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Who Do You Think You Are? – Jason Donovan

31 Aug

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Jason Donovan was an enjoyable and interesting programme, but not outstanding. For me this series has so far lacked any really memorable (for the right reason) episodes.

I was a little surprised to find Jason Donovan on the UK version of the show rather than the Australian version, but that didn’t really matter as I was keen to learn a bit more about Australian family history. Whilst we learnt quite a bit about convicts (was anyone really surprised that he had at least one convict ancestor?), I would have liked to learnt more about everyday records, like those of birth, marriage and death.

That being said the stories uncovered were interesting, focusing mainly on three individuals, the two earliest ancestors being different sides of the same coin, convict and guard. It was the second of these, William Cox, that provided the most interesting story, travelling to Australia with his family and ending up as a pioneer paving the way for the growth of the Australian nation.

I was a bit confused by the preview of programme which said that they uncovered a miscarriage of justice, sure the punishment of transportation was harsh, but there was no indication why this should be seen as inappropriate for the time or any irregularities in the trial.

This episode did produce my favourite line of the series so far, when Jason told his first cousin once removed that he had been “too interested in myself for too long”. I don’t think it is just Jason that feels this, I think many people at one time or another realise this is case and wants to find out more about where they came from.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Alexander Armstrong

24 Aug

Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring comedian and actor Alexander Armstrong was another enjoyable episode. It was good to see mention made of his appearance in a spoof of Who Do You Think You Are? from the Armstrong and Miller Show, which has been doing the rounds since it was announced he would be appearing on the show, at least the producers of WDYTYA don’t take themselves too seriously.

Initially I was a little disappointed by the fact that so much seemed to rely on published genealogies and pedigrees, in fact after they opened up a copy of Burke’s Irish Landed Gentry in the first few minutes I was beginning to wonder whether there was going to actually be any need to do any new research.

I think I tend to forget that published genealogies can be a valuable source in themselves, maybe not a primary source and not always 100% accurate, in this respect it makes them much like many other sources. Just because my ancestors do not appear on them doesn’t make them any less important.

There did seem to be a little bit of background research going on, but I felt this episode was more about Armstrong actually following his family tree rather than tracing it. So although most of the work had already been done it was interesting to watch the branches of his family tree creep back further and further, and his ancestors get wealthier and more influential/powerful.

Armstrong was quite enthusiastic about the whole exercise, although perhaps more as a spectator than an active participant, with him being given things to read next rather than him asking the questions and deciding which branches to follow. I got the impression it was a very well mapped out journey he was taking, but an interesting and enjoyable one nevertheless, with a couple of interesting twists.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Rupert Penry-Jones

17 Aug

Last night saw another excellent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? I must admit that I had never heard of Rupert Penry-Jones before (more a reflection on my viewing habits than anything else), and like the earlier episode featuring his wife Dervla Kirwan the subject matter (the English in India) was not really something I have any experience of.

It was an incredibly watchable programme, and Rupert Penry-Jones came across as a very likeable young man, and like Monty Don last week it was good to see him actually taking notes as the stories unfolded. It was also nice to see some quite clear research goals from the outset of the story. He certainly got his fair share of the travel budget in this programme, with visits to both Italy and India.

There was a nice contrast between relatively recent history (World War Two) and more distant research, both in time and geography, although both had a common Indian theme joining them. It was wonderful to see Penry-Jones listening to the stories of one of the men who had fought at Monte Cassino. Oral history is a wonderful resource to bring official records to life.

Whereas a couple of the earlier episodes have seemed rather drawn out, this certainly seemed to have a lot packed into it. I can’t help wondering what other interesting stories might have been skipped in the rush to prove to Indian ancestry.

I did think there were a couple of missed opportunities in the programme, with both husband and wife as subjects for this series of Who Do You Think You Are? it would have been interesting to see them sharing in each others experiences rather than the usual individual experience. Also, at the end of the programme I was surprised not to see Penry-Jones return to England and explain everything he had learnt to his mother, and seeing if she was just as interested as he expected her to be.

All in all another excellent episode, some excellent research and an interesting and likeable celebrity, my faith in Who Do You Think You Are? is slowly being restored, after a rather poor start to the series.

Victorian Pharmacy: a look back

13 Aug

Last night saw the final episode of the BBC television series Victorian Pharmacy. Over the last four weeks (actually five because they missed a week) I have found the series both enjoyable and informative. The only difficulty has been trying to relate it to the lives of my "chemist and druggist" ancestors.

It has provided a good general overview of an interesting period of development. I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth, perhaps doubling the number of episodes, but having ancestors "in the trade" would make me say that wouldn’t it.

I must admit I was rather sad to see them leaving the shop and driving off in a horse and cart, I hope we see more of the Victorian Pharmacy in the future, perhaps a Christmas special like the one they did for Victorian Farm last year.

Another good thing about the series is that it has lead to more information on the subject becoming available. For example, there is a book accompanying the series, which has some great pictures and recipes (which are clearly marked so you don’t end up trying something harmful).

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has a new page about the series including a link to a pdf of articles about the series from their journal Pharmacy Professional.

The other good news is that there does appear to be a DVD of the series in the pipeline, according to the BBC Shop the release date is the 11th October, so plenty of time for it to be added to my Christmas list.

It seems like there never has been a better time for someone interested in the life and work of chemists and druggists!

Who Do You Think You Are? – Monty Don

10 Aug

I am still a little undecided about last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featuring Monty Don. It was certainly watchable, but I didn’t really feel that it was memorable. At least it didn’t irritate me like the first two episodes or have me shouting at the TV about poor research.

Monty Don seemed quite laid back about about the whole thing and there were few signs of the excitement or enthusiasm that we saw last week with Dervla Kirwan. The situation from the start was one many will be familiar with, one side of the family seems to dominate in family stories and background, with others barely getting a look in.

The two stories featured were both quite interesting, but the show was trying to look more at the reasons why things happened and the personalities and conflicts of the people involved, which is not easy unless diaries and journals have been left behind, as the vast majority of records involve hard facts and not emotions or personality. Even then it can sometimes be a very one sided.

I think this is probably what turned me off from the programme. Trying to understand the motivations behind our ancestor’s actions is difficult, and this programme just about managed to stay on the right side of fiction (unlike the Rupert Everett one).

There seemed a fair bit of research going on, although not as much as last week. I was surprised there was no trip to New Zealand to explore that part of the story further. I was especially pleased to see Monty Don with a notebook scribbling things down, rather than just relying on the cameras to catch everything, this gives me hope that the stories and research will live on beyond just the filming.

Overall I felt this episode was an improvement on the first two, but not quite up to the standard of last week and still below par compared to earlier series. Still, it gives me hope for the rest of this series.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Dervla Kirwan

3 Aug

I am glad I made the effort to watch WDYTYA last night, because last night’s episode saw a return to form for the series after a rather poor start this year.

I have virtually no knowledge of Irish history, and my family history is almost completely devoid of any Irish connection, so I was surprised to find the episode so interesting and after last week I was extremely surprised to find it so enjoyable to watch. I think this is in part due to the fact that whilst the first half of the programme was specifically related to the Irish situation, the second half could really have taken place anywhere around the world where different religions have come into contact with each other.

Dervla Kirwan seemed to be genuinely interested in finding out about the two aspects of her family history that were featured in the programme, and appeared to be actively involved in the research process. There was a real sense of genuine exploration and depth to the research, which I felt has been lacking from earlier episodes. We found out much more than just births, marriages and deaths, although they were a significant feature.

I lost count of the number of different libraries and archives that she visited and the number of experts (on a wide range of subjects) that were on hand to explain the background and help interpret the records, that was really pleasing to see.

I know the first two episodes have come into criticism (not just from me) for not exploring other branches of the family, and whilst this episode could be accused of the same, I felt that there was no need, the central stories were so much stronger that there just wasn’t the need to explore further. I think in the last two episodes I was hoping that there would be something interesting going on away from the main stories which were rather dull (or just badly told?).

Unlike the first two episodes which just left me wishing for the programme to hurry up and finish, this episode left me wishing that they could have carried on further and spent more time, and I was disappointed that the show had to end. Now, unlike last week I can’t wait to see what Monty Don discovers next week.

Who Do You Think You Are? – Rupert Everett

27 Jul

To be honest I was a little disappointed with last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? I must also confess that I still have no idea who Rupert Everett actually is (I obviously don’t waste enough time watching TV and films), although I did miss the first couple of minutes which would probably have told me more about his career.

The story was more interesting to me than last week’s episode, there at least appeared to be some proper research research going on, but my first complaint was that there were too many loose ends left dangling.

It appeared on screen that virtually no effort was put into finding out what happened to the wives of Frederick William Cunningham Everett when he sailed off into the sunset. I am sure some more research must have been done, but if the only searches were the two census searches that we saw on screen then I am not surprised that his first wife wasn’t found.

It was almost as if they were leaving that avenue of research open for some audience participation, but they weren’t quite bold enough to say it. I am sure there will be plenty of people online today looking for her, trying to prove they can do a better job than the show’s researchers.

What really frustrated me the most were Everett’s ‘flights of fantasy’. He seemed to have a very vivid imagination and lack of hard evidence seemed to allow him ample opportunity to fill in the gaps. The informant on Frederick’s death certificate “must be some old sailor hag”, even though all he knew was a name (not even a first name just initials and a surname) and address.

I can’t let the use of the word “navvy” go unmentioned. Someone please correct me if I am wrong but merchant seamen, or any other type of sailors, have never been called navvies. I always thought navvy was short for navigator, and that navvies were the labourers responsible for building canals and railways.

Two episodes into this latest series and it is starting to seem to me that it has reached the end of it’s life. It will be interesting to see what the ratings say, but this avid genealogist is beginning to wonder if it is worth watching the rest of the series.

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