I am a huge fan of the Who Do You Think You Are? series that was recently canceled by NBC. However, before I was a fan of the NBC show, I was a fan of the British version. It happened for me just like Lisa Kudrow, who saw the British version and fell in love. I’ve been very lucky to be able to view the British version of the show and I’m now here with my top five Who Do You Think You Are? moments. I want the American audience to know exactly what the charm is about the British version. It didn’t matter that I had no idea who 80% of the celebrities were throughout the seasons (or series if you use British terms).
With all my heart, I really wish this show would come to BBC America so that Americans would at least be able to see this really charming, intelligent program. These are in the order that they aired, not in any rank.
1. Bill Oddie – Season 1, Episode 1
As the first episode of the whole series, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the show because I watched it long before the US version was created. Within minutes of the opening, he sums up my search for my family history with these words:
“Who the dickens were the rest of my family? I haven’t a clue.”
Bill’s journey is a very emotional one for him. However, one of the most memorable parts for me was when he met up with a “cousin” whom he didn’t know about who was researching their family tree. I should say, the great thing is that they advertised in the local paper looking for relatives with the surname of Oddie. They got a reply from Neil Oddie.
Neil is an amateur genealogist, so they hit a jackpot of information. He put quite a lot of work into it and it’s a very fun exchange, right up to the moment where Neil asks Bill his burning genealogy question… “Is your second toe longer than your big toe? Because my second toe is longer than my big toe, as was my fathers.”
That’s genealogy folks. Sometimes, you just have a burning question that has to be asked. So what does Bill do? He takes off his shoes and socks and yes his second toe is longer than his big toe.
2. David Baddiel – Season 1, Episode 7
The David Baddiel episode made me laugh quite a bit. He’s a comedian, so that should come as no surprise. I do have to say that this episode like all the episodes does have serious historical things happening. I don’t want to diminish the serious events that happen in the episode. However it’s also got humor in it.
It turns out that David’s family split in two, the religious going one way and the not so religious going another. Oh how often that happens in families. Anyway, David looks up these new names in the phone book and leaves a few messages. Turns out it was a religious holiday so many were out. David was very worried about the reception he would get from the new Baddiels while he was looking them up in the phone book as him and his father aren’t very religious.
The really funny part comes near the end of the episode where David is talking to the camera on the street about the information they’ve found. You can hear in the background how often David gets honked at and he subconsciously just waves and nods everytime. You can tell it happens to him quite a bit. Within moments, David realizes the new honker isn’t like normal honkers. It’s actually a long lost cousin (also named David Baddiel) who has spotted David on the street and recognized him from the paper.
The new David Baddiel is actually the son of one of the Baddiels that David left a message for. He informs David that he’s also a bit of a “rebel” because he’s not as religious as everyone else, but that his family accepts that.
What I liked about David’s episode is how he literally walked the street and had people coming up to him after hours of trying to contact people by phone. The same thing happened to my Aunt Lori when she worked in Caldwell. She would just be sitting on a bench and someone would come up and say, “We’re related.” That’s genealogy serendipity at it’s best and funniest.
3. Jeremy Paxman – Season 2, Episode 1
Jeremy Paxman starts his episode with a lot of hot air about genealogy in general. He doesn’t really get it and in fact admits he’s not excited. However, he does say it could be interesting, just not enough to make him “wet his pants about it.”
“I’ve always thought you have to live life looking forwards, not backwards and I’ve had no interest at all in who my ancestors are.”
Oh how things change for him. I don’t think he starts the show understanding what exactly he’s getting into but then again none of us really do. It is funny watching these and before the stars start, they always say “I guess I’m at that age now where I want to know.” Obviously, I believe any age is the age to be interested but this entry isn’t about me. Jeremy’s moment for me is when it all turns around for him. There’s this moment where you can see that he realizes it isn’t about living in the past or agonizing over the past, but a compassion and understanding of the people who are responsible for your existence. If your parents help to shape you, then obviously the next question is, “How did their parents shape them?” That question can be repeated over and over again through the generations.
Jeremy’s realization comes with his mother’s side of the family. Jeremy travels to Glasgow to learn more about his great-grandparents John and Mary Mckay. There he learns that John died and left Mary to care for their eight surviving children. Unfortunately for Mary, it was a struggle to provide for all those children and she ended up applying for poor relief. In a shocking and tragic turn, someone reported to the poor relief board through an anonymous letter that Mary had given birth to two illegitimate children since the death of her husband. Mary’s poor relief was withdrawn and she was forced to either stay with all her children and face starvation, or to go and live at the workhouse. The choice is one many parents had to make before at that time. Can you imagine having workhouses in this day and age? Mary chose to stay with her children. Mary’s story does get better, and it’s wonderful to see that it all turns out in the end. The great thing for me was to see the emotion Jeremy went through when he found out what some anonymous person had done to his family. He was visibly upset and rightfully so. I’m willing to bet he’s a little more interested in the fate of his ancestors now.
4. Stephen Fry – Season 2, Episode 3
I tried not to pick episodes that were too close together but when you have moments you love, it’s really tough. Stephen Fry’s episode is probably #1 on my list of favorites. If this list were ranked, his would definitely be at the top.
Stephen’s journey starts with his mother. They talk about a particular picture that his mother was given. The picture was given to her by her father, Martin. The picture is of Martin’s mother Rosa and sister Reska with her husband and children. The only thing anyone would ever say about the picture is that they’d all been killed. So naturally Stephen and his mother wanted to know more about the picture and the people in it.
Stephen’s episode is very emotional. He knew that from the beginning it would lead back to a concentration camp. While watching his episode, I laughed (he drove around looking for a wi-fi hotspot), I cried and finally at the end when he finally learns the names of the children and learns their fate… Well, it’s just heartbreaking as he reads each name and the name of the concentration camp they died at. He says it best himself.
“It’s so stupid because I knew this. We all knew that they’d died. But seeing their names there and that f**king word Auschwitz is just.. it does something to you.”
5. Gurinder Chadha – Season 2, Episode 6
The final one today is from Gurinder Chadha. Many know her as the writer and director of Bend it Like Beckham. The beautiful thing about her episode is that even though her father passed away, he still made the journey with her. Before he passed away, she had him sit down and write down some of his “earliest memories”. What she didn’t realize until right before she filmed her episode was that it was actually a memoir and it was full of tons of things he never spoke about before.
His memoir actually goes with her to India and she uses it with the help of her uncles to follow her father’s life.
One of the things I really love about the British version of this show is that I learn so much about World History that I never knew before. I’ve learned about Indian history, British history, German history, French history. It really shows stuff that I don’t think we’d ever have gotten on the American version. Not because we don’t have a diverse history, but because certain parts of British history weren’t necessarily part of American history.
For the record, if you’ve never seen an episode set in India where they show the family scrolls, you’re missing out. That’s an amazing resource that you only get by going to India and searching out your family’s record keeper.
Note: I do not know how others will be able to watch the British version. You can try YouTube, but I’m not sure if they have the episodes either. I was lucky enough to get them through a friend. I hope someday that this show will be available in America even if it’s just through iTunes, Netflix or Amazon.com Instant Video. I could pick wonderful moments from every episode if I wanted, but I wanted to keep this entry relatively short. As it is I dwindled 10 down to 5.