Archive for 'Making history'

BAFTAs and ……

At the BAFTAs on Sunday, Meryl Streep picked up her award for Best Actress in the film The Iron Lady and made the remarkable claim that ‘half of me is Streep, and the other half of me Wilkinson from Lincolnshire’. This was her second BAFTA, the first coming in 1981 for The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

English: Meryl Streep

Image via Wikipedia

Given her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, who came from Grantham, it is perhaps understandable that she might claim that ancestors came from the same county. It’s just a pity that it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny – though the truth is perhaps even more interesting.

The Wilkinson connection that was previously revealed on American television via Faces of America was through her maternal eight times great grandfather Lawrence Wilkinson, who had moved to Rhode Island in the mid-seventeenth century, becoming a freeman of the colony in the 1650s and dying there in 1692 as a respected citizen.

However, all is not quite as it seems, because he was left with very little choice about his decision to emigrate. Having served in the Royalist army during the Civil War, he was captured at the siege of Newcastle in October 1644 and paid the penalty when the victorious Parliamentarians sequestered and sold his estates; an English Lieutenant’s misjudgement to be on the wrong side. He applied to leave the country and his wish was granted, appearing in New England with his wife and son before heading to Rhode Island where he revived his fortune. His subsequent rise to prominence is chronicled in various family papers compiled in the mid-nineteenth century, but confirmed from original land grants and other documentation from the 1650s in Rhode Island.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

So where is the Lincolnshire connection? Well, it would appear there isn’t one! His estates lay further north – in County Durham, to be precise. His father was William Wilkinson and they lived in Lanchester, specifically Kyo, whilst his grandfather Lawrence Wilkinson senior resided at Harpley House. Further research shows that they were granted a coat of arms by Richard St George, Norroy King at Arms, in 1615.

A case, then, of wishful thinking perhaps – or just over-excitement during an acceptance speech; however the desire to claim ancestral connections to a specific piece of England is an interesting twist on the usual platitudes offered up to friends, family and colleagues (even if it was the wrong county!) Hope, then, for ancestral tourism – which has formed the basis for much of my work, alongside refining the model for open source transcription of key biographical data, since I’ve returned from the US.

More after the weekend – I’ll be at the Listed Property Owners Club event at Olympia this coming Saturday, and then heading to Belfast to film a piece for a BBC documentary on the Titanic on Sunday; whilst Monday sees the team descend upon the National Maritime Museum, where we’ll be filming Episode 5 of the show.



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I Love It when a Plan Comes Together!

making historyGiven that it’s the penultimate week before Christmas, you’d think that things would be winding down a bit. Not at all…

Wednesday saw the culmination of an education project I’ve been helping with since this time last year, when it was put forward as a basic concept proposed by the actor Colin McFarlane. Over the last twelve months, he’s assembled a team of experts to create a project called ‘Making History’, aimed at giving schoolchildren from the age of 7 upwards the chance to explore their personal background. The question ‘who am I’ allows them to do some basic genealogy – but includes everyone, because it allows children who have overseas roots to explore their culture too; and they film the process, creating video diaries or, in the case of some of the older age groups, actual films about their discoveries.

The resources put into this were mainly voluntary, given there was very little funding available. Both Ancestry and Find My Past gave access to their collections to the 5 schools that were involved, whilst My Heritage provided the technology for them to upload their family trees and stories. We created an online resource where the children could download week by week work schedules about talking to their family, setting their research goals, working with the online collections, and then broadening out their research. Support was also received from the Society of Genealogists, as well as various higher education institutions that helped with the filming and analysis. High profile celebrities such as Jim Broadbent and Miriam Margolyes gave their time to visit the children as they worked.

The pilot ended this week with a screening of the finished projects at the British Film Institute – and the results were stunning. Many were joyful, celebrating incredible ancestors who had risen to prominence; others brought unfamiliar cultural experiences from overseas to a wider audience. Two films moved many of the adults to tears. One explored his grandfather’s lost childhood when sent to Canada by Barnados, and why he never talked about his experiences; whereas the other was a personal account of the Irish Troubles, set against the wider diaspora, via an interview with his father who recalls some of the violent clashes. It is a raw, emotional and incredibly powerful piece of film making – as good as, if not better, than some of the scenes we’ve become accustomed to on Who Do You Think You Are.

Colin assures me the project will now look to become a national programme, acting as a curriculum support activity that encourages students to personalise the past by linking national events to their family’s experiences. We also want to introduce a second element, ‘Where Am I’, to allow students who don’t want to, or can’t, do genealogy to explore the area and community where they live.

This leaves me very little space to talk about the other event I attended, the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment think tank on sustainable environments. Why was I there? Good question; but it was really important to push the agenda for community engagement based on personal heritage, allowing people to celebrate their backgrounds and thus connect with the built environment in which they live.

Next week, I’ll talk a bit about some of the plans for 2012 that are shaping up to make it a very exciting year.



Nick’s News and Future Enhancements

It’s been a busy week, trying to get as much material together for this new venture as possible! A quick word about what we’ll be putting onto this website. I’ll be blogging once a week, but watch out for our guest posts; whilst Laura will be tweeting and managing our Facebook presence. Keep sending in your ideas about what we can discuss in our Top Ten Tips feature, and email in your stories so we can put together a case study to help other viewers.

Also, a big ‘thank you’ to My Heritage who are supporting this venture; I’ve been impressed with their approach to personal archiving, and as well as helping get Family History Show off the ground, they are also kindly assisting with an education pilot that’s running in a number of schools across the country, called Making History and run by the actor Colin McFarlane. Some amazing stories emerging from the work of these enthusiastic students (aged 8-18)…

We’re still building additional features to the site. A few suggestions have come in for a resource list, linked to the Top Ten Tips – working on it! We are also exploring an online shop, where you can get selected materials and publications to help you with your research.

Royal Marine MuseumWe hope you like the Dan Cruickshank interview. It was great fun to film. I’ve known Dan for the best part of 15 years, and it was tremendously kind of him to give up his time to share his passion for old home movies. The idea to view the films he’d collected appeared as a tentative suggestion, and our cameraman Seb knew of a little shop in Hackney that might have the right projectors. We all jumped in a cab, and we held our breath as Umit looked at the film that contained grainy images of Mickey Mouse…  Could it be a lost classic worth thousands of pounds? The results of our impromptu viewing are well worth a watch, if you haven’t seen it already.

I’ve been continuing to work on the history of Greater London (this will be a weekly feature until all the chapters are finally delivered to my publisher Nigel, who  is simply the nicest and most patient man in the world) as well as running around the country talking to county archives, extolling the virtues of ancestral tourism as a way forward whilst exploring collaborative opportunities for family history societies, voluntary groups like FreeBMD / FreeCEN / FreeREG, and county archives to transcribe document content whilst permitting commercial companies to charge subscribers to view the actual images that they have digitised (unless a free digitisation agency appears that can cope with the sheer amount of work, although there has already been one such offer that’s being investigated at the moment). This is a thorny issue, as there is no standard model across the country – but ‘best practice’ that keeps all parties happy will gradually emerge.

I’m looking forward to a visit to the Royal Marine museum next week, and then a catch up with the Ancestral Tourism Partnership in Nottingham on 25 November. So it’s all go this end, and no rest in site with Christmas beginning to loom on the horizon.