Who Do You Think You Are?

27 August 2015

OK…. it’s a fairly obvious title and yes, I am in the midst of watching Derek Jacobi on the new series of WDYTYA on BBC1 whilst writing this. When the TV series first started, I hated it. Seriously…. with a passion. How many celebrities walked into an archive and were greeted by an archivist who had apparently just lifted a book from a shelf and located the very record they needed? …. Like that ever happens!

Unfortunately, this brought a plethora of visitors to record offices and other repositories in England and Wales who would expect to find their own family tree just sitting there waiting for them. Erm…. no! Tracing your family history takes time, effort, determination and more often than not, money. Few people I know have incurred no financial outlay in their research back into history. Jeremy Clarkson and his ancestors who invented the Kilner jar…. so, he knew the family legend but to find all the records would have meant months of research, not minutes of walking into the archive and being presented with the documents.

Improvements were made in various series over the years, but sadly we appear to have gone back to the ‘here it is!’ approach. Having been involved with the Canadian production Qui Etes-Vous recently, as a professional family historian I declined to present the documents to the celebrity just so and we both looked through several pages of marriages until we found the record in question. Surely that is more realistic?

Don’t get me wrong, I am pleased to have all the media interest in our pastime/hobby/obsession but we do need to present it in a manner which highlights how much time and effort is required to find the information shown, otherwise our potential clients think that the research takes us minutes as opposed to hours/days/weeks!

Please BBC/WDYTYA research team: make the programme realistic to the viewers across the globe.

[Source image: © Kirsty Gray]

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