As we come to the end of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations I would like to share an entry from the diary of my 2x great-uncle Percy Ebenezer Trower.
Sunday June 7th 1953
The first week our holiday over, (which included Coronation Day) cold winds all the week but not much rain.
Went to Hastings & Chilgrove Mon afternoon 2.15 till 8.15, a pretty ride & generally bright, had tea at Petersfield.
Tuesday was Coronation Day & a dull & windy day too & wet at times especially in London. We saw it on Dolls television at H[aywards] Heath, came through very well.
This is a perfect example of what makes Percy’s diary so interesting, it includes comments on news and events as well as personal and family events and even what the weather was like.
I noticed yesterday that J.K. Rowling was on the front cover of the Radio Times, heralding the start of the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? in the UK. Of course I have seen various announcements prior to this, but to be honest I haven’t really taken much interest in the upcoming series.
I suppose I should be getting excited about the new series, after all it is bringing genealogy to the small screen, but really is it going to be worth the effort to watch it? A couple of years ago I would have been getting excited about the prospect of a new series, but this year I couldn’t really care less.
What are the reasons for this?
- Quality – the last couple of series have on the whole been rather disappointing, most of what I can remember about the last couple of series is how annoying/uninteresting/dull I found a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong, there were some high points, but I am struggling to remember them.
- Time – I don’t have a lot of spare time, so taking sixty minutes out to watch television is not something that I do lightly. There are probably much more enjoyable and productive things I can do with my time.
- Past my bedtime – I know it starts at nine o’clock only lasts an hour, but I have to be up at 5:15am the following morning (and every weekday morning) so I like to be in bed by 9:30pm. I know I could also watch it on the BBC iPlayer, but I know that I am never going to get around to actually watching it.
Having said all that, it is my “reviews” of WDYTYA? that attract the most visitors to my blog (which sometimes annoys me because they are not coming to read about my ancestors but to read about celebrities), but they are visitors nevertheless. So I really ought to be writing about the series, in fact no self-respecting genealogy blogger should be missing out on it.
So I really ought to give it a try, but if I find myself shouting angrily at the television in the first episode or starting to nod off then that will be it.
I don’t worry a great deal about the number of visitors my blog gets, I don’t go out of my way to market the blog, but I do keep an eye on my stats, just to make sure that people are still reading my blog and I am not wasting my time.
Last year I encountered an increase in visitors when Who Do You Think You Are? was being broadcast on BBC One last year, and this year was much the same. When I wrote about each episode my number of visitors jumped. I haven’t done the maths, but I would say the number of visitors probably doubled, which for my little blog is not a huge number, but still quite pleasing.
I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened yesterday, which turned out to be the best day ever for the number of visitors to my blog. I knew something was up when I checked my stats in the morning and saw that the number of visitors before about 7.30am was more than the usual pre-WDYTYA? daily totals. The numbers continued to rise throughout they day, and as you can see from the graph below the total ended around four or five times the average.
The reason for this was BBC buzz, which had automatically found my blog posts about WDYTYA? and was displaying links to them alongside the programme information on the BBC website. It appears to be a new feature, and it apparently likes my blog posts.
If I was a professional blogger I would have done something to take advantage of all this new traffic, and I might have done if I wasn’t at work, but it has been a real eye-opener, and makes me think about what I could achieve in terms of visitors if I really put my mind to it.
The producers of Who Do You Think You Are? were certainly saving the best for last. Last night’s episode featuring actor Alan Cumming was without doubt the best episode of the seventh series, and probably one of the best episodes in the show’s six year history.
Alan Cumming was an enthusiastic participant and one that I had heard of previously (although my memories are of The High Life rather than any of his more acclaimed performances). At the start seemed to be enjoying hearing about the stories his grandfather’s bravery a little too much, but my heart really went out to him at the end with the story of his grandfather’s tragic and needless death.
He certainly didn’t seem prepared for the shocking details and I certainly felt more than a little uncomfortable watching his reactions on screen. In an episode that focused very much on the effects that war and killing can have on someone’s mental health, I couldn’t help but wonder what effect the programme might have on Cumming himself and ultimately his mother, and wonder if perhaps the programme went a little too far.
Ironically I had earlier in the evening written (in a private email) about how I felt there had been a lack of any real emotion in this series and I can safely say that this was the only episode where I personally felt any real emotional reaction whilst watching the series.
As well as being an excellent episode in itself, it has also served to highlight just how mediocre some of the previous episodes in this series had been. The “shocking” story of Bruce Forsyth’s bigamist great-grandfather that opened the series was nothing in comparison to the truly heart-breaking story of Cumming’s grandfather.
Last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC One was in my opinion probably the best of the series so far (and we are almost at the end now). It featured Hugh Quarshie, an actor who I had never heard of until Who Do You Think You Are?, although once again this is a reflection on my viewing habits rather than his ability or “celebrity” status.
I would admit that I was not really expecting to find this story very interesting, I have no experience of African research and thus no real interest in the subject, but as it turned out the story produced what for me has been the most memorable, engaging and emotional episode of the current series.
The most notable feature was the difference in the research process from other episodes. This episode relied mainly on oral history, tradition and unofficial sources, with most of the archival research taking place almost the very end of the programme. It was great to see this method being used so extensively and only being followed up with documentary research later on (although I am sure the researchers had done their stuff earlier on).
It was good to see a participant who was so actively involved in the journey, and showed real enthusiasm and passion for the story. It was truly heart-warming to see Hugh being introduced to so many relations as the story unfolded. In truth much family history research bears little relevance to everyday life, but here was an example where being descended from a particular person really meant something in the present day.
The final closing piece to camera produced another memorable line, “It’s not only that there is no black and white, but there is so much colour in this story”. A truly wonderful sentiment on which to end the show.
On a more personal note, many years ago at school I was forced to study Ghana as part of my geography lessons, and it was this aspect that turned me off the subject of geography so entirely. In retrospect I think now that it was probably the teaching that was putting me off rather than the subject itself, as I am sure I learnt much more in this one hour than an entire term of lessons.
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.