Thursday, 23 August 2012

Who Do You Think You Are? A review...

Last night's edition of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? was in my opinion a return to form for the programme, now in its eighth series.It featured celebrated gourmand Gregg Wallace [spoiler alert!] and his rather tragic family history. I still greatly enjoy the series overall, and yet I find this merits further exploration; what is it that the viewer, and in so many cases, genealogically minded viewer, enjoys?

One of the chief reasons for the programme's success is its emotional appeal. In the case of last night's epsiode, it was the tragic nature of Wallace's ancestors culminating in his emotionally charged recreation of a fatal accident. It was not, evidently, genealogy, but it was tangible and important family history. Similarly, the visit to the former Lunatic Asylum in Exminster was atmospheric, and given the boom in popularity of converted homes from large Victorian structures, a fascinating reminder of their sometimes melancholy past. This is particulary of interest to me, as my local Reform Synagogue was once the Chapel of a lunatic asylum. Such institutions, with their sad stories, are part of Britain's architectural fabric and whether or not they can be maintained for public use, or are converted into residential dwellings, they are considerably better than their modern replacements should they demolished.

There is something too be said for the attraction of the "star" in the programme. It must be difficult for the producers to find someone who has antecedents neither too famous (Nigella Lawson and Lyons' Tea Houses, anyone?) nor indeed too dull- infamously, the TV personality Michael Parkinson was rejected by the show's makers for his supposedly limited family background. Tastes vary amongst the show's audience, but anecdotally I've noticed that some find certain actors overly theatrical in their reactions to every revelation, though many are genuinely moved by the unexpected responses from certain quarters- one of WDYTYA's delights is that it reveals not only a new genealogical, but sometimes deeper side to a well known personality.

Now for the appeal to that niche, genealogical audience. Genealogists must (though I myself refrained yesterday) be shouting at their television sets: "You're making it look too easy!", "How convenient, just opening up the ledger and finding the right record", or even "I could do all this too if the BBC paid for my numerous and extensive research costs!" These are all reasonable points and, while they might cause much frustration, shouldn't distract from what can sometimes be gleaned from the show. Actually, not much of genealogical interest was shown- the material dealt with a few generations only, the certificates were straightforward, and the relations uncomplicated. I did find it useful in that, as in the previous week's episode, it reminded us of the value of local libraries and their newspaper resources, as well as the occasional kindliness of the librarians. Contrived as such situations are it is important to remember that such places can often hold useful if unhighlighted resources.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

What's in a photo? I am fascinated by the collection (or, to use
the technical term, mish mash) of family photos that exists in my family.
Here is a good example in numerous respects; though small,
it is still in fairly good condition; the date taken is recorded as 26th June 1932 on the back by one of the sitters (the lady on the far left)- Clara Robinson née Saffer (1894-1962); the location is given as Beech Hill, a house on Singleton Road in North Manchester, which I fortunate enough to visit in Summer of 2009.
There is no indication, however, as to who these people are: so it is,
that I, and my immediate family can only safely identify two: Clara,
far left, and rather brilliantly nonchalant in the chair, her father Harry, or Harris Saffer (1869-1959) leading light of the North Manchester Jewish community, and one of the founders of the Brodyer Synagogue in 1891, which later became part of the North Manchester Synagogue. So much for those two; and the others? Clara had seven siblings surviving at the time this photo was taken. I'd like to think that it shows Clara and her father with two of her sisters and their husbands- but unfortunately I've know way of knowing. Such is life, and, more to the point, genealogy.


Despite (or perhaps because) of the multitude of genealogy themed blogs out there, I've felt inspired to create my own. As I have quite a wide range of interests, I hope it shall cover any number of interesting things- some related to my own family, research I've done for others, or just things I manage to stumble upon. With any luck, this may interest someone other than me!