Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

  • The Essential Guide To Tracing Your Family History
  • Dan Waddell
  • Genealogy
  • Amazon.co.uk

I was channel hopping one evening, which is a rare thing, and I caught the last half of BBC2’s Who Do You Think You Are? television programme. The show is basically about the family history of a chosen celebrity, in this case Vic Reeves. The celebrity basically has a relative in mind that they want to know more about. It usually starts with discussions with relatives, who usually are only too keen to open a shoe box or album of photographs and part with memories of yesteryear. From this starting point investigations move to tracking down copies of birth/marriage and death certificates. Then the person goes to see where they lived or worked, how they lived their life and where they are buried.

As a format for a program it has just the right mix of celebrity, history and detective work. It also has the possibility of unearthing some deep dark secret, about the families past, that has lain dormant for years. This is usually more of a shock to the celebrity than it is to us. After much sleuthing the program usually winds-up with the subject telling his or her family the facts that have been uncovered.

After watching the programme on Vic Reeves and managed to catch a few of the re-runs of the first series. My interest was sufficiently piqued enough to watch the second series when it aired earlier this year.

The book cleverly mixes, information on how to track down relatives, with details of the celebrities family histories from the first series. It’s the kind of book that you can just breeze through, as I did, but will find yourself going back to if you contract the genealogy bug. It details where to start, how to track down birth/marriage and death certificates, where to find census information, military records and even how to follow your families trail overseas.

With most book purchases I either read them, more or less, straight away or, in this case, put it on the shelf and read it at a later date. I bought this book between Christmas and New Year 2004. Yes, so I do have a little backlog of books to read.

The other weekend I found out that I had walked past the gravestone of my Great-Grandfather, Great-Grandmother and Great-Uncle about two hundred times, without realising exactly who they were. I obviously recognised the name, had stopped a time or two to read the inscription, but never asked my father about it. It was my father who finally pointed it out. I looked-up my Great-Grandfathers name on the 1901 Census web-site and there he was, the only David Patterson listed in Macclesfield at that time. His occupation then… ‘fancy gimp trimmer’. Now, the last time I heard the word ‘gimp’ was in Pulp Fiction and I’m pretty sure there is no connection. To view the full census details you have to pay. I took the advice of the book and, instead of spending £5 for 7 days online access, I bought a £5 voucher for access over the next 6 months. Quite why they work it like that I can’t imagine. This involved a quick trip to the local library, my first since it was re-located, where I was amazed to see a whole section up-stairs dealing with old Macclesfield and family histories. With the £5 voucher that I purchased you have to scratch off a panel on the back and enter the code into the web-site. You are then given a certain amount of credits which are used up when you view the PDF files containing scans of the records.

The information is fascinating to say the least. It, of course, shows the address, the occupants and their occupations, their ages at the time, similar details of their neighbours and you start to build up a picture, from just one document, of what life was like back in 1901. My Great-Uncle is already listed as a ‘fancy gimp trimmer’ at the tender age of 14, my Great-Grandmother, a ‘silk knitter’, worked at home, my Grandfather isn’t listed at all, as he wasn’t born until 1903.

I hope to build up a picture of the people who contributed to making me me. Apparently genealogy is the third most popular use of the internet. There can only be one starting point in the climb up your family tree and that is you.

Related Links
BBC Family History

  • Reviewed on Friday, 17 March 2006
  • Tagged with book review