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15 Years of Who Do You Think You Are?

  • 5th August 2019

Can it really be 15 years since Who Do You Think You Are? hit the screens? Family history has been popular for many years, and TV has tried to use this to create a popular programme for a while, but previous efforts had failed. Partly it is because family history is usually very personal. We get excited because it is our great-grandfather, or because it about somewhere we know, and it is all about that personal connection and helping us to make sense of who we are. Also, there is a lot of searching and looking which doesn’t make great TV!

Who Do You Think You Are?, according to the makers, is actually a social history programme, which happens to use celebrities and their family histories to tell those stories. So their focus is on the stories, and they try to get a cross sections of subjects, occupations and locations for each series, and try to repeat specific subjects.

What has been its impact? The name is something that everyone recognises, and many people have seen it. Whenever we talk about family history many people say they have seen it, which can be useful. When we give talks and workshops we sometimes use TV examples, which people sometimes remember, which is handy. Although it is very popular and people have seen it, very few people have ever come in and said they were inspired by the programme though, or directly refer to it. We did notice a slight upsurge in new people coinciding with the first few series, and also people restarting their research after a pause, so we think they were prompted by it. Sometimes we worry that people will come the next day and ask for specific obscure records after they were seen on TV, but that has rarely happened. Many of our staff do their own family history so we regularly watch, although we can get frustrated when they make out how easy it is to find the information out!

The very first episode was about Bill Oddie, and we were involved in the research for it. His mother had been in Barnsley Hall Asylum in the 1950s/60s, and some of those records are held here. After getting permission from the NHS to look for her records we found out that hers hadn’t survived. We did a lot of liaising with the TV company and provided quite a bit of background information, but this was reduced to a brief shot of a letter and took a few seconds. It was a little disappointing watching it after the initial excitement, but it was a  very interesting experience though. We have been approached a couple of other times for initial enquires about records, but they have never progressed further. One was a will for someone called Wateley, presumably an ancestor of Kevin Whateley, but they never came back so must have decided not to follow up that line.

The first couple of series were accompanied by events supported by the BBC, and we worked with BBC Hereford & Worcester on these. Our first one was in Kidderminster, and for the second we arranged a family history fair in Evesham, attended by almost 600 people, as well as attending an event over the border in Hereford. The BBC provided goodie bags and posters for these. We also helped BBCH&W presenter Katie Johnson delve into her past and went on air to do a family history phone in which was a little scary but in the end great fun. By series three the BBC had moved on to other things to promote so no further events were held in partnership.

The 150th episode will be aired at the end of this series. It still seems to be going strong so maybe there will be another Worcestershire person to research and they’ll revisit us.

If you are interested in researching your own family history we’re a great place to begin and you can read our online guide. Details about using the original archive and self service resources can be found here.

(c) Wall to Wall Television

We have some workshops to help too, a First Steps session if you just need a quick introduction, or a 3 part series if you want a more in depth introduction.

First Steps in House History

Thursdays 1 August, 19 September, 3 October, 7 November and 5 December, 10am to 11am.

These 1 hour introductions will guide you round the most useful local or house history resources we hold on the Explore the Past floor and give you some tips on getting started. The sessions take up to 5 people and are £6 per person.

£6 per person

Book tickets

Starting Family History – Thu, 10 October Thu, 24 October 2019

Thursday 10, 17 and 24 October, 2pm – 4pm

Want to know how to begin tracing your ancestors and building your family tree? This three-part workshop will explain how to get started, key tips, the main sources you will need, and a chance to put it into practice and have a go online during the sessions.

Cost £20 per person

Book ticket

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