On last night’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Bruce Forsyth experienced that rare mix of pride and shame that only family history can provide. His story was unusual, though, in that both the good and the bad came from a single ancestor – the landscape gardener Joseph Forsyth Johnson, who rose to the top of his profession, but plumbed the depths in his personal life.
In my opinion, the first show of Who Do You Think You Are? series eight was a definite success. I felt an hour was a little long to concentrate on just one man, and I would have liked to hear a little more about the family Joseph left behind in Tottenham. However, the programme featured the perfect mix of historical interest and family research. I was particularly pleased to find a far bigger emphasis on the records than in previous series – it was tremendous to hear the archivists actually explaining where they had found the details of Joseph’s career, and how they’d traced his movemements around the world.
The greatest focus was undoubtedly on passenger lists. These thrilling resources are often under-used, so I was delighted to see such a perfect example of how they can paint a picture of how, where and even why our forebears sailed to other shores. Bruce’s face when he saw a pretty young thing listed as his devious forebear’s wife was a treat!
You can follow your own ancestors’ journeys using the exclusive passenger lists on our site. We have a fascinating collection covering almost a century, from 1878 to 1960, with records detailing voyages to the UK from as far afield as America, Africa and Australia.
The other records that came into their own last night were city directories. We saw archivists in New York and Atlanta scouring huge volumes for mentions of Joseph and his companion at their home addresses. You can find equally useful directories for different areas around the UK, which can help you to fill in gaps in your research between census years. Take a look at our huge City and County Directories collection to see what you can find.
I can’t wait for next week’s Who Do You Think You Are? episode now. Apparently Rupert Everett delves into his grandfather’s life, and finds it isn’t quite what the family thought…
UPDATE: Our new-look newsletter goes out next week. Among the latest news and top tips, you’ll find a detailed guide to discovering your ancestors in city and county directories. Make sure you’ve signed up to receive it in your My Account settings.