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Who Do You Think You Are: Researching celebrities' family histories

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Tom McDonald Tom McDonald | 12:55 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The most exciting time for me on Who Do You Think You Are? is always the last days in the run up to transmission of the first episode. This year's 10-part series has taken over a year to make, so being able to see the finishing line is a moment to cherish and enjoy.

As the executive producer on the series, I'm responsible for every aspect of the production - from liaising with the celebrities taking part, to overseeing the research for each episode, to approving scripts, to viewing the programmes as they're being put together in an edit suite.

The great thing about WDYTYA is that every episode is completely different - and when we start researching stories, we literally have no idea what we might unearth.

JK Rowling

JK Rowling, who features in the second episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

In fact, it's finding a crucial document or a fantastic eyewitness that makes the job as brilliant as it is.

WDYTYA is now in its eighth series so this year we were determined to make the casting feel fresh and new. I'm hugely proud of this year's line-up and hope you're all excited about some of the names coming up over the next 10 weeks.

I'm really pleased to have our very first artist, Tracey Emin, and our first author - probably the most successful living author in the world, JK Rowling - for this year's series.

And the rest of the cast is a roll call of familiar names, whether that's because of the music they've made, like Robin Gibb from The Bee Gees, or because of their performances on some of the BBC's biggest shows, like Len Goodman from Strictly Come Dancing, and Emilia Fox.

Casting the series is always a really exciting part of the process. We're exceptionally lucky that lots of people really want to explore their family history - and often people come to us with something particular they'd like to discover.

The hard part comes when the research begins.

Before we commit to making an episode with a particular celebrity, we do around three months of dedicated research - first building their family tree, then trying to get all the documents available relating to their ancestors.

This is a painstaking task, which often leads to dead ends and brick walls.

Sometimes, we're extremely lucky - a vital clue will simply fall into our hands. But in some cases we have to make the difficult decision to stop the research and let the celebrity know that we won't be able to make the programme.

Of course, we provide them with all the research we've accumulated - but as far as the series goes, that's the end of the story.

This means for a run of 10 episodes, we research around 30 people.

This year's series launches with June Brown - a British television icon, but also the oldest person to take part in the series.

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June Brown talks about her life, career and family

I have to say, though, that at 84 June has remarkable energy, boundless goodwill and a really naughty sense of humour.

Usually, the participants go on the journey alone, with just the crew and the director for company. June was accompanied by one of her daughters, so it really was a family adventure.

June's journey takes her from London to Holland to Spain - and she never flagged. I think she was fortified by her cigarettes - she smokes almost as many as her character Dot Branning in EastEnders.

WDYTYA can be very emotional for the celebrities taking part.

Emilia Fox was eight months pregnant when we filmed her episode and we knew that one of the stories she would encounter involved a stillbirth for one of her ancestors. We were hugely aware of how emotional - and difficult - this might be for Emilia.

Though we don't reveal anything about what's coming up to those taking part, we do always warn everyone that history has a habit of taking surprising twists and turns - and that they might not always like what they find.

The directors on the series are all hugely experienced and are especially good at dealing with these very raw situations. We never shy away from an emotional reaction, but we always make sure it's not mawkish or sensationalised.

There is a major revelation in JK Rowling's film, which could have caused her and her family considerable discomfort.

I discussed this particular revelation - and the way in which it would be revealed to Jo - with the director and series producer many, many times in the months leading up to filming.

We decided in the end that it had to be as real as possible - after all, it's Jo's journey and not ours.

We're really proud of the resulting scene, and the rest of the film, so it would be great to hear what everyone else thinks. It's certainly a heart-stopping moment and one I'll always remember from my time on the series.

Perhaps the most difficult experience I've had on the series was during last year's run when our research team discovered that Alan Cumming's maternal grandfather had accidentally killed himself playing a game of Russian Roulette.

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Alan Cumming discusses his maternal grandfather

Alan's family weren't aware of this - knowing only that he'd died in a "shooting incident".

We, as a team, felt an enormous responsibility to Alan and his mum, but we also knew that they really wanted to know the truth.

The moment of discovery for Alan was, I think, hugely shocking, disturbing and upsetting - but ultimately brought his family the knowledge they'd desperately craved.

Liz Dobson, who directed both Alan and Kim Catrall's WDYTYA, did a remarkable job. It could easily have been a very sensationalist film - but it's actually a celebration of Alan's grandfather's life.

Luckily, it's not always tears and tragedy. It's fantastic to feature stories of great triumph and heroism.

Larry Lamb's film this year is very special to me as we managed to unite Larry with a relative he never knew he had - on the other side of the world - and there's real humour in this year's series too.

Alan Carr brings a fantastic sense of fun to his episode - even when there's bad news, he just keeps laughing.

So, with 10 extraordinary stories which cover four centuries, three continents and a year of research, filming and editing, I can't wait to hear what you make of the new series - and for everyone to discover the secrets and revelations that we've had to keep to ourselves for the past year.

Tom McDonald is the executive producer of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? is on BBC One and BBC One HD at 9pm on Wednesday, 10 August. For further programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    I was so looking forward to the new series but what a disappointment! I was so bored I kept falling asleep. No disrespect to June Brown, but not a particularly interesting story. Hopefully the rest of the series will be better.

  • Comment number 2.

    Having East End roots, I enjoyed the programme especially delving into the migration of her Jewish roots.
    Has WDYTYA looked into anyone with Huguenot ancestry yet? If not, is it something that might feature in the future? I have just discovered my Huguenot roots.

  • Comment number 3.

    I disagree. I found it very interesting, showing as it did, what hard times some of our distant relatives suffered. We have a lot to be grateful for today!

  • Comment number 4.

    Sorry Tallulah60 I have to disagree, I found the history side of June Brown's story amazing. I love all the shows good and not so good because having been doing my own ancestry, which I am obviously finding harder than the people on the show, I understand the difficulty in doing this but I have picked up some great tips from the shows over the years.

    Well done keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 5.

    Unfortunately, I must agree with tallulah60's comments. One of the most uninteresting Who Do You Think You Are I've seen.

  • Comment number 6.

    I really enjoyed the programme; this is an area of particular interest to me. I'd be very keen to get hold of a copy for teaching purposes (not for profit!). Is there a way I can do that, please?

  • Comment number 7.

    I found June's history very interesting because I am Sephardi and have traced my family back to Portugal in the year 1690. This programme has given me information on how to do more work.

  • Comment number 8.

    June is obviously a lovely lady,but this was not the most riveting wdytya

  • Comment number 9.

    What a brilliant first episode to start the new series! I have been researching my own family tree and always find WDYTYA very interesting. I thought June Brown came across very well and the episode has inspired me to do some more research of my own.

  • Comment number 10.

    I thought it was very interesting that the family could be tracked back so far across so many countries as the Jews have such good records unlike in England where it is very difficult to go back beyond 1800 as I have found. One thing I would like to know is how come Jews were accepted into Italy, where the head of the Christian community, the Pope, rules yet expelled from Spain.

  • Comment number 11.

    How can you think the Jewish history of over 200 years, setting the scene for the holocaust boring? An excellent programme with good historical records, well done. I look forward to the rest of the series.

  • Comment number 12.

    Excellent start to the series , thought it was amazing getting back so so many years. June Brown at 84 years old cant beat that. Excellent story and would love to have you and your research team sat at my house working it all out. Superb. If you have any advice for getting info from ireland in 1810/1820 it would be great as I have hit a big wall.

  • Comment number 13.

    A really interesting Programme. The movement of her family was fascinating and sad. What the human race does in the name of religion is appalling. Thank you and I shall look forward to the next one.

  • Comment number 14.

    I love this this programme so much I have literally been sobbing at some of the stories. I missed the beginning of tonights programme picked it up from Holland would love to see all of it is it repeated on bbc2 at all? broadbandwidth is not good enough for i player!!
    PENNEYB seem to recall maybe Davina Mcall or Nigella Lawson had Huguenot roots

  • Comment number 15.

    I think the program is good viewing i have been trying to trace my family roots but find it very confusing as my parents came from Dublin in Ireland but i was told there is also Italian, and Welch and would like some help myself wish they would do a program for the normal person. I would like to know what is the cost to the celeb????

  • Comment number 16.

    June Brown said at the beginning that she would like to see if she was a real Eastender but this was never referred to again.
    I live in Amsterdam and found myself looking at shots of the city more than listening to the story. It was a little disappointing but I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

  • Comment number 17.

    I really enjoy watching and have never missed a program, but have always thought that at the end of each series a competition could be held for one of the viewers to have their own family tree researched, which could be shown at the end of the following series.
    I think this could prove quite popular.
    Is there any chance it could be discussed with the powers that be?

  • Comment number 18.

    What an interesting programme! It is amazing to discover your roots however humble, and I loved the way June sensed that her feelings about certain things may well have derived from the experiences of her ancestors. She must be really proud of her family history. There have been several Jewish celebs on WDYTYA but this one showed some fantastic original documents and went so far back in time. The synagogue was beautiful. I am looking forward very much to the rest of the series.

  • Comment number 19.

    Add your commentI'm surprised a couple of people found June's story boring; I was really interested to see about the family history of Sephardic Jews, who (being less numerous in the UK) have been much less well-covered than Ashkenazim. I guess it just goes to show we all find different things interesting. And it was heartwarming to see a Jewish history that thankfully didn't end up in murder at the hands of the Nazis.

    A really good episode and I'm very much looking forward to the rest of the season, particularly to find out the intriguing secret coming up from JK Rowling's episode.

    WDYTYA made me realise that actually I am interested in my ancestors' life stories. Yet another reason I'm proud of "the unique way the BBC's funded" :)

  • Comment number 20.

    I too am surprised that anyone could find this episode boring. It was a fascinating exploration of one aspect of Jewish history as well as June Brown's roots. How I would love to have my Jewish mother's East End family's origins from Russia and Roumania explored in a similar manner. Sadly, however, I am no celebrity! A great programme......thank you!

  • Comment number 21.

    I found it fascinating as I can trace my Sephardic Jewish family back to Amsterdam. It made we want to find out more!

  • Comment number 22.

    BBC. Thank you very much for this episode with June Brown. (As I live in Amsterdam - and beeing familiar with the city archive Stadsarchief - it was extra special.) What a remarkeble family history June has. It was very mooving to see June at the cemetery with a sunflower, a photograph and a small stone to pay her respect.

  • Comment number 23.

    A wonderful programme to this first of the new series. What a fabulous lady June Brown is, she so reminds me of my dear friend Angela, her personality, she even looks like her.!

    I am also surprised that anyone could find this first episode boring, it was an interesting geneology of June Brown's roots, along with the insight into the aspect of the Jewish History.

  • Comment number 24.

    An interesting blog entry, especially as I've supplied information for one of the programmes. I can't wait to see what it reveals!

    I'd be fascinated to know more about the production process once the series is cast and how you balance the subject's interests with the more interesting parts of their family history which might make a better programme.

  • Comment number 25.

    Just watched the first episode of the new series of WDYTUA and while it wasn't the MOST riveting episode I've ever seen, it was still very good and quite touching. Amidst the sadness and trauma of the riots on our streets at the moment, I found I could actually lose myself for an hour whilst watching which was very welcome! It is SO good to have this programme on our screens again! As the familiar music began, I sat down to watch with a nice cup of tea and enjoyed every moment! I'm looking forward to what is to come over the series, especially Jo Rowling, Alan Carr and Richard Madeley! Thank you for such a great series! British television at it's best! xx

  • Comment number 26.

    I always enjoy this programme and agree with Sheila that perhaps the powers that be should think of researching the family history of a non-celebrity may be as some sort of competition. On one disappointing note though, I was sad to see that there were no histories of people from the caribbean being researched, particularly Grenada as I have hit a brick wall in my investigations.

  • Comment number 27.

    Delighted to see June Brown's family tree being researched - she bears such a strikingly strong resemblance to older generation female Italian and English Clerkenwell/ Hoxton / East End family members that we'd been half-joking for years that she must be related and personally hoping her tree would be researched. So, interested to hear that she does have Italian blood as well as. London truly is a melting pot: a fascinating start to the new series.

  • Comment number 28.

    This is my favourite programme so it's great to be at the start of another series! Found the June Brown story very interesting and moving - but just one grouse - why so many shots of June's hand holding a cigarette, and even a shot of the smoke. As someone who is badly affected by cigarette smoke I almost felt ill by the end! This is another example of "Clever -Dick" camera work which can cause annoyance on otherwise brilliant documentaries. Please don't go down that line W.D.Y.T.Y.A!

  • Comment number 29.

    The most upsetting edition of Who Do You Think You Are I watched, was the one featuring Jerry Springer who found out that his relatives were butchered by the Nazis during WWII! I will admit to crying during that episode! Jerry Springer is an absolute legend for doing the programme knowing that it might uncover some really upsetting facts about what happened to his family during those dark years of the War. Thank you BBC for making a series that I really enjoy watching. I watched last nights episode featuring June Brown and loved it. Isn't about time that she became Dame June Brown?

  • Comment number 30.

    I found this to be the weakest episode so far. Probably because the search was confined to one distant relative. However, it was interesting to hear of history from other perspectives; the Dutch and the 'Fourth English War' and the Spanish and their their large Empire! Inaccurate information given about bare fist boxing which, according to the bbc documentary I saw, was safer than gloved boxing which does cause brain damage; and emotional in that the fights were described 'until one man could not stand up'; exactly so and therefore a fighter could quit at any time unlike a fixed number of rounds. Notice the boxers signature at his wedding, beautiful writing and he had been fighting for several years.

  • Comment number 31.

    The program was very informative - it's fascinating to see just how far records go back if you have the resources to find them. June was too "actressy" for me to feel any sympathy for her. And what on EARTH were all the close-ups of cigarettes about? They were distracting, pointless and, to a non-smoker like me, quite disgusting. I just hope the next "star" of the program doesn't have a toenail fetish or something!

  • Comment number 32.

    I found June Brown's story very interesting. I too have Jewish ancestry from the east end of London but don't know how to trace them as my Jewish great grandfather changed his name. My grandmother was only told when her father was on his deathbed. The name was not told to the rest of the family. He became an accountant and married an Irish music hall actress who was a close friend of Charlie Chaplin's mother. Can anyone suggest how I can trace the name if I only have the new name?

  • Comment number 33.

    I stopped watching these programmes, because (in typical celeb culture ways) we had celebs with one interesting story within four generations, which was dresed up as a defining moment in their life. These are limited and so become repetitive - and how many times do we have to have Jews in the Holocaust (it smacks of bias, esp given the number of other Holocaust programmes). Most people like myself have several interesting stories (I have an Alistair McGowan tale, ancestors meeting in far off places and a fe willegitimacies myself), so a "big celeb" moment rather palls.

  • Comment number 34.

    I want to add my voice to those who really enjoyed this programme. Despite the comments in today's Guardian TV Review - I found the research behind this programme to be excellent, and I support the idea that the programmes should take the story back to the seventeenth century - if the evidence is there. Similarly I don't have a problem with only pursuing one specific line of ancestry. Please don't be put off by the negative comments flying around!!

  • Comment number 35.

    I really enjoyed this programme - in fact, I would have liked the programme to go on tracing June's family back as far as possible, not just stopping with their being dumped in Livorno! How did they get to Oran? Where from?? As for the criticisms of June's smoking - everyone knows she smokes as much as she does. if it was so upsetting (for reasons with escape me, unless your tv sets have smellovision!) why not just turn off?? I thought June was lovely - and the segment with her sitting in the graveyard in Amsterdam with the sunflower, picture and little stone, talking to Rachel, were really touching.

  • Comment number 36.

    And yes, if you want to do a non-celeb programme, I volunteer! Have already found a few freedom fighters and a bigamist in my tree, and would love to find more!

  • Comment number 37.

    I loved this eposode! To think that June could find her family through all these international documents!

    Wel done BBC Keep it up WDYTYA !

  • Comment number 38.

    I just wanted to thank everyone for all the comments they've made about last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? It's really great to hear what everyone thought of the first series; and especially gratifying to see how appreciate some people were of the quite complex history in this film.

    Many of you have commented on how far back the film went into June's ancestors - it's certainly the further back of any of the WDYTYA's that I've executive produced over the past two series.

    A number of posts mentioned that we only explored June's maternal line. This won't be the case for every episode. In some cases, we'll be exploring both the maternal and paternal sides and in others we'll focus on just one line. Next week, we have JK Rowling's very personal film on screen - the film focuses on her maternal great grandfather and her maternal great great grandmother - so much less further back than June's ancestry. It will be interesting to hear what people think of it. In three weeks, we focus on a single generation as Larry Lamb goes in search of his mother's biological parents - she was adopted as a baby. WDYTYA comes in all shapes and sizes and it's that variety, I think.

    In response to particular comments:-

    PenneyB (#2) - Julia Sawalha's WDYTYA traced her Huguenot ancestry way back in Series 3 ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/whodoyouthinkyouare/past-stories/julia-sawalha.shtml )

    liquidpetroleumjazz (#6) - please contact me via the Wall To Wall production company website so you can give me more info

    Esther (#26) and Sheila (#17) - a number of people mentioned how much they'd like to see a non-celebrity journey on WDYTYA. I've always really believed that we DO follow ordinary people. WDYTYA proves that celebrities and public faces are just like us, each with their own (often humble) origins. You can start searching your own ancestry at www.ancestry.co.uk or www.findmypast.co.uk. It’s amazing how many records are now online.

    DHMBA (#33) - June's film doesn't feature the Holocaust at all, which I think some of the other people who've posted have found refreshing for a Jewish story.

    Kim24 (#14) - June's film is repeated tonight at 8pm on BBC One HD and is available on the I-player.

    I really hope you are looking forward to the forthcoming episodes in the run and thanks again for all your comments.



  • Comment number 39.

    I love this programme and look forward to it every year, can't wait to see the rest of the series. Here's the moan - Luckily I had recorded this episode because I had to fast forward several times to avoid being instructed on the torture, complete with pictures, of the Spanish Inquisition. Why, oh why, does the BBC think I want to know or see the details of this? Suffice to say 'Spanish Inquisition' if I want to know the gory details there are many ways to access this information without it being shoved into my face on a TV programme. I hated history at school due to a sadistic teacher who took great pleasure in describing torture and death, too much information!

  • Comment number 40.

    I realise this programme did not include the Holocaust - I was talking generally about why I stopped watching the series in general. In fact, I nearly watched this programme given how far it went back and being Jewish, but not Holocaust - but I have just had enough of the celeb culture.

  • Comment number 41.

    Just to pick up on the comment that Isaac Bitton has no memorial, another Boxer from the same Sephardi community does ... Daniel Mendoza ... as they were in the same Profession in the same community at the same time they must surely have know each other ?

    It is on the wall of the Library at Queen Mary University of London:

    if links are permitted.


  • Comment number 42.

    I found it quite interesting although at times felt that they can 'move on with the story' as it was unfolding rather slowly... However, it was definitely educational to all looking for their roots! Will the BBC be looking for new ancestral contributions in the future?

  • Comment number 43.

    I was disappointed at the outset of June Brown's programme by the way she carelessly dismissed all her other ancestry to focus only on one line of her mother's family. Her British forebears - east-enders or otherwise - might have been as interesting as Barbara Windsor's, Jodie Kidd's or Jeremy Paxman's, but neither we nor she will ever know.

  • Comment number 44.

    I think the point others are asking about is "are the celebs paying anything towards finding out about their family history?" If not, then it would indeed be marvelous if a non-celeb person could benefit with each series. A whole load of us are limited to what research we can do from our computer and after each programme, I know I say to myself, if only!
    From: A very jealous keen amateur researcher.

  • Comment number 45.

    My enjoyment of the programme was overshadowed by the initial scenes of June at home, smoking with her grandchildren in the room - it's bad enough that June and her children seem to think that it's OK to subject their (grand)children to passive smoking, but I think it's irresponsible of the programme makers to show and and condone this behaviour that goes completely against all NHS advice and let's face it - commonsense.

  • Comment number 46.

    Loved the programme, but how I agree with seniormover. The programm makes it seem so simple and glosses over whether or not the celebs pay anything towards the cost of research.
    I registered on the forum to make exactly the same point namely that there should be at least one non celeb per series no matter what and selection shouldn't be based on whether they seem to have any "interesting" or "famous" people in their ancestry.

  • Comment number 47.

    I found this programme particularly interesting as I have sephardic roots that I have traced back to the Bevis Marks Synagogue and I suspected a connection with the one in Amsterdam.
    What I think would be most useful for all these programmes would be a list of the sources and archives visited. I would like to try and follow up some of these leads for my own family.

  • Comment number 48.

    I found this interesting when it came to the Spanish records. Having Spanish roots I was always led to believe most records where destroyed in the Spanish civil war. My father has done some research and visited the archive office in Spain shown on the programme and took me there but it was shut.

    Obviously not all records were destroyed. I agree with 'Dill's' comments above knowing about where and how could help others. We don't all have the help of WHDTYA researchers!.

  • Comment number 49.

    Tom McDonald - For you and June Brown (please let her see this).

    I was just researching for my holiday in Algarve and without looking for it found this reference to an Isaac Bitten. I wonder if she has relatives in the USA?
    Here is the link https://farojewishheritagecentre.org/FrontEng.html
    The Faro Jewish Cemetery is the only remaining vestige of the 1st post inquisition Jewish presence in Portugal! In 1984 Isaac “Ike” Bitton (native of Lisbon, then living in the USA, and sadly passed away 14 July 2006) and his brother Joseph went to Faro to visit their mother's birthplace. They found the cemetery in terrible disrepair and vowed to restore it to its former sacred glory as a memorial to the now defunct Faro Jewish community. On returning to the USA Bitton registered the Faro Cemetery Restoration Fund Inc. as a not for profit organisation. He raised funds, which he then deposited in trust with the Jewish Community of Lisbon.
    In December 1991, Judith Pinto held a small Channukah party at her apartment in Portimão, Algarve, thereby effectively relighting the flame of Judaism in Algarve and establishing the present Jewish Community of Algarve. In June 1992 Ralf and Judy Pinto and a small group visited the cemetery. Contact was made with Ike Bitton and after submission of a plan of work and estimates, Bitton instructed funds to be released to Pinto who was appointed Hon. Director of Operations. The work was completed and the cemetery was opened to tourism and the public. The entire cemetery is paved with Portuguese calçada and two large shady trees provide a serene ambience. There is a Tahara House in which bodies were washed and prayers said. This was turned into a museum.

  • Comment number 50.

    Always find it odd when people say "boring", especially when they fail to articulate why. Do they not have a very good capacity for thinking about others, rather than being pre-occupied with themselves? If nothing else, June Brown's program carried a history lesson about a persecuted race spanning several different countries and 4 centuries - how on earth can that be boring?

  • Comment number 51.

    Though very good could we have some non celebrities on the next series or maybe a series of their own as Im sure that you will find some really interesting stories

  • Comment number 52.

    I personally think it's a great program reminding people of the good and the bad in our past. Ainlsey Harriet for example seemed to be very confused about his ancestors and what to make of his family history. I did find the June Brown episode very difficult to like however. The History was fascinating. June however just annoyed me to the extant I have had to break off and will watch the rest of the program later.

  • Comment number 53.

    Found this programme extremely interesting not least because by maiden name was Bitton. I believe that there’s not a lot of Bitton’s about and wonder if there are any more reading this Blog.

  • Comment number 54.

    Is there any chance of delving in to some English family history?

  • Comment number 55.

    I watched quite a bit of the June Brown programme and I also thought it was presented in a very boring and uninteresting way-I too almost fell asleep trying to watch it.
    I have now just finished watching the JK Rowling programme and found this one very touching.I was very tearful for what Jo discovered.I too have researched my family for many years,and have gone back to 1754,and have also encountered a mass grave "Pauper" grave.This is a very painful discovery and although we know very little of these dead relatives,it still hurts to find this out.
    Just proves that a bond is still there.
    Jo,your ancesters were very brave people,they lived in a long forgotten era where you were very much alone , and had to make yourself who you are to survive.
    I really enjoyed this programme,lovely meaningful touch with her distant cousin.

  • Comment number 56.

    We found the latest story (J.K.Rowling's) the best we have seen so far. However we were told that her grandfather was one of four children: Sidney (her grandfather), Marcel, Gladys Marion and Ivy Florence.
    In the two 1911 Census forms shown on the programme, only Laurence (great grandfather), Marcel, Ivy and Sidney appeared. Gladys did not appear. In our own research we have found no entry in the 1911 Census for Gladys. It seems, however, that she survived unmarried until 1981 (ref: Ancestry.com BMD Deaths). If this latter fact is true, where was Gladys in 1911?

  • Comment number 57.

    Did anyone else see the "unchecked" document with the facts the "wrong way round"?. Jo herself will cringe when she spots it, but caught up in the excitement of the moment it's easy to see how she missed it while reading and certainly forgivable. Not so for the production team who could have used a bit of tech wizardry to alter the offending document. and asked for a voice over back here, I'm sure Jo would have been happy to correct it.
    The programmes are great to watch, and we enjoyed our 2nd viewing as you will when you spot the "WWR" but searches do create many unanswerable questions,
    perhaps that's why the advice in Titus 3:9 & 1 Tim.1:4 still applies today.

    If you're weary read them.

  • Comment number 58.

    Very disappointed with last two episodes - J K Rowling and June Brown - as they both concentrated on only one branch of the family. Surely this is NOT who we/they are, as the whole point is we are a mixture of different lines.I think it would be more interesting to get an idea of the different strands that make us up inone programme, if at all possible...

  • Comment number 59.

    Just a thought that struck me while watching the J K Rowling programme - which was fascinating by the way. From the style of the affectionate letters written by her g-grandfather to his family post 1911, I wondered if he had in fact separated from them at this time despite what appears on the Census. Perhaps he simply had an address 'in town' which was close to his workplace. I discovered a similar situation in my family history. The aunt and uncle who brought up my g-grandmother led separate lives because of his work - he was a butler for the 3rd Earl Onslow's daughter. In the 1881 Census he was registered at her address in Richmond, while his wife, who kept a lodging house in the town, was registered at that address as 'Head' - not 'Wife'. When the uncle finally retired from service, he joined his wife at her lodging house. So the brutal removal of the term 'Wife' on the 1911 Census might in fact be nothing more than a bureaucratic requirement because Louis was registered elsewhere. This might explain the continuation of loving letters to his family with the possibility the marriage was still in tact until after WWI.

  • Comment number 60.

    Hi all at WDYTYA. Absoloutely love the show, it's true some are more interesting than others, but that is merely personal taste. Where some will find stories dull and uninteresting, others will find a personal connection or find the history fascinating. In response to those saying that only one line is being followed, it has always been that way, right back in series one, you may recall Jeremy Clarkson researching the Kilner's, this was his mothers line, there was only a fleeting mention of his father's family in Tick Hill, Yorkshire. One of my favourite episodes is Alistair McGowan's is because our histories are very similar.

    To those who are saying about the celebrities paying for research, I do not see this as necessary. They should not pay for this, they whole point is that it is a programme for us to enjoy we don't expect other people to pay to be on shows, I think this is a silly line of argument.

    The great thing about this show is that it doesn't matter if you are a fan of the celebrity or whether you even really know who they are they are just the vehicle for the stories of history to be told.

    I am researching my history at the moment, in fact I've been doing it for 20 years, ever since a project at school inspired me. I would urge you all to have a go, at least write down as much as you know for future generations. But a warning, if you start, you may not be able to stop, it's a very addictive hobby!

    Oh and finally, because I've gone on way too long!, in the episode with Jo Rowling, she discovered that a family rumour was untrue and I think it was great for the makers to show her discovering that the Louis Volant who won the Legion d'honeur was not her ancestor, so oftern you can get caught up in a story and then discover it was a red herring, so well done for showing that, all part of the joys of genealogy. Keep up the good work, I have never and will never miss an episode.

  • Comment number 61.

    Ho Hum, Seb Coe's WDYTYA, yet again had to turn off due to information about ill treatment of slaves and graffic pictures of slaves being burned at the stake. That's two out of three programmes that I have been unable to watch completely. BBC what are you up to? As stated in my previous post, if I want to know the gory details there are many ways I can access this information - please stop shoving it in my face on what used to be my fav programme.

  • Comment number 62.

    In the programme on J K Rowling, she became upset because a census form had an entry for an ancestor changed from "wife" to "head." She was rather upset because she assumed this to mean that husband and wife were separated. I am surprised that nobody on the production team corrected her. All that entry means is that, at the time of the census, the couple were in separate locations.

    I have a similar case in my family where an 8-year-old boy had been entered as "son" but later changed to "head." He was living in Wimbledon with his 3-year-old sister and 11-month-old brother. The relationship to the head of the family in their cases was "daughter" and "son." The only adult was a 20-year-old servant. His parents were staying in Twickenham with his father's widowed mother.

    Although the heading on the census form is "relation to head of family," my impression is that the head is often taken as head of the household rather than the family.

  • Comment number 63.

    well i have to congratulate the entire WDYTYA team once again a crackin job!! i am thoroughly enjoying the new series as i have with all previous episodes. I find it completely absorbing and also empathise with all the celebrities as their stories are unveiled. Gosh my dream job working with you guys but sadly that will never be so i am happy to sit back, kick back and appreciate all your hard work instead. Many thanks

  • Comment number 64.

    Just watched the program on Larry Lamb. It was so good, I dont think Ive watched something so enjoyable for a long time. Thank you!

  • Comment number 65.

    I too watched Larry Lamb and I think he may have missed something.

    When examining the 1911 Census they focussed on Albert Day aged 15 at the time, when in fact there was another Albert Day on the census page they were looking at, who was the son of the uncle he was staying with. This other Albert Day was 10 at the time.

    Given that Albert Day was apparently 24 when he married Larry's Grandmother in 1925, it seemed to me that they should have been following the younger Albert Day, which would have led to a completely different outcome to the grandfather's line of enquiry.


  • Comment number 66.

    Re comment made about 1911 census....no i don't think they missed it at all because in 1901, Larry's grandfather was 4 years old therefore he couldn't have been 10 in 1911. Remember they had his birth certificate so they knew when he was born and who his father was. It is confusing sometimes as in those days so many families used generations of names rather than now where anything goes therefore the temptation to jump to conclusion is always tempting when doing family research which is why it always pays to double and sometimes treble check references....as they did on the programme.

  • Comment number 67.

    I really found Larry Lamb,s very interesting,especilly as his mum had been Adopted,i was Adopted and i have desperately been trying to trace my roots,i,ts not easy and he hit the nail on the head when he said there is part of him missing,thats how i feel.you never feel complete.

  • Comment number 68.


    The point I'm making (I think) is similar to the one you are making i.e. They had the birth certificate of an Albert Day and were therefore looking for that Albert Day.

    Of course the Albert Day aged 4 in 1901 could not be the same as the Albert Day who was 10 in 1911. It is equally true to say that he could not be the Albert Day as the one who was 24 in the marriage of 1925. The point is that the Albert Day who was 10 in 1911 could have been.

    It may be that the 1925 marriage certificate showed the wrong age, but it wasn't made clear in the programme that the Albert Day who was 10 in 1911 coincidentally appeared to be the right age to fit those particular facts.

    I'm just raising the question really to see whether there is any possibility that they may have picked on the wrong Albert Day and ignored the possibility that it might be the other one if you see what I mean.

    I know they have researchers and they do a lot more than what we see, but, mistakes and incorrect assumptions do happen.

    It would be interesting to learn from the programme maker why the age discrepancy is there and how they know the other Albert Day was not the man they're after.


  • Comment number 69.

    I have watched all WDYTYA since day one, but I just have to say my favourite to date is Larry Lamb's. I thought it was a wonderful for his mother, who is now in her 80's, to find that she had a brother and he a sister after living all their lives thinking they were an only child. I hope they have a wonderful celebration on meeting for the first time. Thankyou BBC for bringing these 2 people together after a lifetime apart.

  • Comment number 70.

    WDYTYA is either excellent or slightly boring/tedious, and this seriers is turning out to be excellent. If Tom McDonald is looking around for celebrities for a future series may I suggest Lucy Mecklenburgh of TOWIE fame - hers is fascinating family with a long history - and strangely Essex does feature quite a bit!

  • Comment number 71.

    I do wish the researchers would get their facts correct, Emilia Fox's, Samson Fox was interested in Water gas. It is a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon Monoxide and is poisonous. It is made by passing steam over red hot coke and most likely was only semi water gas using a mixture of steam and air to keep the temperature up. This would contain more CO. What he invented was a boiler fire tube, not a furnace flue

  • Comment number 72.

    I loved last nights programme with Emillia Fox she was so natural and I loved the aunties down in Cornwall. It was very interesting and kept my attention all the way through, It was the best one so far. Brilliant and well done everyone!!

  • Comment number 73.

    I have allways wanted to start my family tree but dont know haw to get started. I have just started watching this series of hdytya and its brilliant wished i seen the other series.
    I have enjoyed all of the episodes so far i perticularly enjoyed jk rowlands episode i enjoyed it that much i watched it again with my partner.
    I hope the rest of the program is as good as the start and i will be continuing to watch the rest of the series and meany more to come.

  • Comment number 74.

    I watched Emilia Fox's history on 'Who Do You Think You Are' with great interest as my great grandmother was the Cook at Grove House, Harrogate , when Samson Fox and his family, Emilia's ancestor lived there. I have a photo album containing photos of the Fox Family as well as their servants and would be very happy to let her have copies of these if she would like to contact me.

    I have visited Grove House, now owned by a charitable organisation and have asked them to pass on my contact details to Emilia's father as he visits Grove House, now and again. The Fox family are clearly interested in their ancestry, but have not contacted me via this means. I am not sure how else to contact them.

    'Who Do You Think You Are? ' is a great show. There is only one downside to it - it gives the impression that tracing a family tree is easy and of course sometimes it takes years to find out one little fact. Fun to watch though and always interesting. Well done BBC !

  • Comment number 75.

    This programme has become so dull; little more than a mawkish celebrity soul-search. Is there no research budget to go back further then 100/150 years? That tells us very little about the personal family histories of the subjects or our nation's history. I wouldn't have thought it possible to destroy this programme from within, so well done BBC OxBridge geeks, you've dumbed down and trashed something else to make it unwatchable.

  • Comment number 76.

    Absolutly facinating, particularly that of Emelia Fox.
    I have a history which would CHALLANGE the researchers, goes back to a poor little Sicilian boy who ended up retiring to Monaco with plenty of story in between. War, Desertion, flight, resettlement. new life, family , wealth.
    But it draws a blank in Sicily.
    Perhaps some ordinary peoples stories mixed with the celebs ones ???

  • Comment number 77.

    Out of the series Richard Madely has proved to be just so interesting!
    tracing his family back to the New World 1630 ish! wow!
    and had time permitted there was indeed another link!
    to go back evan further
    please BBC another time? as this was most interesting!
    would have loved another hour with Richards geneaology!
    well done BBC and Richard!
    great survival genes!
    Lucky chap !
    and even luckier Judy and family!!!

  • Comment number 78.

    I absolutly love WDYTYA It's really interesting finding out about the celebreties this year has been great as always I have enjoyed them all so far Richard Madley went back 100 of years.I can't wait to see who will be next year I cannot praise this programme

  • Comment number 79.

    Genealogy is one of the most interesting and revealing journeys around.I started twenty years ago at the Irish genealogical society,london.Even with new information with respect to our late mother from the Mercy congregational archives,it's still not possible to find any record of her birth or parents.We have had, what proved to be,a very destructive family tradition story-that our mother was an illegitimate grand daughter of Eamonn De valera,and was born as a result of a catholic priest raping a handicapped jewish woman in a home in Ireland.With the lack of facts available-I have recently recieved the school records from the mercy congregational archives-Dublin,it was nearly impossible to refute these legends and myth's.Our mother spent most of her life as a genuine Christian, hiding a secret Jewish identity that appears to have been false, and concieved with a political agenda to discredit De valera.Our family has no arguement with the mercy Organization,or the De valera family,the nuns that taught our mother we're doing their best under often very difficult circumstances.I have spent twenty years trying to penetrate the mystery of our mothers origins and her parents.This might make an interesting who do you think you are-It would certainly contribute in the long run, to better Anglo-Irish relations, given the fraught nature of our family tree.The mercy congregation are open to a programme on the subject,and it would be one less thing for people to argue about with respect to the Peace process. What do you think?Kind regards,patrick buckley.

  • Comment number 80.

    So I'm a cousin of Len Goodman. Who'd have thought it? My grandma and his Grandpa were siblings. It is amazing where genealogy can take you.

  • Comment number 81.

    I think this has been a really good series and am looking forward to Tracey Emin's programme. I note several people have been asking for non-celebrities to be included in the future. I seem to remember when the first series was shown each programme was followed by one on BBC3 or BBC4 dealing with an 'ordinary' person's family history. I watched a couple of them including one where a Welsh vicar discovered he was Jewish, but don't remember the name of the series. Perhaps that could be repeated in an earlier time slot or on BBC2.

  • Comment number 82.

    Watching the Len Goodman programme I was amazed to see him in Kingston Cemetary in Portsmouth - I live in Portsmouth and did not know about this Memorial to the Polish refugees. In my Ancestry family tree I have a Thomas Lepik who married in Portsmouth in 1839. I checked the Memorial plague online and found his name there. I had not known how he came to Portsmouth from Poland or why, so found your programme enlightening and a revelation. One of his grandaughters married one of my maternal grandmother's brothers.

  • Comment number 83.

    Cant wait to watch Tracy Emin! Who I would love to watch next series would be Christopher Hitchens... and his brother :) would be a incomparable homenage and interesting regardless of the outcome.

  • Comment number 84.

    Apart from June Brown's journey, I've found each new episode of this series more fascinating... Larry Lamb and his circus background, Emilia Fox and her ancestor Samson Fox (not to mention the actress sisters, the Royal College of Music and the corrugated boiler flue), Richard Madeley and his Canadian background, and this week Len Goodman and his Workhouse AND Poland connections!

  • Comment number 85.

    Usually a facinating and engrossing show, with unexpected twists, turns and emotional revelations! Would be great to see someone like Anthony Head or Suzi Perry or even someone more unusual like Siouxsie Sioux or maybe Adam Ant..

  • Comment number 86.

    Disappointed with Tracey Emin's programme - more should have revealed regarding her father's side - sounded more interesting

  • Comment number 87.

    I love this series, so interesting. Wish I had access to the researchers to help me with ours!!

  • Comment number 88.

    I would appreciate it if Tom Mc Donald contacted me as a subject for WDYTYA as most of my family are dead and I'm finding it a real struggle to re search my ancestors due to the cost etc involved.
    I would not want to travel to other countries etc so I would not be an expensive subject.
    My family are somehow involved with the Wedgwood clan and my nan's side who are french worked for the french resistance in LeTouquet and I've also just found out my mother's uncle died in the Somme.
    I think there are plenty of us "ordinary" folk who would dearly love to have our past re searched and I'm ready for that e-mail Mr Mc Donald if you should ever wish to persue my family tree. It would be a dream come true for me.
    Love the programme.

  • Comment number 89.

    what about a WDYTYA series that follows the genaral puplics family tree. i would like to do that

  • Comment number 90.

    I have spoken to many people who would like to see this program done for a deserving member of the public. My family have been trying to trace what happened to my fathers real mother . He is dying but mentally very well and would love to know what happened to her. We have ended up down blind alleyways with lots of amazing info about her father and the rest of relatives however she seems to have disappeared into thin air. Lots of family scandal, history of his grandfather linked to Horatio Bottomly and times newspaper , treaty of versailles etc. He was brought up by a step mother who pretended that his mother was dead but a story is there also as to why he was taken away from his mother. Can you help at all? Have loads of info so far but we are desparate to make my father happy and find at least a picture of his mother before he dies . He is terminally ill with Pulmonary fibrosis of unknown origin. He only stopped working at he age of 84 6 weeks ago and is a character himself and an example to all.


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