Thursday, 18 October 2012

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.

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