roadshow, similar in format to Antiques Roadshow, has been a hit in Ireland since 2011. It features everyday folks who want to consult with genealogy experts to explore the stories and such passed down through family history. Earlier this year, PBS created an American version of Genealogy Roadshow and filmed segments in four cities: Nashville, Detroit, San Francisco, and Austin.
Last April, Denise Garza Steusloff applied to be a part of this new TV series. "My dad had done a lot of genealogical research, and over the years, he would tell us all this cool stuff," said Steusloff. "He's a very quiet man – the classic stoic dad – but when he talks about genealogy, he gets really animated. And we would respond, 'Yeah, Dad, you can say all these things, but do you have any hard evidence?'"
Now she does.
Steusloff was one of a handful of Austinites selected by the show, and by June, a crew came to Austin to film her segment. The showrunners asked for Steusloff to submit whatever documents she had already, a DNA test, and three questions she wanted answered: She wanted to know about any potential connections to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, the Spanish Jews who came to the Americas to escape the Inquisition, and the Canary Islanders who settled San Antonio in the 17th century. "Being Hispanic, people ask me where I'm from. I'm not first-generation and it's really hard to get across that my family has been here a very long, long time. I don't even speak Spanish, although I'm working on it. My husband is Anglo, and he speaks better Spanish than I do."
The show assigned Los Angeles-based genealogist Linda Serna to work on Steusloff's family history. And Steusloff says the results were so profound that the research is now one of Serna's case studies. She found out what ties she has to the Texas Revolution, learned how many of her father's tall tales were true after all, and even discovered a whole new set of cousins outside San Antonio.
"Ours is a very intriguing story. ... It's like, wow, this is really complicated because families are really complicated. Roots are a part of history and everybody has their role. And I think that is what the show is about. Every one of us is important, and everyone's family has some kind of role in history, even if it's small. And that's cool."
Steusloff has some advice for people who want to do their own genealogical research. "I would start with one line in your family. It's so easy to get distracted because there is so much out there. Solve one little mystery at a time, and you'll be so surprised. All of this stuff is an avalanche of information, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. Talk to your dad. Talk to your grandma. They love talking about this stuff. Don't discount what they say – that's what I used to do with my dad."
Steusloff's research is far from over – she's even going back to school to study Mexican-American history and get better at Spanish – and she bets the show will inspire others to start their research too: "I told the records people at the state to get ready."