• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Celebrities inspiring families to root out their past

'EVERYBODY'S just nosy, I think," says the woman from the Central Scotland Family History Society.

"You want to know what your grandfathers did. And once you've done the people, you get into the social history side, like what was happening in Scotland at that particular time, or in your own area."

Indeed, all around her, dozens of people are rooting around in the past - doing online checks into their ancestry, consulting experts, and buying DNA kits, or old maps, or CDs containing parish registry extracts.

A leaflet from the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society offers assistance in tracing one's ancestors. "They could be princes or they could be paupers!" it says. "They could be heroes or they could be criminals!" It seems like an appealing prospect.

Such was the scene last Friday at the SECC, the occasion of the first Who Do You Think You Are? Live Scotland two-day event.

"It is such a massive hobby now," is how Carolyn Wray, the live show's public relations manager, had earlier described the passion for family history.

The long-running BBC television programme of the same name, in which celebrities trace their ancestry, has been hugely influential. It is now in its 10th series, and its 100th episode is on the way. "The response has been huge, and a lot of credit goes to the television show for building interest in family trees," says Ms Wray.

She mentioned a point that would later emerge quite unambiguously on Friday: "When you have done one side of the family then you are desperate to go on and do the other side. I think you could spend years and years doing it, and take it so far back.

"Some people we have spoken to at previous shows have taken their family history so far back it is incredible.

"Some of our visitors at previous events have discovered a link to a celebrity from the TV show and have been able to meet them at the live show."

Friday's session was an engrossing introduction to the subject, even to a casual visitor who could not trace his family tree further back than his grandparents.

There were people of all ages. Genealogy beginners and more advanced types. Several blokes in kilts. And the occasional American accent, too - at least one visitor came all the way from Maine, USA.

Every last stand was busy, from the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre to the Yorkshire Group Of Family History Societies. At the National Records Of Scotland stand, people queued patiently to explore the ScotlandsPeople archive on computer terminals.

The Ministry Of Defence Medal Office offered advice on medals, and information on how to access service records. Its glass-topped display case contained medals in all their sombre glory: the Victoria Cross, Burma Star, George Cross, Queen's Gallantry Medal, the Korean War Medal.

At the PoppyScotland stand, people commemorated the fallen of 1914-1918 via the everymanremembered.org website. One woman, Carol Prentice, searches for a name: William H Caldwell, a corporal in the Highland Light Infantry (HLI), a Bridgeton boy who died at the Somme, aged 25, on March 26, 1918. She leaves a moving dedication: "I wish I had known you and had a chance to thank you for everything you gave to us who survive you."

Afterwards, Ms Prentice, from Larkhall, says he was her great-uncle, her dad's uncle. She has been researching her family history but got stuck, "so I'm looking for extra tips on how I can take things a bit further back now".

Elsewhere, some stands are doing a decent trade in old Ordnance Survey maps, which historians and genealogists find useful. Castle Douglas, 1894. Glasgow St Rollox 1894. Alloa, 1899. I buy the Falkirk 1898 map; it has references to more ironworks than I knew the town ever had. Goods and mineral depots - and a poorhouse, too.

In the Society Of Genealogists studio 1, Scots-based professional genealogist, Marie Dougan, discusses the computer and phone applications, software and websites that can aid genealogists. She says software is in development that can even read old handwriting.

She is followed by broadcaster Nicky Campbell who, in conversation with Who Do You Think You Are? magazine editor Sarah Williams, recalls his appearance on the television show in 2007, when he explored the extent of the roots of his adoptive family.

In the main hall, people continue to queue for the computer terminals, to listen to experts talk, to hover at stands that interest them. It is a convivial sort of event, and with all these facilities and books and services available, it is not hard to see how people can get seriously hooked on genealogy. The past may indeed be a foreign country where they do things differently, but today, the past seems to be vibrantly alive.

And all the time, unexpected little connections are being made. At the Borders Journeys stand, owner Ian Walker got talking to a man named Jim Rodger, who wanted advice about his family history. After a while it emerged they are related; Jim and Ian's mother are fourth cousins.

"A girl on the stand who was helping out, and hadn't heard us talking, asked me, 'Is he a relative of yours?'" Ian says. He laughs merrily. "The resemblance is quite scary - both bald, grey beards, the same glasses, virtually! It really is a small world."

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

258624