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Genealogy Expert Shows Her On-Air Talent

Kenyatta Berry

See Also "Genealogy Roadshow Comes to San Francisco"

From presidential progeny to felonious forebears, family secrets are uncovered this fall across the United States in PBS' surprise-filled new series, Genealogy Roadshow. On-air expert Kenyatta Berry spoke to KQED about how she got involved in the project, what surprised her during the filming and more.

How did you get involved in this project?
I'm the president of the Association of Professional Genealogists, which is an international organization 2,600 members. PBS was looking for professional genealogists to help with their research, so I met with the casting team in L.A., where I live, to give them recommendations.

During that process, someone suggested I try out as on-air talent. Initially I thought, "No way, I'm not the right person for that." But I ended up doing a Skype audition tape and continued to recommend experts for behind-the-scenes work. Then I got a call. "PBS likes you. They want you to be a part of the show." I was shocked, I must admit. But it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Especially for someone who lives is in a city where 3 million people want to act and would die to get that opportunity. I couldn't say no.

Anything that's surprised you?
The first taping in Austin was pretty much shell shock both for me and Josh (the other on-air expert). We're genealogists, we look for dead people, we're not TV people. We're social and we have personalities, but we're not used to the organized chaos that is TV production. It was a bit overwhelming at first. But then I got used to hearing things like "You're going to pick up this line again." And it's been fun.

When I'm rehearsing with the writer it's still nerve wracking, but delivering information to a person about their family is the awesome part. I get to feed off their energy and they are so thankful. That's really why I do it, because people are so appreciative.

And it's cool that we're not just on-air personalities. We're genealogists. We like to look at the background research ourselves. It's not that we don't trust the other genealogists. We know them, we recommended them, but we want to be part of the process too. We don't want to just regurgitate information we want to really own it. I've even watched the casting videos in advance because it gives me a connection to the person before I meet them on camera.

It's also interesting how much information people think they don't know. There could be someone who says, "I had no relationship with my father." But then you start talking and it turns out they do have memories, they just needed someone to help trigger them.

Anything you'd like to add?
I hope the show inspires people to research their family histories. There was one woman I talked to who'd done a lot of research but couldn't get past a certain point. When I asked her, "What are you going to do with this new information?" She told me she was going to go home and do more research right away. She was so excited. I could tell she was literally going to drop the kids off at the playground and go.

 

Image courtesy of Rahoul Ghose/PBS

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