ODU History Professor Tim Orr Featured on Upcoming TLC Show with Singer Kelly Clarkson
Old Dominion University history professor Tim Orr will appear Tuesday night in the premiere episode of a new season of TLC's "Who Do You Think You Are?," a television show that explores the genealogy of certain celebrity's families.
According to a TLC description of "Who Do You Think You Are?," the series "famously takes celebrities on a journey into their personal histories, mining their surprising pasts to reveal unknown details about themselves and their families. The series opens the doors to the fascinating real life stories of some of the most well-known names in America, sharing how the eye-opening revelations they uncover about their backgrounds impact their lives today."
Orr is an assistant professor at ODU who specializes in American military history from the colonial period to present day. Within that, Orr has researched and written extensively on Civil War topics. In 2010, his book "Last to Leave the Field": The Life and Letters of First Sergeant Ambrose Henry Hayward, Company D, 28th" was published and he is credited with writing several book chapters on related topics in addition. He has also presented scholarly papers at numerous academic conferences and prior to coming to ODU served as a park ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park, in Pennsylvania.
A TLC researcher contacted Orr, he said, in the fall of 2012 after C Span filmed an ODU course he taught on Civil War prisons and broadcast it on the public affairs cable access channel. Orr was invited to do the show following a conversation in which he "fleshed out some historical explanations" for the researcher who was looking into an unnamed celebrity's genealogy regarding an ancestor who had a Civil War prison experience.
Orr's "Who Do You Think You Are?" episode centers on pop singer Kelly Clarkson's family lineage - specifically her great-great-great grandfather, on her mother's side, Isaiah Rose and "his extraordinary bravery in the face of being sent to one of the most notorious and dangerous places in the Civil War," Dustin Smith, a TLC spokesman, said.
While TLC is keeping the episode's major details, and a surprise revelation, under wraps until the show debuts July 23 at 9 p .m. (EST), Smith went on to explain that Clarkson "learns that her ancestor became a politician with an unending commitment to his beliefs, risking his reputation to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves."
Orr said he shot two scenes in Atlanta earlier this year with Clarkson where he helped her decipher historical documents that shed light on Rose's Civil War involvement. Even so, Orr will have to watch the episode to get the full story because TLC producers kept him in the dark about post-war details so that he couldn't prematurely reveal anything that might spoil the surprise when the pieces all come together for Clarkson, who shot to fame after winning the first season of American Idol in 2002.
The TLC show traces the person's geneaology back through the ages and it's supposed to be a personal discovery for the celebrity to look at documents and go to places and understand the meaning of that history, Orr said. In the scenes filmed with him, Clarkson is presented with a historical document and she has to read it and interpret it with his help.
"It's about her personal process of connecting with her family history," he said. "She was fun; very excited. She liked to say what was on her mind. The best part was she had an emotional connection with the history and not every person studying their family history has that connection, but she did. I thought that was easily the best part of the experience - that she was excited about it and she got emotional about it at the end. I think it's a good example for all people who care about history. You want to see people have an emotional connection so it's not just dry, static facts; it's something meaningful that kind of resonates with our generation today. I think it resonated with her."
Orr said he has had numerous experiences speaking in front of large audiences, but he described the filming process as "mind boggling" with all the lights, cameras and repeated takes on each scene.
"It was really fun. The crew was excited and enjoying every minute of it. They made it an enjoyable experience for a historian who isn't used to the film experience of shooting on set and getting it all done," he said.
Within the broad spectrum of Civil War history, Orr said he focuses mainly on the Union home front and military organization but he is particularly interested in the men who fought and takes a "bottom up approach" looking at ordinary individuals and how they dealt with the difficulties of war, separation from families and fighting the enemy on the battlefield.
Clarkson's ancestor, Isaiah Rose, fell squarely within that category of combatant.
"He was a private soldier from Ohio, I guess as ordinary as they come," Orr said. "He just got caught up in the dizzying forces of war and found himself in a prickly situation in 1864 that ended up getting him captured."
Orr said Isaiah Rose must have been a "very hearty soul" to be able to survive the situations he faced.
"I told her (Clarkson), I think you definitely want to have this guy's genes in you," Orr said. "The Confederacy threw everything they could at this guy to try to kill him and he walked away. We'd all want to have such a rugged sense of perseverance as this one Union soldier had."
To view a "Who Do You Think You Are?" series trailer, that covers the genealogy of several celebrities, visit the TLC website.