Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? featured Alex Kingston, famous for her roles in ER, Moll Flanders, and many others. Her story appeared interesting from the outset due to the fact that her mother is German and her father English. This mix of nationalities offers a lot of potential when it comes to researching genealogy.
Alex's first line of inquiry was regarding her great-grandfather, William Keevil, who she knew had died in the First World War. Prior to enlisting, however, he had been a photographer. A trip to Battersea library helped Alex to trace her ancestry back a further generation. She was also able to check the census records to discover what William was doing up until 1911.
Interestingly, William was listed as a lantern slide maker. We discovered that lantern slides were the very early equivalent of modern photographic slides used in projectors. William was working with imagery at the early days of the photography industry, and it was a natural career progression for him to eventually become a professional photographer himself.
The next stage of Alex's research involved combining the two separate threads of William's photography career and his military service with the Royal Engineers. Again, fascinating facts emerge, as it was discovered that William used his professional expertise in a military capacity. He took part in sound ranging, which involved using sound waves recorded on photographic film to precisely locate enemy guns at the front line. Once again William was at the forefront of new technology.
Unfortunately, for all his hard work William was killed as a result of shelling during the battle of Passchendaele in August 1917.
The second part of Alex's story involved trying to discover if family rumours of Jewish ancestry were true. She quickly discovered that her gx4 grandparents were Michael and Elizabeth Braham, and it is believed that the original family name would have been Abraham. This is not evidence of Jewish ancestry in itself, however. For that, some detective work was required. It was discovered that one of the daughters of Michael and Elizabeth married into an Orthodox Jewish family, which would suggest beyond reasonable doubt that the Brahams were themselves also Jewish.
Researching Jewish ancestors often throws up some very interesting stories. Jewish records are usually very well kept, and can be extensive. However, I have discovered in my own personal research that Jewish ancestors can be difficult to trace due to migration throughout Europe.
I really enjoyed Alex Kingston's story on Who Do You Think You Are? You can view the episode on the BBC iPlayer.