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Magazine Watch: Ancestors (Issue 92: London Special 2010)

27 Jan

The latest edition of Ancestors magazine from The National Archives is a special edition focusing on the city of London. As the editor Simon Fowler says "Many of our ancestors were drawn to the capital for work, education and pleasure – even if they just passed through the city. No other place in Britain had the same irresistible attraction."

There is a great selection of articles in this issue, covering a wide variety of subjects including features on resources at the Society of Genealogists and the Bishopsgate Institute.

It would be hard to pick out my favourite article from this issue, there really are so many fascinating articles. The interview with novelist Lee Jackson has introduced me to a wonderful resource, the Dictionary of Victorian London which was a result of the background research for his historical novels.

My favourite article (and it was a tough choice) has to be the one by the editor Simon Fowler entitled Drunk and Disorderly, which describes the life of Jane Cakebread who "over a 15 year period, received nearly 300 sentences" for being found drunk and disorderly.

Although she became a well-known figure through the media of the time and despite the best efforts of one or two individuals, she ended her time in a pauper asylum, with only one person attending her funeral.

The most helpful article is probably Peter Christian’s Mapping the Metropolis which is an excellent summary of the maps of London which are available online. It is going to take some time to explore all the sources mentioned, although one worth highlighting is the Crace Collection of Maps of London at the British Library.

This has to be one of the best issues of the magazine I have seen for a long time, it is packed with interesting and informative articles concerning the city that plays a key part in so many of our ancestor’s lives.

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine – Autumn 2009 cover CD

13 Sep

I have many magazine CDs hidden away in draws and boxes, most of the time these free CDs mounted on the front of magazines are of little interest to me, but knowing they might be someday I usually keep them safe just in case. However, the CD on the latest edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine (the Autumn 2009 edition) is packed with some really interesting stuff.

For starters, there are three pieces of unseen footage from the David Mitchell episode from the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? The first two are quite long, and concern the Highland Clearances, the first addressing how the Mitchell family were affected and the second concerning the fate of those who were evicted from the land. The third and shortest segment features David Mitchell explaining why he wasn’t emotionally affected by the stories of his ancestors.

Continuing the Scottish theme, there is a link on the CD which provides free access to the 1901 Scottish Census transcriptions on Ancestry.co.uk. The link is only valid for a limited time (until the 10th October 2009) so you will need to be quick.

Most useful for my research is the inclusion on the CD of Kelly’s 1915 Directory of Hampshire & Isle of Wight. To my knowledge this is not available on Ancestry.co.uk or Historical Directories, so this is a real bonus for me. I haven’t had a thorough search yet, but I am sure I will find some of my own MITCHELL family (and WRIGHT family) within it’s pages.

Also on the CD is a wonderful selection of images from the collections of the Hampshire Record Office, the Isle of Wight Record Office and The Royal Green Jackets Museum. I particularly liked the fantastic detail on the photo of High Street, Southampton. As well as photos the images include examples of documents held buy the three repositories as well.

There is also a selection of links to some of the best websites for Hampshire family history, including the wonderful Ann’s Page, the work of Ann Barrett, which is a treasure trove of Isle of Wight information. Well worth a look if you have ancestors from the island.

Who Do You Think You Are? Series seven round up

22 Aug

The seventh series provided quite a diverse mix of research subject and geographic areas. Interestingly this series doesn’t seem to have gone back as far some previous series, concentrating on more recent ancestors. Perhaps this goes some way to show people that you don’t have to go back a long way to find interesting people and stories.

Here is a quick run down of the people and subjects covered. If you are quick they can still be watched over on the BBC iPlayer (if you missed them I am sure they will be shown again in the future, and will almost certainly be available on DVD eventually).


Episode 1: Davina McCall (first broadcast 15th July 2009)

Viewing figures (from Broadcast): 6.4 million

Like Davina the episode was half-English and half-French. The English half explored the life of James Thomas Bedborough and the impact of his death on his surviving family. The French half concerned Celestin Hennion an important figure in the history of the French police service.


Episode 2: Chris Moyles (first broadcast 22nd July 2009)

Viewing figures (from Broadcast): 4.7 million

This episode was mainly centred around Ireland with Chris Moyles uncovering tales of poverty and hardship, but it finished in Ypres retracing the steps of his great-grandfather who died there.


Episode 3: Kate Humble (first broadcast 29th July 2009)

Viewing figures (from Broadcast): 4.6 million

Perhaps the most outstanding episode this series, Kate Humble discovered the lives of three remarkable ancestors. One of whom was involved in the real life POW escape which was the inspiration for the film The Great Escape.


Episode 4: David Mitchell (first broadcast 5th August 2009)

Viewing figures (from Broadcast): 4.1 million

David Mitchell explored the lives of his ancestors in some quite remote and stunning Scottish landscape. No major revelations, just hard work (sheep farmers) and devotion to duty and the people of his parish (Church of Scotland Minister).


Episode 5: Kim Cattrall (first broadcast 12th August 2009)

Viewing figures (from Broadcast): 5.9 million

Probably the most emotional episode, Kim Cattrall attempted to find out what happened to her grandfather after he walked on his wife and children. Lots of anger and bitterness for a man who left is family with virtually nothing when he left.


Episode 6: Martin Freeman (first broadcast 19th August 2009)

Viewing figures (from Broadcast): 6.0 million

There were no earth shattering revelations in Martin Freeman’s episode, which mostly concerned his great-grandparents and the many children they had, and the common disability they shared.


One thing I found really interesting with this series was not that most of the celebrities didn’t really know a lot about their ancestors, but the fact that they felt they should have done and were even embarrassed or ashamed that they didn’t.

If I had to pick a favourite episode it would have to be the one with Kate Humble, the poor woman had revelation after revelation piled upon her, concerning ancestors that were truly remarkable people. It made compelling viewing and emotional viewing and should serve as a reminder that we shouldn’t rush back generation after generation, but ask questions and find out about those closer to us who we assumed were just normal ordinary people.

Who Do You Think You Are? Martin Freeman

19 Aug

The seventh series of Who Do You Think You Are? drew to a close tonight with the sixth episode featuring Martin Freeman, probably best known as Tim Canterbury in the UK version of The Office. Like many of the celebrities in this series, the programme began with Martin discussing that he really knew very little about his ancestry beyond his own parents.

Essentially a programme of two parts, the first part concerned Martin’s grandfather Leonard Freeman and his death during the Second World War. This lead to an interesting explanation of the events leading up to the evacuation at Dunkirk and his grandfather’s service in the RAMC, with details from the unit’s war diary and another account of the day when he was killed during an attack by German bombers.

The second part focused on Martin’s great grandparents. This is where things became really interesting with the discovery that his great grandfather Richard Freeman had been born blind and had attend a special school, which in turn seems to have lead to a lifetime involvement in pianos and organs, either tuning, repairing, supplying or playing.

Personally things got very interesting when the focus switched to Worthing in West Sussex, with scenes filmed in Worthing Library, one of my favourite libraries because of it’s wide range of resources for local and family history in Sussex.

The family tree which was slowly assembled revealed an increasingly large family, consisting of several marriages and many children (I think I counted 19 in all). The tragedy is that many of these children never survived into childhood, which seemed unusual. Using death certificates and with help from medical experts the likely cause of these deaths was uncovered. How many genealogists like me have wished that they could have a medical expert on call to explain the terms on a death certificate?

All in all a very interesting story was unravelled in this episode, and although it was quite a tragic story there was little of the emotion and excitement of previous episodes. In this respect it was probably more representative of the sort of stories that the majority of us will find in our family trees.

Who Do You Think You Are? Kim Cattrall

12 Aug

Tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) was the fifth programme of the seventh series and featured Kim Cattrall as the celebrity subject. She is probably best known as Samantha Jones from the popular television series Sex and the City.

This episode has probably been the most talked about episode of this current series, with several articles revealing that the episode is pretty much about her desire to find out what happened to her missing grandfather and the impact that the investigation had on her and her family.

I don’t think that there has been such a tightly focused episode in the history of WDYTYA, or one with such a well defined aim from the outset. I have great admiration for Kim Cattrall for not only wanting to find out more, but for allowing it to take place in front of the camera. It was never going to be an easy journey to make, and there was never likely to be a happy ending for the family.

There were some very moving scenes, like where Kim’s mother and aunts described so vividly the abandonment and hardship they had faced after his disappearance. Their strength and that of their mother in the face of such hardship is truly remarkable. It is hard to imagine that such poverty existed in parts of this country 70 years ago.

There was very little documentary research shown on screen, some searching of passenger lists for George Baugh’s attempt to stowaway to America was about it. Most of the progress in the story seems to have come from meeting and speaking to neighbours and family, something which was only possible because they were dealing with a much more recent time period than in most episodes (and the fact that they had a celebrity and a camera crew probably helped open doors).

In the final scenes, where Kim revealed the second life of her grandfather to her mother and aunts, she sounded to me like she was in a courtroom, prosecuting this man for what he had done, and perhaps in a way she was. There was never likely to be a question about the verdict. Understandably there was anger and disbelief, but I got the impression that there was also an element of relief that his secret was out and some closure was found. Perhaps not a happy ending, but an ending nevertheless.

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