Sunday, 28 October 2012

Barack Obama's Ancestry

With the 2012 US Presidential election less than two weeks away I thought I'd write a post about the ancestry of President Barack Obama. My previous post on the ancestry of Republican hopeful Mitt Romney can be found here.

It is well established that President Obama's father was from Kenya and his mother from Kansas in the USA. Rather than focus on the specifics of these particular lines, I thought it would be more interesting to highlight some peculiar coincidences that were found when research into the president's genealogy was carried out a few years ago. 

The New England Historic Genealogical Society spent many painstaking hours discovering President Obama's ancestry, and what they found is fascinating. For example, who would have imagined that he was related, albeit distantly, to six former presidents, including George W. Bush? The common ancestor of both is a man called Samuel Hinkley of Cape Cod, who died in 1662. 

President Obama is also genealogically linked to Brad Pitt through Edwin Hickman of Virginia, who died in 1769. Another distant cousin is former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. 

It's a small world after all. The New England Historic Genealogical Society's research has uncovered many more links between well known people, including several in the political sphere. Their work is important and fascinating, and is to be commended.

It's amazing to think that one person over two hundred years ago could have such an influence on the modern world, but that's genealogy for you.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Find My Past TV Show

I wrote a previous post about Genealogy TV Shows, and in that post mentioned a new show call Find My Past, with obvious ties to the website. Well, I quite liked it, and I'm pleased to report that it's coming back for a second series. 

The format is the same: each week of the ten part series three people investigate how their ancestors were linked to famous historical events. The finale of each episode involves the three participants learning about how their ancestors' lives intertwined. Series Two promises episodes dealing with the great fire of London, the gunpowder plot, and the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb. 

Presented by Chris Hollins, Find My Past series two will begin on Tuesday 30th October 2012. It will be shown on the Yesterday channel, on Freeview channel 19, Sky channel 537, and Virgin Media channel 203.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

View the 1911 Census for Free

Find My Past is currently offering access to the 1911 census for England and Wales for free. Transcripts, which normally cost 10 credits, can be viewed completely free of charge until the 18th of November 2012. Viewing the original image will cost just 5 credits rather than the standard 30. After this promotion ends the price for viewing both a transcript and an original image will be 5 credits.

This is a great opportunity for anybody with English or Welsh ancestry to carry out some research for free. 

Visit Find My Past.

WDYTYA Series 9 - John Barnes

The penultimate episode of this series of Who Do You Think You Are featured the ex-footballer John Barnes. John was born in Jamaica, but played for England at international level. A terrific footballer in his time, I was hopeful that John's genealogy would be as interesting in his career.

John's research naturally began with a trip to Jamaica, where his mother still lives. It is often the case that Jamaican genealogical research will involve slavery in some way, due to the economic dependence on the sugar plantations for trade and export. Thankfully, John's research took in a time after slavery had been abolished.

The first ancestor who John wanted to learn more about was his maternal grandfather, Frank Hill. John had remembered him from childhood as being somebody who was always reading. He was a journalist by profession, and a trades union leader. John discovered that his grandfather had been imprisoned in the 1940's, when Jamaica was still a colony under British rule. The reason for imprisonment was Frank's political beliefs. He was a member of the People's National Party, which fought for Jamaican independence. 

Frank's plight drew the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies back in London, who during the war period of the 1940's began to realise that some form of self rule for the colonies was inevitable. This led to Frank Hill being released. John Barnes' uncle was essentially at the forefront of Jamaica's move towards independence, which it finally attained in 1962.

John then moved a generation back, to Stephen Hill, who was a journalist like his son. Stephen was much more favourable to the white ruling establishment, however. As a result, he came under pressure and faced criticism from black civil rights leaders at the time. The juxtaposition between the establishment journalist father, Stephen, and the radical journalist son, Frank, is an extremely interesting one.

Both men lived during fascinating times in Jamaican history, and as journalists both helped to shape the political discourse. Once again, Who Do You Think You Are? has proven to be educational and enjoyable.

This episode can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

WDYTYA Series 9 - Celia Imrie

Episode 8 of Series 9 of Who Do You Think You Are? featured the actress Celia Imrie. Her tale was one of political machinations dating back to the 17th century, and I was enthralled by it. I was, however, a little disappointed that she didn't research her Scottish roots, particularly the ancestry of her Glaswegian father.

The story instead focused on Celia's great x8 grandfather, William, Lord Russell. William was the son of the Earl of Bedford, and lived in some very turbulent times. He was a Whig politician who was tried and convicted of conspiring against King Charles II and his brother James. The charge of treason carried a sentence of death. It appeared as if the charges were false and were brought about for political reasons. William was a staunch advocate of constitutional liberty, and was also extremely pro-Protestant, and therefore anti-Catholic, in his views. 

William was inevitably found guilty, and was sentenced to a gruesome death involving being hanged and quartered. This was eventually commuted to a beheading, which was more merciful but still unjust. 

William's grandmother, Frances Howard, was also researched in this episode. She had been the subject of an arranged marriage at the age of only thirteen. The Howard family were hungry for power and political influence at the royal court of King James I. This marriage was annulled, however, when Frances reached adulthood, and she went on to marry Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset.

This, again, was a political marriage, and led to charges of murder against Frances and her husband. Somerset's adviser, Sir Thomas Overbury, did not like Frances, and was making moves to reduce the power of the Howard family, and to gain more for himself. When he died of suspected poisoning the blame was laid at the door of the Somersets. They were found guilty of murder, locked in the Tower of London, and sentenced to execution. They were later pardoned and eventually released.

Celia Imrie's Who Do You Think You Are? story was a fascinating insight into the politics of 17th century England. The actions of Celia's ancestors have to be viewed in context, however it was a little surprising that she stated many times how proud she was of her ancestors, both of whom had been found guilty of crimes.

Celia Imrie's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Welsh Genealogy by Bruce Durie

If, like U.S. presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, you have Welsh ancestry, you may be interested in a new book by expert genealogist Dr. Bruce Durie.Welsh Genealogy provides all of the information you could possibly need to help you to find your Welsh ancestors. It is a companion to Scottish Genealogy by the same author.

In fact, Dr. Durie has written many insightful books on the subject of genealogy. I have several of his books, and they are generally excellent. I have also had the privilege of attending a genealogy seminar held by Dr. Durie at the University of Strathclyde. It was extremely informative, and very useful in my research.

Welsh Genealogy will certainly be worth checking out if your family history extends to the beautiful land of Wales.