Who do you think you are?
Griff Rhys Jones

Griff Rhys Jones

Although Griff admits that he was bored stiff by his elderly relatives as a boy, he now finds certain aspects of his family history intriguing. In particular, he wants to know more about his maternal grandmother, Louisa, who was supposedly adopted by distant relatives following the death of her parents in a train crash. This story had been hushed up in the family for years - and Griff sets out on the trail of discovery, uncovering more than he bargained for.

Griff begins by visiting his mother, where he studies a photograph of Louisa on her wedding day, and is given a copy of her birth certificate from 1891. Louisa's father, Daniel Price, is listed as an engine driver and in the 1891 census, Louisa is listed as one of four children of Daniel and Sarah Price.

Griff pays a visit to the street in Garston, Liverpool, in which they lived - in a respectable house built by the railway company to accommodate its employees. But an 1892 rate book tells a rather different tale - by now, the family is living in much poorer, cheaper accommodation and appear to be going down in the world.

Having ordered a copy of Daniel's death certificate and while waiting for it to arrive, Griff investigates his great, great grandmother's family, who appear in Merthyr Tydfil in the 1861 census.

The bleakness of his industrial background is brought home when Griff realises that the breadwinner of the family, Griffith, was killed young in a mining accident. His family is left to seek work to make ends meet - including his 19 year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who became a rubbish tipper at the iron works.

Returning eagerly to the trail of Daniel Price, Griff begins to uncover the truth behind the family story. Daniel's death certificate reveals that he died of a fractured skull - acquired during a fight in the street - nothing to do with a train crash! A manslaughter charge was brought against a certain John Thomas, but newspaper reports and witness statements from the trial give two very different accounts - was Daniel brutally set upon, or was he a drunkard and a troublemaker? At any rate, John Thomas was acquitted.

Unable to discover what became of the destitute Sarah, and anxious to learn the fates of the children, Griff searches the 1901 census. He knows that his grandmother, Louisa, was taken in by relatives, and that her brother William went to America. But he finds Jane and Thomas in separate institutions - Industrials Schools - each as pauper inmates. Griff learns from an expert that such brutal institutions were designed chiefly for children who were truants, or from families where there was a suggestion of criminal activity - or who came from unfit parents.

And so Griff wonders if his sympathy for Daniel and Sarah has been misplaced. No wonder the family kept this quiet. 'Thank you very much, 'Who Do You Think You Are?'' he exclaims rather tersely, but admits that the journey and the chance to play detective have been totally engrossing.

All that remains now is to tell his unsuspecting mother about the things that he has discovered.

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