John Searcy stood wide-eyed in front of a TV camera on Thursday at the Manatee County Agricultural Museum, learning about his family’s past and his heritage.
The Indiana resident traveled through Palmetto with a TV crew at his side as he learned about his great-grandfather — his namesake — and the mysteries behind a man he grew up knowing very little about. His experience was being filmed for a new cable TV series called “The Generations Project.”
The series — developed by BYU Broadcasting based at Brigham Young University in Utah — will debut in October.
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The university houses the Center for Family History and Genealogy — one of the largest genealogy databases in the world.
Searcy submitted an application to be on the show after his wife heard about the project. He said he had always wanted to know more about his family tree and the man he was named after.
For this episode, the show revealed details about the life of Searcy’s great-grandfather.The film crew told Searcy he settled in Palmetto in 1902, operating his own farm. While at the agricultural museum, Cathy Slusser of the Manatee County Historical Records Library, gave him a tour as the camera rolled.
“I’m finding out what day-to-day life was like for him,” Searcy, a 30-year-old school teacher and Tennessee native, said in between shoots at the museum.
Before Thursday, all Searcy knew of his great-grandfather was that “he was an honest, kind and generous person” who died before Searcy’s grandfather was born.
During the visit, Searcy also learned more about his grandfather, who died a few years ago. His grandfather, who grew up in Palmetto, met his grandmother by driving produce up north. His favorite stop was in South Carolina, where she lived. Her love for the mountains won out over his grandfather’s love of the Florida beaches, causing him to leave Palmetto and start a family there, Searcy said.
“My grandpa always loved the beach and this explains why,” he said, after touring the Manatee area.
Searcy said each generation of his family seems to move away from home and settle elsewhere. He also has followed suit.
Later in the day, the show’s crew took Searcy to a historic cemetery in Palmetto. There, Cis Paulsen, a past president of the Palmetto Historic Commission, showed him the infant grave of Odell Searcy, his great-grandfather’s first-born. The child only lived 15 months, from 1904-1905.
Those interested in being on “The Generations Project” can submit an application to www.byub.org/ thegenerationsproject. The best inquiries submitted with the most intriguing genealogies are chosen for the show, producer Josh Wagner said.
Wagner said Palmetto has a great and well-persevered history, making his job that much easier.
“It has just opened its doors to us,” he said of the city.
As Searcy continued discovering pieces of his past, it became such a meaningful experience that he was nearly moved to tears talking about it.
“There’s a lot of emotion to it,” he said. “It gives you a strong connection to a past that is a part of you — of why you carry those family traits, the things you foster and where they come from.”