Learn from the re­searchers be­hind the TV se­ries and start your fam­ily tree

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

As a new se­ries of Who Do You Think

You Are? starts, mil­lions of view­ers will be tun­ing in and won­der­ing what sto­ries will be re­vealed. I’ve had dozens of peo­ple ask me why WDYTYA? does not fea­ture or­di­nary peo­ple, when re­ally they mean ‘why doesn’t it fea­ture me?’.

Who wouldn’t love to have all the re­sources the celebri­ties have to help un­cover sto­ries as com­pelling as theirs? But the great thing is that the doc­u­ments we see in the episodes are all avail­able to the gen­eral pub­lic and with a bit of de­tec­tive work and care­ful re­search we can all give our­selves a bit of celebrity treat­ment.

Where do I be­gin?

There’s a rea­son why ev­ery episode of

WDYTYA? starts with the celebrity talk­ing to a mem­ber of their fam­ily, usu­ally a par­ent. Whether you have al­ready launched into your fam­ily his­tory re­search or th­ese are your very first steps, this is the best place to start. Why? Well, con­ver­sa­tions with older gen­er­a­tions can of­ten lead you to a good story. Griff Rhys Jones’s episode was in­spired by a trip to his mother where she showed him a pho­to­graph of his ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents’ wed­ding, with­out the bride’s par­ents. The fam­ily story was that they had died in a rail­way ac­ci­dent, but was that true?

It’s an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore your own fam­ily’s ar­chive, from old let­ters and di­aries to fam­ily pho­to­graphs. If vis­it­ing some­one, ask if you can pho­to­graph all rel­e­vant doc­u­ments and fam­ily snaps. If your cam­era or smart­phone doesn’t let you la­bel pho­to­graphs, then write the name of the per­son or peo­ple in the photo on a small strip of pa­per and lay it along the bot­tom of the pic­ture be­fore you shoot it.

Re­searchers for the se­ries don’t just get in touch with the rel­a­tives you see at the start. They try to track down more dis­tant re­la­tions as well. Re­mem­ber, your par­ents’ cousins share the same great grand­par­ents as them and are just as likely to hold vi­tal fam­ily ar­chives about that gen­er­a­tion as your par­ents.

The dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship that Monty Don’s great grand­fa­ther had with his brother over the Keiller mar­malade em­pire was re­vealed by fam­ily let­ters that Monty would never have seen if re­searchers hadn’t tracked them down to his father’s cousin. Also, you may find that stan­dard ge­nealog­i­cal

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