Posted by on 27 July 2010 in General

Many of you will have heard stories of wealth and prestige in your family. These are great fun to follow up, and often take you in quite unexpected directions. Few of you, though, will have been quite as surprised – and disappointed – by what you found as Rupert Everett, who seemed positively heartbroken to discover he has as many roots in Balham as in Piccadilly!

I thought last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? episode was a terrific example of how you can combine a variety of records to trace your lineage back through the generations. Rupert followed good family history practice as he used censuses and birth, marriage and death certificates to create outlines of his ancestors’ lives, then filled in the detail through more specialised records. I was particularly pleased to see him ordering a will and the accompanying probate records from the Probate Service – these documents are vastly under-used, and can be incredibly enlightening about the way your ancestors lived their lives.

I must admit, though, I was a little disappointed by Rupert’s obsession with money and status. Family history is a great leveller, as all family trees grow across class barriers. Some of the most moving tales come from our less fortunate forebears, and it would have been nice to see the privileged thespian acknowledge his poorer relations a little more.

We have records from both ends of the spectrum. If you’d like to follow up stories of nobility and lost fortunes, a great place to start is Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage, which traces the lineage of the British Empire’s titled famililes. We also have several records of heraldic visitations – which will reveal if an ancestor earned a coat of arms – and even royal pedigrees. Search them all here.

Alternatively, if you’re following a less privileged path, our London Poor Law records are a mammoth resource. They include workhouse admission lists, school registers, records of sick and mentally ill people, and many more emotive documents.

Whichever side of the track your ancestors walked, their stories provide the basis for who you are today. I think Rupert Everett would do well to remember that.


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27 July 2010 at 3:12 pm
Paul Horvath 

I enjoyed last nights show. Though I am quite envious of the fact that his ancestors “Full Name” appeared on every document they seemed to look at.

What a difference that would make to my own research(sigh)!!

27 July 2010 at 3:57 pm
Tim Jardine 

Might be me, but he did seem to be very sneery about gt grandmother being a dressmaker. The Teagues were more or less glossed over. Had a quick check just now and they’re easy enough to find in Marylebone. Wonder what his reaction would have been on discovering that his gt gt grandfather was a porter?

27 July 2010 at 6:50 pm
Lynda Hotchkiss 

I agree with Tim; the Teague side of things was pushed to one side. If you pick up on the marriage information, Georgina’s father was a George Teague, a manager. The programme showed the most probable lead on the 1881 census but did not look at it in any depth. In 1881, Georgina the dressmaker was with her mother, widow Esther, who was working as a housekeeper to an 80 year old spinster in a Home for Old Ladies in Paddington. This leads on to a baptism of a Georgina Esther Martha, daughter of George William Teague,a porter of Molyneaux Street, Marylebone & his wife, Esther on 24 Jan 1864. George William Teague married Esther Walker in 1859 and he died at the end of 1875 in Kensington, age 44. His widow, Esther, died in September Quarter of 1883, age 55, in the same district (the one where Georgina married the Everett seaman the following quarter). No access to original records from my part of the country, but it would have been nice to see what sort of portering George Teague did, and did he leave a will? Where are they buried, and what about gravestones? Could have been just as interesting as following the three marriages and perhaps a bit of living over the brush!

27 July 2010 at 7:44 pm
Tracy Turner 

Like Lynda I was disappointed that the Teague line was left unresearched, though a quick look reveals that Georgina does seem to vanish. Of course she may have gone on to marry again herself.

As a long standing family historian I always want to know more about the lines left unresearched or unresolved on these programmes.

27 July 2010 at 8:45 pm
Judy Elkington 

I was rather disappointed with the programme. The first wife [Teague] did she die or did he divorce her. Obviously povert drove her to put her child in the orphanage. The second wife in Hong Kong, was it a bigamous marriage. There was so much more could have been done in the programme. His suppositions of why and how things happened annoyed and didn’t he have a different jumper to wear.

I have seen better produced and interesting programmes in the series.

28 July 2010 at 11:31 am
Margaret Le May 

I too was disappointed in certain aspects of this programme. Rupert Everett seemed obsessed by wealth and position. His first mate ancestor was dismissed as being a ‘navvy’! The dressmaker also came in for derision. I hope future researchers in his family are more forgiving when they discover an actor in their tree! He also seemed to make a huge number of assumptions about the reasons for his ancestors actions. I feel a some possibly interesting lines were not explored although I realize that there are time constraints. Maybe it said more about him than the people he was researching.

28 July 2010 at 7:22 pm

Margaret, we seem to have have come to the same conclusions about Rupert Everett! He did not come over well in this program and my opinion of him certainly went down-hill. I had always admired his work, having seen him both on stage and on screen, but in WDYTYA his air of arrogance and his flippant comments did him no favours!

30 July 2010 at 1:29 pm
Roy Stockdill 

I thought it arguably the worst programme yet, apart from possibly the one featuring John Hurt in a previous series. Everett came over as an arrogant and short-sighted snob and his research methods – probably not his, to be fair, but the programme researchers who were obviously guiding him – left much to be desired. I thought it asked more questions than it answered.

What nobody except me seems to have picked up on is that on his mother Sara MacLean’s side of the family, he appears to be a direct descendant of King Charles II by one of his mistresses, Barbara Villiers. For details, see a website on Famous descendants of William the Conqueror at: Everett comes very near the bottom, immediately above Lady Diana Spencer.

Now if that is correct, I would have found that somewhat more interesting than what was broadcast, since Barbara Villiers, apparently Everett’s 8th great-grandmother, was one heck of a character! She became Charles II’s mistress when she was married to someone else, bore him at least five children, was grossly extravagant, foul-tempered and notoriously sexually promiscuous. Perhaps this could explain Everett’s character?

Roy Stockdill, Hertfordshire
Professional genealogical researcher, writer & lecturer

30 July 2010 at 6:11 pm
Patricia Armstrong 

What is wrong with “actors” or anyone who think their ancestors should all have been rich and titled etc.In my searches my “lowly” family had links through marriage to a few well known and wealthy families.I am more proud of the ones who triumphed through sheer hard work, bringing up large families and staying healthy.Travelling many miles to find new lives.
I would be so happy if anyone aided me in my research for free.
I note now that the newer programmes seem not to look far enough back on both lines.I appreciate the programme makers try and make the episodes interesting to the viewers.Although I’m sure we all sit and comment that our own family tree is far more interesting

30 July 2010 at 6:25 pm
Chris Paton 

I thought it was poorly produced, had a thoroughly unlikeable celebrity that I had absolutely no interest in, and full of holes genealogically. A marriage record stating a father was deceased in 1919 does not mean he died in 1919 (stated twice, once by celeb, and unforgiveably, once by the narrator) – it can mean many things – death before 1919, or erroneous information. A sequence with a gent who was descended from the mistress – “do you know anything about my man” – “no, not really”. Rivetting. Apart from the great aunt’s brilliant appearance, there’s little to recommend this poorly produced effort. (It may appeal more once the morning coffee has kicked in!). I don’t quite agree with Roy’s point on the noble story further back – any TV prog will work if it simply has a good story well told. This was an OK story, just the wrong celeb to share it with, but worse, very poorly written and directed.

31 July 2010 at 10:02 am
John Gilbert 

I must admit that I knew nothing of Mr Everett until this programme.
I also think that what I have seen is enough.
This is the first time that I have been unable to watch a whole episode.
Perhaps I have to much empathy in my make up,but what I considered condesending and at times [in my opinion] insulting remarks made about family and partners knowing that they would be seen by millions made me feel embarassed for the less lordly relatives and under appreciated archive researchers. [facial expressions revealed it all].
Lets hope that the BBC can find some real people now.

1 August 2010 at 1:47 pm
Carey Coupland 

I saw the program last Monday when I was on holiday. I was a real shame they didn’t at least find the marriage of 1883 of Frederick and Georgina. You would then find the birth of George Esther Martha Teague through baptism. Their marriage shows on freebmd as june 1859 Westminster. Esther comes from her mother and Martha comes from George William Teague’s mother.

1 August 2010 at 10:25 pm

me too, i thought it wasn’t the best episode i’ve seen. I was pretty bored, i’m more interested in a good story behind it all. My fave ones so far have been Lisa Kudrow, Kim Katrall, Susan Sarandon, Jerry Springer, Stephen Fry and even Bruce Forsyth’s one. i like the mystery of it all. And i love when celebs try their best to find living decendents and have a happy reunion kinda thing. I did thing Rupert came across very snobbish indeed, he didn’t want to find this kind of stuff certainly. He should be happy he’s had this opportunity to trace his ancestors for free. god, i would love to have my search for my ancestors made into a show like that, and the more intrigue and soap opera in it the better lol! i certainly wouldn’t be thinking i’m better than they were or expecting, or care that they were some well-to-do family. I would just be content enough to know where i came from and what way of life my family from generations had.

1 August 2010 at 11:00 pm
Catherine Noble 

To be fair, Rupert Everett was no different to all the other middle class celebrities who have had their trees researched by WDYTYA! Most of them are horrified when they find poor relations! Stephen Fry (who I admire very much)horrified to find out his fathers ancestor was a humble hairdresser in South London, Julian Clarey’s mother, refusing to believe that her ancestors might have been poor and uneducated. The only one who seemed in any way proud of having working class ancestry was Barbara Windsor.

1 August 2010 at 11:06 pm

i didn’t think Stephen Fry sounded horrified at all, a little surprised maybe, but that’s only because he had no idea what he did for a living. I liked his episode. and i couldnt believe that Julian Clary’s mum was a bit of a bigot, not wanting to find any foreigners in her blood. i can’t believe she said that on tv!! LOL

2 August 2010 at 12:31 am
Jenny Vince 

Were we all watching the same programme? Far from coming across as a snob, Rupert Everett came across as an inveterate,rather thoughtless inverted snob. The people he spent the programme rubbishing were his father for being a thoroughly ‘proper’ man, and even his grandfather for ‘abandoning’ his family by not taking them to Africa with him. No attempt to understand the dynamics of their situation at all.

Far from dismissing his seafaring great-grandfather he seemed to relish finding a link to another rebel like himself. Only of course this kind of inverted snobbery doesn’t make one a rebel at all, just another kind of self-congratulating tribal personality.

What the programme did fail to research was the fate of the family of his bankrupt stockbrocking gt gt grandfather – I believe I found his widowed Gt Gt Grandmother Jemima Agnes Everett living in one of the East End of London’s Common Lodging Houses working as a Laundress in 1881, hiding by using her middle name, with her children scattered across various charity schools. Everett was so fixated on seeing his great grandfather as a rebel stomping out on a hated, oppressive, snobbish family that he totally missed the real human tragedy at the heart of his family’s history.

Reminds me of the programme about Sue Townsend in the ?first series where she eulogised her inverted snob grandfather at the expense of his ‘snobbish’ parents, only for the programme to reveal the bitter poverty and tragedy which lay in her great grandfather’s earlier life. Didn’t seem to change her ‘anti-snob’ opinions, at least not on air. Too much of a challenge for the ‘right-thinking’ thespian.

2 August 2010 at 1:03 pm
Roy Stockdill 

Does anyone agree with me that, on the evidence of the first two programmes in this, the latest series, it appears to be running out of steam? I get the feeling that the makers, in a thirst for viewing ratings, have “dumbed down” the whole thing and are seeking “sensational” red-top tabloid-type stories. And, as a retired Fleet Street journalist myself, I know what I am talking about – it’s becoming more like The Sun!

The programme on Bruce Forsyth concentrated entirely on just one aspect, his alleged “bigamous” great-grandfather, who turned out not to be a bigamist – at least, not in the legal sense of the word, anyway – since they never found a marriage to the woman he left his wife for. I concede they had a problem in that if there was, in fact, a marriage in America, then every state would have to be checked, since the US has no system of federal records covering the whole country. However, as far as I recall, they only checked in New York State and Atlanta, Georgia.

Equally, with Rupert Everett there was a concentration on a “dodgy” ancestor who kept disappearing and had several wives/women. The research shown was poor, as some commentators here seem to think. At one point Everett was seen presented with half a dozen census possibles in his search for the elusive Georgina and just went straight to the first one, not even bothering to look at the others. Very sloppy, I thought!

No doubt the producers will argue that it’s entertainment and not real family history. However, I fear the series will bring into genealogy a host of amateur beginners who have no clue as to what they are doing and, consequently, they will end up proliferating rubbish all over the internet.

2 August 2010 at 1:09 pm
Andrea Cole 

I enjoy finding out about someone’s past so I do like this programme. However as all genealogists know- information doesn’t just drop into your lap as easily as this programme portrays and it gives a false idealism. It has definately taken me more than a few weeks to uncover my ancestors!

2 August 2010 at 2:19 pm

They probably had all the work done for him already, the genealagist experts, and just for the show, had him looking for the info themselves. i suspect a lot of cutting and editing went into it. Kim Katrall didn’t search for her ancestors in her one she just searched for her missing grandfather and to find out where he went and what became of him, to give her family the answers they’d been waiting 72 years to hear. so i guess the celebs in each one, are each looking for something different. Some trace their ancestors as far back as it goes (Brooke Shields), then Bruce Forsyth only wanted to see if there was bigamy commited in his family, and Susan Sarandon was searching for her grandmother who abandoned her mother. I guess they are each looking for particular things/people in their family, and so, other people in their family are not searched/or focused on enough. all i know is i hope the other episodes are better than this.

2 August 2010 at 3:32 pm
Chris Paton 


On the whole I agree. Except tonight they threw us a curve ball with a brilliant programme about Dervla Kirwin, which I thought was going to be about Michael Collins, and instead ended up as… well something rather special really! One of the best ever episodes. That’s how they should be done – good stories, well told. It’s all you can ask for really!


3 August 2010 at 1:27 am
Roy Stockdill 

Yes, Chris, I do agree. It was certainly one of the better episodes and easily the best of this current series.

3 August 2010 at 10:15 pm
Roy Stockdill 

Next week’s programme features the TV gardener/ presenter Monty Don. I read an advance feature about it in the Daily Mail’s Weekend magazine last Saturday. Apparently, he was amazed to discover that he is distantly related to his wife’s first husband.

Today I was approached by BBC Three Counties Radio in Luton (I live in Watford) and asked if I would talk about it on air, which I did. I said I didn’t think it was particularly unusual at all, since if we could all go back to the Middle Ages and before that to the Norman Conquest we woud find – disregarding immigrants – that all of us are distantly related to everybody else in some way or other.

There is a well-known mathematical paradox, which goes as follows: if you double the number of ancestors in every generation, theoretically by the time you get back to William the Conqueror in around 30 generations you will find we all have hundreds of millions ancestors. Do the maths, folks! However, in 1086 when William I’s Domesday Book was published, the entire population of Britain was estimated at no more than 2 million. Doesn’t work, does it?

So what’s the answer? It lies in the fact that there were many, many thousands of cousin marriages and the same ancestors appear over and over again in countless family trees. Look at the websites on descendants of William the Conqueror sometime. Today there are estimated to be anything from 3 to 5 million of them living and many, including famous ones, can be found on websites.

I have a friend and genealogist colleague who descends from “William the Bastard” in more than 1600 different lines. Worth thinking about?

3 August 2010 at 10:33 pm