The latest series of Who Do You Think You Are has just started to air in the UK. The hobby of genealogy has grown tremendously in popularity over the last few decades, fuelled to a great extent by the advent of the internet. Before that, serious family historians would be trawling Archives and libraries to search for , and view, paper records.
So apart from the internet, what has brought genealogy into the mainstream ? I would suggest that TV programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are have played a part. Many countries across the world now have their own editions. At its heart, it is an entertainment programme but which also provides information of use to the family historian. Unfortunately, the amount of useful information has gradually decreased over the years, but the programme can still be enjoyed as a piece of engaging television.
I often wonder how the planning for the programmes takes place. How do they decide which celebrities to research? I once assumed that it started out as tentative research following perhaps anecdotal stories which have appeared somewhere in the public domain. I now know that stories already out there are a reason not to continue ie it's not new stuff. Perhaps there is a master list of celebrities to choose from? If the initial research suggests that an interesting story might emerge then the appropriate resources will be put in place to unearth the documentary evidence. Each new series seems to include a range of different interest areas so I'm sure that is taken into account when the episodes in a series are finalised. Many of us will have heard the stories of celebrities who didn't quite make the cut! Their stories were nothing out of the ordinary, or as one celebrity remarked, " we were too boring".
That notion is what prompted me to write this blog as well as a comment from a client who stated that they weren't interested in agricultural labourers and cobblers; they wanted royalty and aristocracy!
Of course, you can't choose your family and I think that is how it should be. Can you imagine what that process would be like and the likelihood that you still wouldn't be satisfied?
I often remind clients that they must accept whatever the research reveals. For most of us, that will mean 'ordinary' people, if such a thing exists. Not people in the public eye, the leaders or great authors and artists or those whose individual actions helped to propel this nation through the Industrial Revolution and the traumas of the 20th century. It is often said that if we go back far enough we are all related, albeit distantly, to royalty, which in my eyes makes it quite meaningless.
I prefer to fly the flag for the 'ordinary' people, without whom royalty would have no-one to rule over. The leaders of men whose ideas need people to bring them to fruition.
The fact is that 'ordinary' people often do extraordinary things. In emergency situations, in times of war, when danger presents itself. Stepping up, without concern for personal safety, to do what is required and then stepping back and burying the memories. The majority of families will have examples of this. I often think about the people who left these shores for a better life, sailing off into the unknown and fearing they may not reach their destination. I have uncovered several examples of this in my own family history.
Having worked with older people in the past, I have been astounded at the lives they led. Encouraging people to talk allows at least some of their stories to be heard.
My message is that we should be proud of our ancestors, however they lived their lives. We are forever genetically linked to them. Encourage older relations to share their stories for the benefit of future generations.