When writing about JK Rowling, it’s tempting to use flippant puns about wizards and spells. The truth is, though, her Who Do You Think You Are? episode was far too moving and emotive to describe it in such throwaway language.
As a family historian, I always find the programme interesting. Still, I have to admit it’s rare that I find myself so personally involved in a celebrity’s tale. I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan and I’m not sure I would have recognised Rowling before this, so it just shows that the power of the format lies not in the fame of its subjects, but in the nature of their stories.
For starters, we had Rowling’s hunt for her great-grandfather Louis’ World War I experiences. This search was given an extra twist by the fact that the first man she uncovered actually wasn’t her relative. We’ve all hit similar brick walls in our discoveries – in fact they add to the fun – so it was refreshing to see such honesty from the show’s producers.
By the time she found her ancestor’s true story, I was willing her to find something positive. And what could be more positive than the heroic story of how the totally untrained Louis defended his retreating regiment against the heavily armed Germans? It didn’t matter at all that Louis wasn’t from this country.
But of course, most of your military ancestors’ will have fought in the British Army. You can discover their tales of bravery in our millions of military documents – including the largest online collection of World War I records.
The emotion didn’t end there. Rowling then moved onto Louis’ mother, who fought through incredibly difficult circumstances to bring up her family. The idea of living through an invasion, then having to choose whether to give up your nationality or your home, beggars belief.
If the first two episodes are anything to go by, this Who Do You Think You Are? series will take us all over the world. If your own family story is similarly international, don’t forget we have records from all corners of the globe to help you. For example, check out our French collections.
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