Who Do We Think We Are?

The Wall to Wall family research series Who Do You Think You Are? which originally broadcast on the BBC back in 2004 and currently is being re-aired on the Yesterday channel (strapline The Past Is Always Present!) I always make a point of watching its new episodes not just because I have an interest in family research and a tree set up on Ancestry but because I enjoy the social history that underpin such programmes.  In school our British history was generally the tale of our ruling orders – Kings, Queens, other such noble (and often not very noble) aristocrats and latterly governing politicians – but the history of ordinary working people was often a footnote if mentioned at all and Who Do You Think You Are is a fascinating resource in correcting this – leaving aside Olympic Gold Medalist Rower Matthew Pinsent and Actor Brooke Shields and their very aristocratic backgrounds!

Royal Brooke

I enjoyed this social history of Britain and I enjoyed the USA spin off when the BBC aired some of its episodes from June 2010 as an opportunity to explore the wider history of its country.  I note also versions for other English speaking countries such as Australia, Canada and South Africa.  And a number of non-English speaking ones from various Scandinavian countries – even without knowing much about the particular celebrities of any of these countries I would be interested in viewing a few episodes from those series too, again to discover more about the history of their peoples.

The greatest family history resource for most of us in the UK for the last few centuries has been the decade frequent census first commenced in 1801.

Today we are having to fill in the 2011 census – I just completed mine online – and I completed it with my future descendants in mind so much as for the Scottish government officials who will utilize the data for the various social planning mandates stated in its purpose.  The census started as a quite modest affair and though not unsurprisingly the number of questions it asks has multiplied I still do not consider it intrusive as some people do. Though I cannot but wonder with the web and the trail we leave behind us on it whether far more richer sources of information will be found in these personal domains than in this public government overseen resource.

The BBC to mark this census aired ‘This is Britain with Andrew Marr‘ which provided a fascinating profile of our country past and present.

And indeed I found the social make-up of this country as revealed in the very recent history of the 2001 census as revealing as the social history detailed from the two centuries preceding us.

Facts and figures can be dry and prosaic but what they can reveal on closer scrutiny is as poetic and revealing as any fictional account of those times – and provide an instructive insight of a country and its people beyond the political spin and ideology of its times.