Over the past year the staff of Henry Janssen Library, and the Executive Director of The Berks History Center have worked in conjunction with the Television Producers of Who Do You Think You Are? The program is televised on TLC, The Learning Channel. The episode that features the Henry Janssen Library airs on April 17, 2016 and features Katey Sagal.
The process began the same as any other of our numerous research requests. The Berks History center was contacted, they were bumped over to the Henry Janssen Library where we explained our remote research services and recommended a visit to the library. The particular topic of this research request was the Jacob Hochstetler Massacare that occurred near present day Shartlesville. The Hochstetler family was part of the Northkill Amish settlement.
As our protocol we made the researchers aware of the pertinent materials in our possession. Over the course of time our researchers divulged more information about their full intentions. To the point of disclosing to us that they were the producers of Who Do You Think You Are?, and that they desired to schedule a visit to assess our materials and scout a possible location for filming.
The only special treatment they really received was that we had advance notice and due to the possibility of public exposure we made sure to brush up on finer points of the history. The “researchers” were more or less looking for a good story, to make good television, not necessarily the facts. It was apparent their preliminary research was conducted online. There was a discrepancy that arose that they believed that the raids were lead by French scouts. I would guess this information was derived from the wikipedia article that cites Nolt, Steven M. (2003). A History of the Amish. Revised and updated. Intercourse, Pennsylvania: Good Books. Pg. 84 for their source.
Kimberly Brown and Lisa Adams have been extensively consulting colonial records prior to this research request. Kim set the producers straight that there is no documentation of the French ever being Berks in any military fashion. The closest the French came during the French and Indian War was a low ranking French officer got lost on a scouting mission. After wandering for several weeks he was found by the English and taken to Philadelphia for interrogation. It was possible he was found in Berks County, but let us remember the northern borders of Berks were much larger during that time period, poorly marked, and he was captured far beyond Berks present day borders.
Outside of that issue, we had a wonderful afternoon with the producers, they were here for a couple hours examining our materials. They left for a few hours to scout the Hochstetler homestead site. Then they returned to the library to tie up some loose ends and called it a day. At this point we had no confirmation that they would be using our location.
Later, it was arranged that Who Do You Think You Are? would film at the Henry Janssen Library. The day of filming was an extremely interesting process. Sime Bertolet, Lisa Adams, and myself (Luke Sutliff) were present the day of filming. We were required to open on a Sunday. I spent a good deal getting to know the production crew. Most of the crew were from California, though one or two was from the midwest, and one fellow was from jolly ole England. Only a few were actually employed by television show, most were contracted to film only that particular episode.
The set-up for filming was extensive, the entirety of the research room was used with the vertical file room used for overflow people and equipment. The celebrity arrived with her personal assistants and make-up artist. Everyone was very pleasant, though you could tell several days of travel and filming were taking its toll on everyone.
Their main concern was the oral tradition of the Hochstetler massacre. To convey the oral tradition they brought a distant relation of the celebrity, Irwin Stutzman. He had written a few books relating to the Hochstetler family, the point he was there to drive home was the pacifism of the Amish religion. Also that during their darkest hours the family stuck to the tenets of their religion. The source they read from was “Descendants of Jacob Hochstetler” by Harvey Hochstetler. Basically that was it, they met and they more or less read directly from the book. Irwin was knowledgeable, but Berks County was not necessarily his area of expertise. His are of expertise is the Mennonite religion. Katey Sagal was engrossed in the story and our staff had several interactions with her to help convey the context of the story.
There were some noticeable cultural differences between us Berks Countians and those Californians. They did not understand that on Sundays businesses open late. They had to place the lunch orders early in the morning and it took several attempts to find restaurants that were open early, and fit the dietary needs of the crew. They eventually chose the Double Tree Hotel, in Reading. It felt odd trying to explain that due to Christianity and church on Sundays that businesses were closed. To further bewilder them, we also explained that the public schools close the first Monday after thanksgiving for deer hunting season.
To enlighten our guests I had brought Tasty-cake Peanut Butter Kandy Cakes, and Butterscotch Crimpets to share with the crew. They went over fabulously. I had also brought Clover Hill Icy Tea and Dieffenbach Potato Chips, but on second thought after listening to their debates on lunch, I figured their fragile bodies may not have been able to handle that refreshing nectar, or that delicious crunch.
All in all it was an extremely fun process. I was proud of myself for maintaining a professional composure. I avoided confessing to Katey Sagal, that Peg Bundy is the inspiration for my lifelong aspiration of becoming a stay at home father. Thank you for reading my views on the process. If nothing else the crew and Katey Sagal can always remember the Tasty cakes they had in little old Berks County, Pennsylvania.