Tuesday, 26 August 2014
Don't Give Up
A break for the arrival of our puppy and now I am sneaking a post while she is snoozing. Honestly, it is like being back in the baby days with my two. No idea what we are doing, trying to understand what the creature wants, up half the night. Can't say we weren't warned though and to be fair, Bonnie (for that is said puppy's name) has actually been very good. Just house bound now while we wait for her to get vaccinated against all of the many dog diseases that I had never heard of before. But, as usual, I digress....
I am a big fan of the ITV programme Long Lost Family and have been thinking about the lessons that it gives to those of us starting out in genealogy. For those who have not seen the programme, they follow two stories per episode. In general they are connected with adoption cases - one story might be a parent searching and the other, an adopted child wanting to trace their birth parents. The stories themselves are not so straightforward obviously but you get the concept of the programme.
I was a little wary of the fact that Davina McCall is one of the presenters when I first watched it. Pre children, I watched far too many early series of the original Big Brother and have it found hard to take Davina "please do not swear" McCall seriously ever since. However, she seems a lot calmer (thank goodness) these days so please don't let her presence put you off! For Long Lost Family, she seems to strike the right balance of information and sympathy and not to have the mocking edge that she used for Big Brother interviews. And the other presenter, Nicky Campbell, is generally to be relied upon as serious plus has apparently been through an adoption search himself.
In "genealogy circles" (do I sound like I know what I am talking about?!), the general term used for points in a family tree that cannot be pushed any further back is "brickwalls". If you look at the covers of the magazines or Google genealogy, you will see that there are a great many articles/people.organisations offering to help you "break down those brickwalls".
The Long Lost Family team are masters at breaking down brickwalls. Lest we get too excited, they have the budget to employ adoption specialists, to fly all over the world and so on, remember. However, I do think that the programmes offer a lesson in never giving up. There is the "tugging of the heartstrings" side of bringing anxious people good news and introducing them to each other on camera. All makes for good television. (This week, though, was the first time that I can remember them finding out that a father for whom they were looking had died some years ago and they did give this news off camera.) The good television moments are based on startlingly good research though. Even Iranian spies have been found this series!
In research terms, I believe the programmes show just what is possible. Who Do You Think You Are? of course does something similar. The difference is that WDYTYA uses each celebrity's story to provide us with social history lessons as well as providing the celebrity with personal answers. Long Lost Family shows what can be achieved with stories much harder to trace due to privacy laws, lack of online data and so on. Sometimes they even admit that they have trawled social networking sites, looking for clues. Censuses are embargoed for one hundred years. The next time that UK census full results will released to the public is 2021 - for the 1921 census. So researching the movements of people after 1911 is currently more difficult than nineteenth century research in many ways.
It would be interesting to know just how many cases do not make it to our screens of course but in general, I think we can draw the lesson "do not give up" from the episodes which are actually shown. My father has a second cousin of whom he was vaguely aware. There had been contact years ago but little or nothing since the death of my grandfather. After much fruitless searching for anything later than 1950, I searched his last known locality's newspapers online and I did find him. And he had been done for drink-driving so had made the press... not an ideal thing to find on the other side of the brickwall but hey, at least I broke it down....