It’s a unique sort of his­tory se­ries, as much about the re­search as the char­ac­ters

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - NEW SERIES REVEALED - Se­ries pro­ducer Sarah Feltes takes us be­hind the scenes

How do the shows come to­gether?

We have two ge­neal­o­gists on the team [Sara Khan and Laura Berry], who be­gin to build a fam­ily tree in the very stan­dard way, with births, mar­riages and death records. Then our his­tor­i­cal re­searchers build up sto­ries of in­di­vid­u­als on that tree. We gen­er­ally find in­ter­est­ing ma­te­rial but some­times there’s not enough for a tele­vi­sion story, in that we’ll have an amaz­ing be­gin­ning, a mid­dle, but no end be­cause the records don’t ex­ist. So we have to try to go in all sorts of di­rec­tions and it takes months – on av­er­age around three months, some­times much longer – be­fore we even know if there’s enough ma­te­rial for us to make a film.

How does this re­search play into the fi­nal doc­u­men­taries?

It’s a unique sort of his­tory se­ries, Who Do You Think You Are?, be­cause it’s as much about the re­search as the char­ac­ters. The re­search in many ways is the story, so a lot of the anec­dotes that the re­searchers tell as they go along the way, from ex­cit­ing dis­cov­er­ies they’ve made, ac­tu­ally help us de­cide what’s go­ing to be ex­cit­ing in the film. Ev­ery­body who works on the se­ries has to be the kind of per­son who loves his­tor­i­cal de­tail and nitty-gritty, front­line his­tory re­search.

More ar­chives are digi­tised now than when the pro­gramme launched in 2004. Does that make things eas­ier?

I’m sure that is true, but we never seem to be able to do with­out the on-the-ground, in-per­son re­search ei­ther. The digi­ti­sa­tion of records helps us know what’s out there, and maybe gets us to a point where we know some­thing’s promis­ing more quickly. But be­cause when we ul­ti­mately film we need to see lo­ca­tions and ar­chives and speak to ar­chiv­ists, there are no short­cuts for that.

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