MHS in Primetime!

By Elaine Grublin

On 27 January 27 2009 there was a celebrity sighting at the MHS library.  Sarah Jessica Parker, of Sex & the City fame, visited our reading room and worked with material from our manuscript collections. We’ve kept it under wraps for more than a year waiting for the right moment to tell the world, but now we want everyone to know so that they can share in our celebrity experience!

Sarah Jessica visited as part of filming for the inaugural episode of NBC’s new series “Who Do You Think You Are?” This program, an American adaptation of the hit British documentary series by the same title, follows well-known celebrities as they work to discover their proverbial roots, researching their ancestors in an attempt to learn more about their families and themselves. 

During her visit Sarah Jessica registered as a researcher and followed all the rules of the reading room – although we did allow the film crew to follow her in, which is way beyond our norm. I spent some time working with SJP in the catalog room, helping her identify and call for the material she wanted to see and then brought the material to her in the reading room. We can’t tell you which documents she looked at, though – you’ll need to tune in to the show in order to find out!

Sarah Jessica was an eager and interested researcher as well as a gracious celebrity guest. Naturally she was interested in seeing the material we held that was connected to her ancestor, but she also asked questions about the size and scope of our collections and how we preserve our documents. After filming wrapped, she stopped in our lobby to chat with a couple of students from Emerson College that had also been conducting research here and posed for photographs with them. She then stayed on into the evening for a tour of the MHS building and a chance to see some of our treasures. While looking at selected materials from the Adams Family Papers we discovered that March 25, the date Thomas Jefferson wrote his last letter to John Adams, is SJP’s birthday (only off by about 140 years). And she enthusiastically agreed when a staff member pointed out that our portrait of Lieutenant Frederick Hedge Webster, who was killed in action while serving in the Massachusetts 54th Regiment in 1864, bore an uncanny resemblance to her husband Matthew Broderick, who played Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, also of the 54th, in the film “Glory.”

“Who Do You Think You Are?” debuts on NBC on Friday, 5 March 2010 at 8:00 p.m. with the Sara Jessica Parker episode. The MHS is just one of the many stops Parker makes on her journey of genealogical discovery, so be sure to tune in to learn her story and to catch the MHS library and reading room staff during their 15 minutes of fame. 

 You can watch some “preview clips” from the show here.