Last summer, the PBS series Genealogy Roadshow chose three cities as filming locations for its second season, and St. Louis was one of them. In August the crew arrived and spent nearly a week here recording enough footage for two episodes that will air January 20 (Central Library) and February 10 (Union Station). The six-part Genealogy Roadshow series, including episodes shot in Philadelphia and New Orleans as well, airs Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m. beginning January 13. (It repeats Thursdays at 1:00 a.m. beginning January 15.)
Genealogy Roadshow Executive Producer Carlos Ortiz reports that over 7,000 people applied to be on the show. For the St. Louis episodes, producers chose 12 people for main stories and 12 with smaller stories. “What we loved about our visit to St. Louis was the diversity of stories,” he says. “We were pleased to research and then share stories of all backgrounds and interesting, intriguing pasts. There were LOTS of great stories!”
The reactions from participants after hearing star genealogists Kenyatta D. Berry, Joshua Taylor or Mary Tedesco reveal the truth behind family folklore were “emotional, happy for some, and certainly life changing for others,” Ortiz says.
One of those who shared those reactions after successfully going through the months-long application and vetting process to be on the show was St. Lou Fringe actor and director Em Piro. When she was approached by a Genealogy Roadshow advance team in Grand Center’s Strauss Park, Piro told them about her family legend, that her great-grandmother was a mail-order bride who came to America from Italy to marry a Wyoming cowboy, but upon meeting him, ran off with another Italian.
Watch the Central Library episode:
Piro says she had “a blast” when the Genealogy Roadshow crew arrived to begin taping background footage with participants. Her excitement on camera was palpable later that week when she sat down with Tedesco in the grand hall of St. Louis Public Library-Central Branch to hear what researchers discovered.
“The whole thing opened up a whole Pandora’s box in my family!” Piro says now, several months later. “I definitely feel closer to them… . It was a unifying adventure, even though they weren’t here for it.”
Preview the St. Louis Union Station episode:
Genealogy Roadshow has increased her interest in family history and changed how she feels about her ancestors. “There were some very surprising things unearthed in my ‘reveal,’” Piro explains. “Even though the research didn’t reveal what I thought it would, I somehow feel closer to my identity now. I feel part of a bigger picture, the international history of human migration. I have names and stories to put with a lineage that previously ended on a boat to Ellis Island. I’m grateful for the experience.”
This article first appeared in the January/February 2015 issue of nineMagazine.