Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell

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Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell

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Buy Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Reference
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A wonderful little book that will fire the imaginations and enthusiasm of would-be genealogists and trivia lovers alike. (As long as you don't mind the celeb stories in between.)
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: July 2014
Publisher: BBC Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1849908245

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The celebrity genealogy programme Who Do You Think You Are? celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The makers, Wall to Wall Media, were fortunate enough to ride the ripple of family tree fascination, helping to turn it into the hobbyist tidal wave that remains today. For those not familiar with the format, each episode allows us to accompany a household name as they discover secrets, scandals and surprises about an ancestor or two. Thus we aren't only entertained; we're encouraged to delve into our own pasts, BBC TV publications acting as tutor and motivator via this handy little reference guide.

Personally, I'd always fancied a dabble so when arrived on the Bookbag Towers shelves, I grabbed greedily.

Written by biographer and historical fiction author Dan Waddell (son of Sid while talking about families), the first thing we notice is that it is what it says on the tin – pocket sized, albeit for the blazer pockets rather than jeans'. Although our hearts may sink when we flick through the pages and spot flash backs to past TV episodes as we (ok, I) fear it's a thinly disguised ad. If we do so it will definitely teach us (ok, me!) not to judge by appearances. Closer examination reveals more interesting content than your average programme plug, starting with the insightful introduction. Among other things it recounts how Bill Oddie, the series' first ever subject, stymied its proposed format, creating some unmissable, highly poignant viewing.

Ok there are indeed vignette thumbnail biographies from across the series (compiled by an X Men fan seeing how Alan Cumming leads into Patrick Stewart). However, for those of us who have seen the programmes or who'd rather read their own history than others', it's also packed with everything we think we'll need plus much more

Indeed, in this easy read or dip-in volume, Dan leads from the front. He's been there at the BMD (Birth, Marriage and Death to we who are now in the know) coal face so is able to include useful hints that may never have occurred to us. I mean, did you know that surname spellings have changed over the years so we should look up spelling variations too?

The chapters are logically set out with précised recaps at the end of each and an itemised index at the back of the book. We're guided through cheery, undumbed-down tutorials on how to interpret archives, various registers and records along with sections on things that could stymie a search - bigamy and criminality (others' not ours), adoption and immigration.

There are also some wonderful passages on occupations of yesteryear and lists of armed forces ranks making it just as much a stocking filler for the trivia nut, if it's permissible to mention Christmas this early. (E.g. did you know that before 1929 the age of consent for boys was 14? When it comes to the equivalent age for girls, you need to see it for yourselves in order to believe it!)

Many useful websites are listed too. Some of these are even free, a course in reading old handwriting. Having said that, it's interesting to note that the ones that cost are the more complete/comprehensive but we may be very lucky and not need them.

When it comes to grading, Mr Waddell et al have left me with a bit of a dilemma. I've gone with 4.5 because I knew the stars' stories in this issue. However if you missed them during the series, this is a definite 5* as they add some zing. Not that Dan needs much added zing to be honest; he exudes enthusiasm and transfers his confidence with ease ensuring that anyone who reads this won't want to remain a passive viewer for long.

(Thank you BBC Publications for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this gives you the bug and you want to share the experience with the whole family, you may want to consider Who Am I?: The Family Tree Explorer by Anthony Adolph, written for children. If your interest is piqued as much by Bill Oddie's story as by the genealogy angle, read more about that and other memories in his book One Flew Into The Cuckoo's Egg.

Buy Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook by Dan Waddell at Amazon.com.

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