GIVE YOUR RESEARCH THE WDYTYA? TREATMENT
Learn from the researchers behind the TV series and start your family tree
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