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Who Do You Think You Are? Bruce Forsyth

20 Jul

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring the entertainment legend Bruce Forsyth, was the first of the nine episodes in the new UK series.

Whilst the story of Bruce’s great-grandfather Joseph Forsyth Johnson was quite an interesting one, a successful landscape gardener with a wife and family on both sides of the Atlantic who died poor, the way the story was told seemed very long-winded to me.

The way the research was carried out seemed incredibly laboured, or at least that was the way it seemed on screen. I was left with the feeling that given access to the right online database (and a trip to the Family History Centre) I could have done most of the search in a couple of hours. They didn’t seem to stray very far from census returns, passenger lists and directories, most of which are easily accessible these days.

I am sure there was more research going on behind the scenes. One of the first things I would have done is contact the American ‘cousin’ to see what she knew. I expect the researchers probably did, but just didn’t show it on film. The overall impression was that they were dragging the story out to fill the full hour.

I feel the story surrounding his two wives was not really explained, but to be fair probably it never would be satisfactorily (through lack of records), but the fact that Joseph was coming back over to England to visit his children suggests that the split with his first wife may have been amicable (from the diary some of his children certainly didn’t seem to bear him any bad feeling), rather than him running away to America and abandoning them, which was the impression that I got from watching the show.

I even found the ending of the show rather predictable, the saccharine closing comments of the narrator about the cemetery, were not unsurprising and I would have been disappointed if Bruce hadn’t made some effort to have the grave of Joseph marked in some way, after all I am sure he has the money to be able to afford it.

Overall it was an interesting story, but it probably could have been told in half the time. Alright perhaps for the casual viewer, but for a demanding (impatient?) genealogist it fell short of previous episodes.

Victorian Pharmacy

19 Jul

Last Thursday saw the first episode  of a new four part series on BBC 2 entitled Victorian Pharmacy. The series is produced by the same company (Lion Television) who produced Victorian Farm, which was shown last year.

The series looks at the workings of a Victorian pharmacists’ shop. The first episode sees the shows two main stars, Ruth Goodman (also from Victorian Farm) and Nick Barber, along with their apprentice Tom Quick setting up shop in the re-constructed Victorian town at Blists Hill.

We saw quite a wide range of activities in the first episode, from gathering herbs for traditional remedies to the creation of a slightly more scientific remedy in a rather basic (by today’s standards) laboratory.

Like Victorian Farm there were several experts on hand to explain some of the principles, and there was also a stream of ‘customers’ willing to try out their remedies and treatments.

Their shop was quite spectacular to look at with all sorts of bottles, jars, pots, boxes and packages displayed on the counter, in glass cabinets and on shelves. I am not sure how typical this would have been, because the shop is itself is a museum exhibit.

I certainly had trouble reconciling the image that I have in my mind of my GEERING chemists and druggists with what was shown on screen. Admittedly my mental image comes largely from the description provided by Thomas Geering in his book Our Sussex Parish.

I just can’t imagine my GEERINGs mixing remedies or gathering ingredients from the countryside surrounding Hailsham, Sussex. I see them more as shopkeepers buying in ready made preparations for sale to the residents of Hailsham.

Overall the programme was fun and entertaining, there was a small element of education, but the emphasis was more on things that seemed shocking or laughable to our modern eyes, like the use of leeches.

As a glimpse into the possible lives of my ancestors it is invaluable, I just wish I knew more about what was in their shop and whether their business flourished or was avoided like the plague by the residents of Hailsham.

Who Do You Think You Are? US – Brooke Shields

5 Jul

Sunday night saw the screening of another episode of the US version of Who Do You Think You Are?, this one featuring actress Brooke Shields.

At the start I was beginning to wonder if there was going to be any genealogy, as it seemed to take ages to get moving and away from the fact that she was from New York.

The first part in Newark was quite interesting, not only because of the obligatory ‘celebrity trying to work a microfilm reader’ shot, but also because of the picture that the historian was able to paint of the neighbourhood.

I did feel that the programme left this side of the family a bit prematurely. I would have liked to find out where the (probably) immigrant ancestors had come from, but I guess the travel budget was being saved for the other side of the family.

The other side of the family was the rich and famous side, and as such there was no genealogy seen on screen, other than the handing over of a scroll with her father’s ancestry already laid out for her.

We have seen this several times on the UK version, where the show moves away from researching and interpreting the lives of the ancestors, to capturing the reaction of the celebrity as he/she is revealed to be the descendant of increasingly wealthy/powerful/pious individuals.

Brooke Shields seemed genuinely interest and enthusiastic as she was shown paintings and sculptures of her illustrious ancestors and it certainly made for great television. Like the previous episode, the best place to find out more details is on the NBC website, not the BBC website.

Coming up next week is Susan Sarandon, on BBC One at 10.35pm on Monday 12th July 2010.

Who Do You Think You Are? US: Sarah Jessica Parker

14 Jun

At last we have seen an episode for the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? on British television, for the time being at least, it seems that this is the only programme from the series that we will be seeing.

The actual story of Sarah Jessica Parker’s ancestors is covered in depth elsewhere, so I won’t go into any detail about what was revealed. This in itself is one of the big differences between the UK and US versions of the series, the amount of information provided by NBC about each celebrity is enormous compared to the amount provided by the BBC. This isn’t just a case of the information already being out there so the BBC didn’t need to bother, it was pretty much the same with the last UK series as well.

Apart from that there weren’t really that many important differences, or at least it is hard to judge from just one episode. For example, Sarah Jessica Parker seemed to get incredibly excited as every piece of new information appeared, whether this is just her personality or whether the programme makers were trying to show how exciting genealogy research can be is hard to say.

Again at the beginning of the show she seemed to spend more time talking to her family about what she/they expected to find out. I would have thought it pretty obvious that they would find some roots deep in American history somewhere within the branches of her family tree.

The fact that the programme was dealing with aspects of American history didn’t really make much of a difference to me. Most of the events mentioned were known to me, but really in name only. The level of detail provided was just right, I didn’t need to know in great detail what happened to appreciate the importance of of the events.

I would say the programme itself wasn’t that different from the UK version, typically much of the research process itself took place behind the scenes, so all we saw were the relevant documents being delivered and interpreted. I think the programme was slightly faster paced than the UK version. I think they covered the same number of stories in 46 minutes as they would normally cover in an hour in the UK.

All in all, I would say I enjoyed this episode, even though most of the subject matter was not of personal interest. I look forward to one day seeing the rest of the episodes (I could probably find a way of watching them online if I wanted to).

Your Family History: A new family history magazine for the UK

22 Apr

Your Family Tree Today I picked up the first edition (May 2010) of a new UK family history magazine Your Family History. It is published by Wharncliffe Publishing Ltd and is an unofficial successor to the discontinued Ancestors magazine (it also has the same cover price of £3.99).

At first glance it is very similar in appearance to Ancestors and has all the features you would expect from a family history magazine, such as news, internet news, reviews, lists of events and courses.

There are some interesting articles in this first edition. Of topical interest is an article on the genealogy of the three main candidates in the 2010 Election. On the practical side there is a beginner’s guide to making a video biography.

I was intrigued by the article on the supposed failed German invasion on the Suffolk coast (Shingle Street) in 1940. It certainly made me interested in reading more about the story and will check my local library for some of the material mentioned in the article.

This first issue has a Spotlight on Sussex which I was naturally drawn to. It contains details of the three main archives in Sussex, the West Sussex Record Office, the East Sussex Record Office and the Brighton History Centre. There is also an article on the private archives of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire.

The theme of archives continues in The Last Word, where Nick Barratt (Editor-in-Chief) reminds us that our archives and local study centres are in danger of closure and cuts, and need our support to ensure their survival.

It is an encouraging first issue, a worthy successor to Ancestors. There is a good selection of experts (who we are introduced to in this first issue) writing on a wide range of subjects and answering readers queries

You can find out more about the first issue, learn about the experts, subscribe to the magazine, sign up to the newsletter and submit your stories on their website.

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