Our American Family – Episode 1: The Youngs

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee previews a new documentary series entitled Our American Family and interviews producer Steve Young

Our American Family – Episode 1: The Youngs on Amazon Prime

Our American Family: The Youngs profiles Darwyn Young, his wife Pauline and their eight children who labored as tenant farmers while nurturing a dream of one day owning their own land. The documentary chronicles their family journey, where reliance upon one another and their faith were the glue that held the family together through the extreme hardships of the Depression and the Great War.

NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles about a new documentary series entitled Our American Family available via Amazon Prime. Our American Family seeks to document our American family heritage, one family at a time, and inspire viewers to capture their own family stories – before those voices are gone. Click HERE to view any or all of the episodes and to get a FREE TRIAL of Amazon Prime.

Overview of Our American Family: The Youngs

Our American Family: The Youngs profiles Darwyn Young, his wife Pauline and their eight children who labored as tenant farmers while nurturing a dream of one day owning their own land. The documentary chronicles their family journey, where reliance upon one another and their faith were the glue that held the family together through the extreme hardships of the Depression and the Great War.

Commentary on Our American Family: The Youngs

I reviewed the first episode of Our American Family about two years ago when the project first started and recently I went back for another look. I absolutely love the format of this short, 24-minute documentary that is filled with old family photos and film clips. You really get a sense of the hardships that The Youngs had to endure in 1930s Mississippi during the Great Depression and how it influenced the eight children of Darwyn and Pauline Young. It is almost as if you have just heard the elevator speech about the family right before you walk into their family reunion . . . and you know they are going to make you feel right at home! I also like how each person is highlighted, with interview clips, and at the end, there is a summary of those family members who have passed. If only we all could have such a documentary done for our own families!

Genealogy author and expert Thomas MacEntee interviews Steve Young, producer of Our American Family

Interview with Steve Young, Producer of Our American Family

Note: I had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview recently with Steve Young who produces the Our American Family series. Here are the questions and answers related to The Youngs episode and the series in general.

Q. The Youngs is the first episode on the Our American Family series. It appears that all the Young children contributed family photos, interviews and memories to this effort. What was their reaction to the finished product?

They loved it, but I must admit I am biased since they are my family (laughs). When I set out with a very talented filmmaker to document my dad’s family story, we had no idea that our work would lead to a series on public television and now Amazon Prime. My family’s positive reaction was understandable – seeing our family story depicted in this way is a powerful thing – but it was the reaction of those who didn’t know our family that told us we were on to something – that our family story had struck a chord. It turned out that Our American Family: The Youngs was like holding up a mirror to the viewer. This same reaction has taken place with each family story we have featured.

Q. The Youngs depicts a Mississippi family during the Great Depression, an event that affected most American families during the first half of the 20th century. While producing Our American Family, have you found a common storyline among those families that endured this period?

Absolutely – uncannily so. The common storyline is shared sacrifice. In fact, I went back through all of the transcripts of the documentaries we have produced thus far, and can find almost no mention of the pronoun “I.” It is stunning. Almost exclusively, “we” is used. Family members during this era put the interests of the family above those of self. It is clear that this common storyline is the foundation upon which each family member stands, and the source of the values each family hopes to pass on to future generations. I would add that as we build this tapestry family story by family story, we see in very personal and tangible ways how unifying and hope-filled the American dream has been.

Click below for some excerpts from the conclusion of Our American Family: The Youngs, which lifts up this point.

Q. Have you always been a documentarian? What skills does it take to produce an episode of Our American Family?

I have not, though a large part of my career was spent in print publishing. Probably more important is that my roots are in Mississippi, a state known for its cultural complexity and where the power of story is in the water. It is no accident that icons like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Willie Morris are Mississippi natives, as are more recent popular authors such as John Grisham and Greg Iles. At Legacy Filmworks, I have a great team to help produce Our American Family – Michael Nolan, a veteran television writer with a strong sense of narrative arc – and Emmy-award winning filmmaker Bradford VanDemark, who brings a beautiful visual sense to each story, weaving in the family’s archival material with live interviews and music. The goal is to capture each family’s story in their own words and accurately reflect their journey from this time in history.

Q. Do you have any advice for family historians who want to pursue preserving their own family stories through either print, video or multi-media?

First and foremost, do not wait! Time is of the essence. However, paradoxically, it is also never too late to start. I chose to document my family’s story because we had lost my Grandmother Young – the keeper of the family lore – before anyone had written anything down. That huge missed opportunity was the inspiration to begin. Develop a set of common questions to ask all family members who grew up during the period of history you wish to document, and ask those members to tell the stories of those who came before who are not able to speak for themselves. Multiple perspectives on a common set of questions build a rich “three-dimensional” narrative. We gather everyone at one location and ask family members to bring their old photos and memorabilia. (If old photos have not yet been digitized, do so immediately.) You will find that this will be a very special time and stories will come out that have never before been told. The method you use — print, audio or video – is not as important as is committing to get your family’s story documented for future generations. You will have something that is both priceless and grounding, particularly in this fast-paced, chaotic time in which we now live.

Want to be a part of Our American Family? Submit Your Application

If you are interested in having your family’s story considered for the Our American Family project, please review their requirements and submit an online application HERE.

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About the Author

Thomas MacEntee

Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

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