I AM WELL AWARE that there are many people who are not remotely interested in reading about celebrities. Indeed, there are those who find tittle-tattle about famous people a complete turn-off! So do I, in fact, at least in some aspects of celebrity gossip when the media, especially tabloid newspapers, seem to have turned us into a celebrity-obsessed society.
I am not wildly interested in reading about who some famous actor or actress is sleeping with, whether their marriage is breaking up, what they’re wearing, how much they drink or what they had for breakfast. I am, however, fascinated by who they are and where they come from, by which I mean what are their roots and who were their ancestors?
That I am far from alone in this is evinced by the huge popularity of the BBC television programme, Who Do You Think You are? which in 2013 completed its 10th series, regularly pulling in a peak-time audience of six million. When the show first began it went out on BBC2 but proved so popular that it soon transferred to BBC1. The formula has also been sold to other countries where it has proved equally popular, especially in America.
Who Do You Think You Are? has also spawned a family history magazine of the same name and a big history show at London’s Olympia, at which I have been a constant attender – and speaker in the Society of Genealogist’s regional theatre – ever since it began. Thus, I would argue that interest in the ancestries of the famous has never been higher.
It’s my belief that sometimes you can find in the ancestry and heritage of a celebrity some clue as to their success and what made them the people they are. What gifts and influences did they inherit from their forebears that marked out their path in life and set them on a different plane to the rest of us, whatever sphere they operate in?
There are two important things I want to make clear. Firstly, in digging into the ancestral backgrounds of the famous I will not be publishing anything about their personal relationships, sex lives, marriages, children and other members of their family which might be considered intrusive – even though frequently in many cases this doesn’t normally inhibit the mass media! My researches are limited strictly to their ancestral roots and background.
The second important fact is that ALL my researches are conducted entirely in the public domain, that is to say I will not be revealing anything that cannot be discovered by other researchers and anyone who knows how and where to look.
It’s my general view that celebrities are “fair game” in what can be written about them, since they themselves so often play the media game, i.e. many celebs are experts at manipulating the media to achieve publicity for themselves and their latest project, whether it be a film, play, TV programme, book, DVD or whatever. Famous people to some extent have to accept that when they achieve fame, at least part of their lives become public property for, as the saying goes, “it goes with the territory”.
A considerable amount of personal information about celebrities, like their dates and places of birth, parents, and sometimes earlier relatives, etc., can usually be found at Wikipedia. I also take the view that anything they have said in interviews, especially with regard to their ancestors, is also in the public domain and can be quoted.
Besides these sources, I employ only sources that are entirely in the public domain, such as births, deaths and marriages records, census returns, parish registers, directories and numerous other sources known to genealogists and family historians. Many of these records are now online and can be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world, with a computer, Internet access and subscriptions to various genealogical websites, though many sources are in fact free to consult. It is, therefore, my view that I cannot be accused of intrusion into privacy when researching someone’s ancestry, since the sources I use are entirely in the public domain and widely available.
I first began researching and publishing celebrity family trees in 2004 for the former magazine Practical Family History and the series continued over about the next three years. Unfortunately, the magazine ceased publication at the end of 2010. However, my interest in the ancestries of the famous continued – more or less as a personal hobby, you might say – and in March 2012 I began a series of regular blogs called “Famous family trees” for the well-known genealogy website, Findmypast. This has continued up to the present day.
To date I have researched and published the ancestries of around 40 well-known people and I compiled the photo montage above of most of them. In future issues of this blog I may revisit some of them but with additional new material included.
Watch this space!