Saturday, September 8, 2007

The donkey work of family history

I have spent a great deal of time researching my family's history. Being a great amateur history enthusiast, it is good to see people taking an interest in history through genealogy - "family tree tracing".

It is therefore very gratifying to see the great success of the BBC's "Who do you think you are", which is now back for a new series. It is obviously getting a lot of viewers, as they are now attracting some very high calibre celebs - John Hurt is coming up in the current series, for example.

Of course, the celebs don't do the donkey work. They are not the ones who spend days in records offices walking back and forwards between shelves, pulling out huge Geoff Capes-challenging ledgers, poring over endless microfiche, wondering around storm-battered church graveyards and straining their eyes to decipher some ancient priest's scrawl.

No, they just arrive chauffeur-driven, hair beautifully coiffeured, to gush with emotion at some wonderful discovery which the researchers took months setting up.

Not that I am bitter of course. The celebs are actually missing out.

The first celeb of the new series was Natasha Kaplinsky. Don't. I know. The Kaplinskster has never appeared on telly without a number of uncharitable epithets whizzing through my head. I am a Sophie Raworth fan myself.

However, my respect for the lady was much increased by the end of the programme. She mentioned that a news editor had suggested that she changed her name when she started her broadcasting career. I greatly respect the lady for not changing it.

Ms Kaplinsky's father was thrown out of South Africa aged 19 for supporting anti-apartheid protests. His family didn't support him.

But there were some harrowing discoveries waiting in what is now Belarus. Tales of family members, including two children, killed by the Nazis.

So, when, in future, La Kaplinska appears on my screen, I will not be running screaming from the room - much.


  1. Thanks for highlighting the return of the series, Paul - I've been able to catch up via the BBC iPlayer. As you know, I'm into family history too. This episode demonstrated, despite David Starkey's insistence that Kings, Queens and battles are the important bit, quite how much more real history is - horrifyingly so at times - when you're talking about "real" people.