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.
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.
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.
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.
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.