Who Do You Think You Are is a TV programme exploring the family history of well-known people; tonight there was the start of a new series and Julie Walters the actress was finding out about her Irish family roots. It was a fascinating programme, as it always is, and Julie found some most interesting facts about her ancestors. Like most people, her family were not rich or famous or from the nobility, and were not notorious in any way. However, as tenant farmers in nineteenth century Ireland they struggled with famine, despicable landlords, harsh conditions and harsh ‘justice’.
At the end of the programme when Julie was summing up her journey, she said how proud she was of her family, and how close and connected to them she feels even though she does not even know what they look like. I can understand that, although I actually do know what some of my ancestors looked like. I mentioned a little while ago my great-grandparents, who defied conventions, society and religion to live together and have five children, no doubt with much disapproval of both families.
In my novel Radwinter, Thomas Radwinter traces his family, and feels very close to another Thomas Radwinter, born Taras Radwinski, who died over a century ago; Taras experienced hardship and a struggle to survive, firs as a Ukrainian soldier in the Polish army, then as a virtual prisoner of war, shipped off to the Americas… except he escaped by jumping ship in Harwich. Once in England, he struggled through the years of agricultural famine, seeing his family in the Workhouse, before he was able to take over the license of a pub. Thomas, the main character, feels very close to Taras, even though he has no idea what he looked like, or really anything about him apart from what he can deduce from the records he finds on genealogical sites.
If you are interested in reading about Thomas’s research and Taras’s adventures, here is a link: