View Basket    |    Site Map    |    Search   

Home Counties Occupations Apprentices Names Research Publications Search News Shop


WDYTYA Series 3
WDYTYA Series 4



"Who Do You Think You Are?" Series Four

The fourth series of Who Do You Think You Are? followed seven more personalities as they embarked on personal adventures of discovery and revelation.

The celebrities unravelling secrets and surprises about their roots were newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, actor John Hurt, presenter and comedian Graham Norton, impersonator and actor Alistair McGowan, comedian and presenter Griff Rhys Jones, Olympian Matthew Pinsent, and writer and presenter Carol Vorderman

South Africa's anti-apartheid movement and the Holocaust both figured prominently in Natasha Kaplinsky's investigation into her family history. 

The first episode saw newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky journey into her family's roots and uncover amazing secrets and links to the past.
Natasha was born in Britain to South African parents. Although some of her childhood was spent in Kenya, she grew up with a strong sense of her British identity, yet limited knowledge about her family background.
Natasha and her brother had always known that their father, Raphie, had to leave South Africa in the Sixties because of his involvement in student anti-apartheid protests, and that he was not allowed back until the release of Nelson Mandela. However, he had never talked in detail about what happened. In a similar way, Raphie knew very little about his own father's family history - only that they were Jewish, had lived in Eastern Europe and that some of his father's family had died in the Holocaust.
Natasha set out on a compelling journey that firstly took her to South Africa, where she investigated the circumstances that caused her father's exile, learnt more about her paternal grandfather's life as an immigrant from Europe and came across a family heirloom that may shed light on her mother's ancestors. Her quest took her from South Africa back to London, and then finally to Eastern Europe where she discovered the origins and fates of her grandfather's family.

John Hurt
Actor John Hurt's search into the past led him to possible connections with Irish aristocracy.
Family legend stated that John's great-grandmother, Emma Stafford, was the illegitimate daughter of an Irish aristocrat. Although born in England, John was proud of his Irish heritage and hoped this would be the chance to discover the truth about Emma's parentage.
He began his investigations by travelling to speak with his brother, Michael, a monk at Glenstal Abbey in Western Ireland. Together, they headed to Westport House, home of the current Marquis of Sligo, in search of clues. They knew that Emma's husband, Walter Lord Browne, named his school in Grimsby Westport House, so they were sure that there must be a connection.
Historian Ann Chambers helped them to work out which Earl could have been Emma's father. She thought the best bet was Howe Peter Browne, second Marquis of Sligo. Howe Peter certainly had other illegitimate children, so perhaps the family legend was true. What they needed next was proof.
However, when John found Emma's marriage certificate, he discovered that her father was recorded as an Edward Stafford and that she was born in Croydon. At Croydon Parish Church, Emma's baptism record again gave her parents as Edward and Emma Stafford. The Sligo connection appeared to be slipping away. But, at the local library, John discovered that Emma's parents were nowhere to be found. She was at a local boarding school, but no further records for Edward or Emma Stafford existed anywhere. On the census, Emma did not even appear to know where she was born.
During his investigations, John travelled across England and Ireland in search of clues. As the truth slowly emerged, he uncovered a story of illegitimacy, scandal and cover-up. He started to realise that, although the story he was told has become confused over time, one of his ancestors appeared to have had a hand in muddying the waters for his own ends.
Graham Norton    
Graham Norton explored his paternal Protestant roots and unravelled a family mystery on his mother's side.
Graham Norton was born Graham William Walker, and left Ireland when he was young.  He said that always felt out of place there, growing up in a small Protestant family in the predominantly Catholic south of Ireland, but now felt drawn to the country, and wondered if his discoveries might change his view of Ireland. 
Graham began his journey on the trail of his great grandmother, Mary. On her daughter's birth certificate, she was listed as Mary Reynolds, formerly Dooey. But a handwritten document in his mother's possession indicated that there was some confusion over her name, and that she was also known as Mary Logan. Graham tracked down Mary's marriage certificate of 1895, where she gave her name as Mary Logan. No father's name was provided, suggesting that Mary was illegitimate. From baptism records of Mary's children, Graham realised that she must have been eight months' pregnant at the time of her wedding - and recognised the shame that this would have meant at that time.
He also located Mary's own baptism record, where she was named Mary Jane Logan, and wondered where the name Dooey came from. The answer was in the baptism records of one of Mary's siblings, where the father was listed as Fred Dooey, but the name has been scratched out. It was likely that Fred Dooey was Mary's father, but was not married to her mother when the children were born. Graham recognised how unusual it was for Mary's mother to have produced four children out of wedlock - and to have remained living in the same community throughout.
Graham then turned his attention to his southern Irish Protestant roots. His paternal grandfather, George Walker, was sexton of the Protestant church in Carnew. Land valuation records reveal that George's father William (and his grandfather Joseph) was a tenant of the Fitzwilliam Estate - in other words, he was linked to English Protestant planters. Joseph was a pillar of the Protestant community - vestry minutes at Carnew showed that he was a churchwarden, which meant that he had the right to levy taxes from Protestants and Catholics alike for the upkeep of the Protestant Church of Ireland.
Graham used parish records and the Fitzwilliam estate papers to research the family back another three generations, including Thomas, who lived in Carnew through the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when the town was a royalist stronghold and Carnew Castle the scene of a famous massacre of Catholics. The records showed that a certain John Walker, possibly a relation, was shot and piked whilst fighting for the royalist cause. With the help of the Fitzwilliam Estate Papers, Hearth Tax records and baptism registers, Graham was then able to trace his first ancestor who went from Yorkshire to Ireland, in about 1713.
Alistair McGowan    
India was the destination for Alistair McGowan as he unearthed Anglo-Indian roots on his father's side.
Alistair McGowan had often wondered where he got his dark eyes and skin tone, but never considered he had any Indian blood. 

George McGowan was born in Calcutta in 1928. It was not until after his death, in 2003, that Alistair noticed his father's caste was recorded as Anglo-Indian on his birth certificate. As McGowan was a Scottish name, Alistair always assumed that his father's family originated from Scotland, before they travelled to India sometime in the last century. Keen to get to the bottom of the Anglo-Indian mystery, Alistair headed to Calcutta with his father's brother, Rusty. 
In Calcutta, Alistair visited his father's home and quizzed his uncle about the family's heritage. Like George, Rusty was sure that Anglo-Indian meant the family were British, but lived in India. Still confused by exactly what the term meant, Alistair visited historian Melvin Brown to try to get some answers. Melvin explained that an Anglo-Indian was someone with both British and Indian ancestors usually an Indian woman and a British man. He told Alistair that although his nationality was British, his community was Anglo-Indian.

Surprised by this revelation, Alistair was determined to find which of his McGowan grandmothers was the Indian lady who married into the family. He hoped this would help him discover when the McGowans travelled from Scotland to India.

Further investigations revealed that the last six generations of McGowans were all Anglo-Indians and were all born in India. Alistair discovered that, although his great-great-great-great-grandfather, Seutonius, married a Muslim woman in the mid-1800s, his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, John McGowan, also married a local woman at Fort St George, in Madras, in 1765. Alistair's Anglo-Indian heritage went back almost 250 years.

John was the first McGowan to travel to India and was a Colonel in the East India Company army. However, there was a final surprise for Alistair. Looking at John's enlistment papers, he discovered that he was not Scottish after all John was, in fact, born in Ireland.
Griff Rhys Jones    

Comedian Griff Rhys Jones was surprised by the information he uncovered about his family's Welsh history. 


As a child, Griff's mother, Gwynneth, was told that her maternal grandparents had both died in a train crash in the mid-1890s. Her own mother, Louisa, was a baby at the time and, after their deaths, she was adopted by distant cousins. Gwynneth was in her twenties when she finally discovered that the couple she knew as grandma and grandpa were not her real grandparents at all. It was not until many years later that she discovered her real grandparents were, in fact, Daniel and Sarah Price.


They had four children: William, who moved to the USA, Jane, Thomas and Griff's grandmother, Louisa.

Griff started to look into the story of the train crash, but quickly discovered that all was not as it seemed. Although fatal railway accidents were very common during the 1890s, there was no sign of either Daniel or Sarah losing their lives in one. There were also no matches for Sarah in the death register and, of the four possible matches for Daniel, none involved a train crash.

Back on the trail of the Price family, Griff collected the potential death certificates for Daniel Price and made an amazing discovery. Daniel did not die in a train crash, he died after being seriously injured in a drunken fight and the certificate records the death as manslaughter. His attacker, John Thomas, was tried in Carmarthen, where the jury reached a not-guilty decision in just seven minutes. They believed Daniel was as much to blame for his death as Thomas and drink had played a major factor.

Griff attempted to discover what happened to Sarah Price and her other children. Apart from William, who moved to the USA, he uncovered a tale of poverty, the workhouse and Jane and Thomas's detention in the strict Victorian truant schools.

Matthew Pinsent    
Matthew Pinsent traced his mother's family links to some of British history's greatest characters.
The season finale was well worth waiting for as Matthew Pinsent had an emotional time discovering his father's family's World War One experiences and an extraordinary journey tracing his mother's side of the family all the way back to William the Conquereor himself! 

Matthew started by following the trail of his three great uncles who died during World War One. They all attended Winchester College, and Matthew began his research there by reading their obituaries in the alumni records. Then a discovery on a database of war dead brought an unexpected turn - Matthew's great uncle, George McPherson, committed suicide during one of the first great tank battles of the war, the Somme. Intrigued and disconcerted, Matthew visited the Tank Museum in Dorset and tracked down a historian who had written a book about this era, some of it based upon the memoirs of a friend of George McPherson. Thus Matthew learnt the truth of what happened on the day George died - the distraught young man shot himself after the failure of his assault, possibly because he had been forced to retreat, or because of the horror of what he had seen.

Switching to his mother's side of the family, Matthew wanted to uncover more about his great grandfather, David Landale, who worked for the firm of Jardine-Matheson in Shanghai. He visited the School of Oriental and African Studies to learn more about the business, and was surprised to discover that the business was heavily involved in the opium trade. Matthew learnt about the opium wars and the part the firm played in them. On a visit to Shanghai, he discovered surviving documents of the municipal council, revealing the awkward situation in which his great grandfather, David Landale, found himself when he was asked to start closing opium houses.

Tracing his maternal line further back, Matthew became aware that the family was rather more eminent than he had suspected. They began to appear in Burke's Peerage, and he was able to follow the line back to Lord William Howard, the uncle of Catherine Howard, the unfortunate fifth wife of Henry VIII. William's scheming ended with his imprisonment in the Tower, and Matthew was able to locate a cell in which he might have been kept. But there was more to come at the College of Arms. A pedigree traced the family all the way back to Edward I, and thus to William the Conqueror. There was even a roll which traced this royal line back to Adam and Eve - and thence to God - a fabulous piece of medieval propaganda.

Carol Vordeman    

Carol Vorderman probed her maternal Welsh links as well as her family's intriguing Dutch heritage. 


Presenter Carol Vorderman knew almost nothing about her father, Tony Vorderman's, side of the family. He left her mother when Carol was only three weeks old and she moved with her mother, brother and sister into a small flat which had been left by her great-grandfather, Daniel Davies, a Welsh butcher from Prestatyn. Daniel was a successful businessman and his wise investment, 100 years before, provided a home for Carol and her family in their hour of need.

Carol wanted to find out more about Daniel, particularly how he came to be in a photograph alongside a woman who family myth claimed was Queen Victoria.

At Bodnant Hall, Carol found the spot where the photo was taken, but a local historian explained that Queen Victoria never visited the area. The woman in the photo was Agnes Pochin, a Liberal MP's wife who was one of the first to get involved in the women's suffrage movement. Daniel may not have rubbed shoulders with royalty, but he certainly moved in very influential circles.

Carol then turned her attentions to her Dutch roots and started by investigating the life of the only Vorderman ancestor she knew anything about. Her great-grandfather, Adolphe Vorderman, was a brilliant scientist who lived in the Dutch East Indies and helped discover the cure for beri-beri. Carol's mother always claimed that Adolphe should have received the Nobel Prize for his work but, because he married a local Indonesian woman, the award was blocked. Carol quickly discovers that Adolphe's wife was Dutch so there must have been another reason why he didn't get the Nobel Prize.

Carol's final quest was to learn more about her father's experiences in occupied Holland during the Second World War. He claimed to have been in the resistance during the War, but his memory was failing and he had a bit of a reputation for story-telling. In the Dutch town of Venlo, Carol uncovered the truth behind her father's wartime activities but, on the final day of filming, she received some terrible news from home.

Information from BBC Press Office.


British Army WW1 Service and Pension Records  



Wondering what to buy a genealogist as a present?


"Who Do You Think You Are?"

The fifth series of the BBC's acclaimed Family History programme featured Patsy Kensit, Boris Johnson, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Esther Rantzen, David Suchet, Ainsley Harriott, Jerry Springer and Jodie Kidd. Further details are on our News page.


Who Are Your Ancestors?

Powered by

Are you descended from a Viking Warrior, a Saxon farmer or a Norman invader?

Channel 4 television's " The Face of Britain" showed a pioneering project by Oxford University and the Wellcome Foundation to use DNA testing to determine volunteers' ancient roots.



for genealogy books 


Genes Reunited

Link your tree with others

Go to the Origins Network



Improved searching with spouse and parents names  

now available at Ancestry UK

14 day free trial  

Click the logo above for a 14-day free trial to Ancestry





Home ] Up ] Counties ] Occupations ] Apprentices ] Names ] Research ] Publications ] Search ] Shop ]
Copyright 1977- 2013 British Roots