Who Do You Think You Are? Our top tips on making genealogy research worthy for TV
3rd August, 2018


We’re thoroughly enjoying this series of Who Do You Think You Are. We love the way the programme focuses on individuals and takes the celebrity back to the places their ancestors lived. Here’s our six tips on how to make your genealogy research worthy of a TV show.

Basics are essential

As is so often shown in the programme, talk to your family first of all. Family stories, photographs and tales are a fantastic way to get immersed in your family history, even if they prove to be a little farfetched later on!

When compiling your family tree, begin with yourself and then parents, siblings etc. At the start dates are crucial as they will allow you to find birth, marriage and death records. These are essential documents when compiling your family tree as they usually contain full names, dates, occupations and the names of parents. Once you have the basics you can start to find out about the individuals who make up your history.

Quality not quantity

Something heavily emphasised in the programme, especially in Boy George’s episode, is the importance of quality research rather than quantity. Whilst it is exciting to trace your family tree back through the generations, this way of researching doesn’t really give you any information about your ancestors, their personalities or way of life. One of the joys of tracing your family history is making your ancestors come alive again; no one wants to be remembered as just a name and a date.

Through various records, including trade directories, army records, wills, deeds and personal letters, you can discover vast amounts of information about an individual. For example deeds can tell you where your ancestor lived and may even contain a property description. As well as property information deeds usually include information about individuals such as occupations, relationships and wealth (Find out how to use Title Deeds in your Genealogy Research here).

Discovering your ancestor’s occupation can be a great insight into their daily life. Occupation influenced health, wealth and social standing. In Olivia Coleman’s episode she discovered an ancestor who worked for the East India Company, which influenced all aspects of his life particularly where he lived.

Discover wider context

Something the programme does well is put everything into a wider context. Understanding the living and working conditions of a specific period can help explain why an ancestor died at a young age. Perhaps an ancestor’s occupation and wage did not meet the living cost which is why they ended up in the workhouse. War, famine and political upheaval also affect people’s lives.

Contemporary newspapers are a fantastic source of information for understanding what was going on at a specific time, however don’t rely on just one document. As with any research, it’s best to get your information from a couple of sources and make your own conclusions.

Follow your interests

There is no rule about who you have to research when tracing your family history. Boy George followed the story of his great aunt and uncle rather than tracing his linear heritage. If an ancestor has got an interesting past, why not research them? It is important to follow your interests and stay focused as genealogy research is both time consuming and frustrating. There will never be enough hours in the day to research each and every ancestor, so make the ones you do research count!

Walk in history

In each episode of Who Do You think You Are, celebrities travel to the places their ancestors have been and sometimes get to look inside the very house they lived in. Walking in your ancestor’s footsteps is one of the best parts of researching your family history as you get to paint a picture in your head of what they would have seen, or in some cases actually see what they would have seen. Shirley Ballas revelled walking down the street her three times great grandmother lived in and said it brought her closer to her ancestors.

Present your research

We love the way the programme prints out the most valuable documents for the celebrities and this is something you can easily recreate at home. If you find a particularly interesting or attractive document why not frame it? One of my personal aims is to compile all of my research into a book which will be a real memento not only for myself but for generations to come.

Hopefully our tips will help you turn your own family history into an episode worthy for TV! Good luck, and do let us know on social media how you’ve turned your ancestors into people and their houses into homes.