The thrill of live television and reuniting old friends

Wednesday 25 April 2012, 17:10

Cat Whiteaway Cat Whiteaway

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A short while ago I was on the BBC's The One Show. I can't quite believe that I can now write that sentence or even that I was there. It was all very exciting and in the end I wasn't nervous at all, which is quite surprising really since it was my first time doing live telly.

As I expected there was a lot of waiting around but lots to watch, and then finally about 30 minutes before the start of the programme there was a frantic flurry of activity. I was rushed into make-up and sat next to Louis Theroux who was chatting to Jessica Hynes, and soon I felt like I was ready for the red carpet. Instead I was heading for the red curtain in the corner of the room, where I got changed into my chosen outfit... chosen so as not to clash with the vivid lime green sofa!

Cat Whiteaway and Alex James

I'd already pre-recorded a film about a reunion and so all I had to do was talk about the research and how you can start looking for people who you've lost touch with.

A long time ago I'd been asked if I could find Doreen Hambridge who had been evacuated from London to Carmarthenshire during World War Two. The family she was sent to lived in Four Roads near Kidwelly and they had always wondered what kind of life little Doreen had led and whether she had fond memories of her time as an evacuee.

The family could remember that little Doreen was less than 10 years old when she arrived, just after Fred Harries and Elizabeth Doreen Bowen had married in 1942. Incredibly they also remember that it was a Sunday afternoon when the bus arrived at the village green. They went down to pick a child and chose little Doreen, exhausted from her overnight adventure but clinging to her brother Fred, who was taken in by the Harris's aunt at the post office in the village.

Searching the indexes of births on www.freebmd.org.uk for girls called Doreen Hambridge born after 1930 resulted in just three results.

Births March 1930
Hambridge Doreen Haddon Hendon

Births March 1932
Hambridge Doreen Burrows Marylebone

Births September 1938
Hambridge Doreen L Munday Brentford

To try and establish which one was the correct one I knew that I had to search for a brother called Fred by cross referencing against the mother's maiden name.

There were no births entered for a brother called Fred for the Doreen born in 1930 with the mother's maiden name of Haddon, nor for the one born in 1932 with the mother's maiden name of Burrows.

But for the last entry in 1938 there was an entry for a Frederick W T Hambridge born in 1936 also in Brentford, crucially with the mother's maiden name of Munday.

Just to be certain of my facts I quickly searched and found the marriage of Doreen's parents Frederick W T Hambridge and Lilian E Munday in 1936 in Brentford. After that it was simply a matter of repeating the processes; searching for any marriages of a Doreen L Hambridge and then for any subsequent children.

Luckily Doreen had married David Jeff in 1955 and they had four children. So I had a nice unusual surname to work with and four extra chances at finding her.

In my second stroke of luck one of Doreen's daughters had posted her family tree on Genes Reunited and so I sent her a message and waited patiently for a reply. The eventual outcome was an emotional reunion between two women aged 91 and 74 who hadn't seen each other for nearly 70 years.

If I hadn't had such unusual names to work with or if fewer details were known then I could have contacted the Evacuees Reunion Association or asked in the local studies section of the nearest library or perhaps located a local history group or family history society to ask their advice. And if all that had failed I would have written a little article and sent it off to the local newspapers with a photo and a plea for help.

I can't promise an emotional reunion every time but you never know.

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