Behind the Scenes of My Family Secrets Revealed

Posted by Kristen Hyde on November 30, 2018 in My Family Secrets Revealed, United Kingdom

In Ch4’s new family history show, My Family Secrets Revealed, historian, Tessa Dunlop, had the pleasure of solving some of Britain’s trickiest family history mysteries through the power of AncestryDNA and traditional family history research. We caught up with Tessa to find out what drew her to working on the show and some of the remarkable stories she can’t wait for the public to see when My Family Secrets Revealed airs on December 3rd.

What is My Family Secrets Revealed about?
I think of it as an emotional version of the Antiques Roadshow, but without the bric-a-brac and valuables. My Family Secrets Revealed is all about relationships! Instead of teapots and vases, people came to us with ancestors’ birth certificates and fragments of family stories and – hey presto! – suddenly you are in the middle of an epic family drama dating back centuries. Tears flowed, families were reunited, people were stunned, and sometimes even disappointed. We were on a hunt for the truth even if the truth sometimes hurts.

What kind of stories were you involved in telling and revealing on My Family Secrets Revealed?
I was personally struck by how many WWI stories there were, having just passed the 100th anniversary of WWI. Several people had medals of ancestors who had fallen in that last year of the war when the great German Spring Offensive pushed further west than had been managed since 1914 – for both sides the losses were horrific. It struck me how emotional Armistice must have been if your son, father, or brother had survived the whole war only to die in the spring of 1918.

On the female side, there were several cases of women who were domestic servants and had illegitimate children. It was a stark reminder of just how vulnerable so many women were to the ways of entitled powerful men. Domestic servants had no protection of any sort, financial or otherwise, so if they got pregnant, it was up to the master of the house if that was the end of their job or accommodation.

What was the experience like of working on the set of My Family Secret Revealed and revealing these meaningful discoveries to people?
I was actually eight weeks pregnant at the time, so feeling pretty emotional (and sick!). I found I reacted more to a particular story if it resonated with something in my own life. This is reflective of how we each approach history – men tend to study military history because they can imagine themselves being there, and similarly, women study women’s history because we can relate to the struggles of the Suffragettes, for instance. With very high infant mortality over 100 years ago, I found it particularly emotional uncovering child loss in people’s stories.

There were some really upbeat moments too – people being told of siblings they didn’t even know existed or discovering they were actually related to a famous person. Love to confirm things are fact, not fantasy!

In terms of being on set, I have a total girl crush on Sian Williams. She was such a great anchor for the show, a consummate professional and has become a wonderful friend.

What was your favourite storyline from the series?
There was a delightful man, Peter, originally from Liverpool. He wanted to find out more about his father who he had lost contact with before he died and had never found out why he was the recipient of a British Empire Medal. The story that unfolded was immense.

Tell us about one story from the series viewers should definitely not miss.
There was a lovely woman called Tiffany who wanted to know if Reginald Kenneth Dwight (aka Elton John, for those of you scratching your heads) is a direct relation. Another Londoner, June, suspected she could be related to Charles Craig, one of Britain’s biggest and best opera singers of the 20th Century. You’ll have to watch the episodes to find out the truth!

Why do you think understanding the lives and stories of our ancestors is important?
Everyone loves a good story! I think often understanding our past helps us make sense of ourselves. So much of our development is established early by our parents and the same for them, so finding out what went on in preceding generations can shed light on personality traits and family affectations. For some people, a sense of belonging is really important…finding a root, be it geographical, national, or genetic, can help us anchor our identity, and therefore ourselves.

What would you say to someone who might be curious about exploring their family history?
Time, persistence, nous, and not taking ‘no’ for an answer. It is all out there – we are so lucky in Britain as the Victorians were great bookkeepers and today we have amazing organisations, archives, and libraries on hand to help. It can feel overwhelming at times, but that’s why companies like Ancestry are invaluable.

My Family Secrets Revealed will air daily at 1.05pm on Ch4, from December 3 – 21st 2018.

Past Articles

Soldiers’ hidden details in the WFA PRC Ledgers

Posted by Kristen Hyde on November 9, 2018 in United Kingdom

The Western Front Association’s Pension Record Archive includes approximately 1.5 million ledgers of claims made to the UK Government’s Ministry of Pensions. These ledgers provide a wealth of information that is unlikely to be available from other sources. The largest section within the ledgers is approximately 1.2 million pages of records for Soldiers, Royal Naval Read More

WWI Pension Ledgers: Exploring the role of Merchant seamen in WWI

Posted by Kristen Hyde on October 4, 2018 in Collections, Research, United Kingdom

David Tattersfield, trustee from The Western Front Association, introduces the WWI Pension Ledgers to Ancestry, and explains the specific value of the Merchant Marine Cards by way of two key events from WWI history.  Most British First World War historians focus their attention on the battles fought by the British and Commonwealth Armies in France Read More

London City Directories: Learn more about your ancestors’ neighbours, trades and business

Posted by Kristen Hyde on August 1, 2018 in Research, United Kingdom, Website

What are the London City Directories and what value can they bring to your family history research? London Metropolitan Archive’s Public Services team explain the valuable detail to this collection, and how the London City Directories can be helpful for your exploring your ancestral connections to the London area.  What are London City Directories and Read More

Knitted Together: Jigsaw discover diversity is in the very fabric of who they are

Posted by Kristen Hyde on February 26, 2018 in AncestryDNA, United Kingdom

Back in October 2017, we collaborated with British fashion brand, Jigsaw on the launch of their Autumn/Winter 17 campaign, ‘♥immigration’. The campaign celebrated the inherent cultural diversity that is at the heart of the Jigsaw brand, and aimed to challenge the traditional notion of ‘British’ style. But diversity isn’t just stitched into the fabric of Read More

The diverse working world in the East India Company and India Office registers

Posted by Kristen Hyde on February 19, 2018 in Collections, United Kingdom

For 200 years, the East India Company was the leading trade operation for exotic goods like cotton, silk, indigo, salt, tea and opium. Was your ancestor a ‘factor’ helping negotiate sales with local European merchants? Or did they serve in the company’s huge private army? Caroline Kimbell, from the Senate House Library discusses the history Read More