3 shocking moments from Who Do You Think You Are?

At My Story Told, our main goal is to help individuals preserve their life stories in their own words, creating a family treasure that will both preserve their legacy and offer a unique insight into what life was like during their lifetime. 

Ancestry shows such as the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? document the special family stories of celebrities, who go on a journey through their lineage and past. There have been a number of fascinating episodes since its inception in 2004, and we have compiled a few of our favourites below.  

Charles Dance – Season 14, Ep.1  

Charles Dance is a renowned actor who starred as Tywin Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones. His mother was a parlourmaid and his father was an electrical engineer who died when Charles was four and has no memory of. Charles had always believed that his father, Walter, was a divorcee when his mother married him and that he had died in his 50s.  

As the episode ensues, it comes to light that neither of these things were true. Upon inspecting the one photograph of Charles’ father, a military historian saw that the style of military uniform dated the picture to 1900.  

The episode then took an interesting turn, revealing that his father died in his mid-70s, not 50s, and had a wife and children whose descendants now live in South Africa. Amazingly, when browsing through a trunkful of memorabilia, Charles discovered his half-sister’s self-typed autobiography. She wrote of their father in great detail, and provided Charles with a more in-depth perception of him.  

Charles Dance’s story epitomises the importance of documenting your life story. He found out a great deal about his father from his late half-sister’s autobiography which he may have never found otherwise.  

Josh Widdecombe – Season 18, Ep.1 

One aspect of ancestry research that piques the interest of many is the chance that you may be related to somebody famous. That was the hope for comedian Josh Widdecombe, who said that he wanted “to find out something exciting, that’s the dream scenario.”  

Josh already had a slight idea that he may come from a famous lineage when hearing about the collapse of Barings Bank in school and was told he had a connection to the Barings – Josh’s great grandmother’s maiden name was Baring-Gould.  

While researching his lineage further, Josh finds out about his 10x great-grandparents Henry Rich and Isabel Cope – the First Earl of Holland and Countess of Holland. He was then told that Henry was a leading aristocrat and a senior advisor to Charles I, holding the rank of Groom of the Stool – accompanying Charles I to the toilet.  

Josh’s connection to high-standing members of society did not stop there. Further research then found that his 13x great grandparents, Sir Francis Knollys, was a treasurer to Elizabeth I, and his wife, Lady Katherine Knollys, her chief lady of the bedchamber. The link to royalty is symbolised by the fact that Katherine was buried in Westminster Abbey, which is traditionally a place for royalty and aristocracy to be laid to rest.  

The final revelation of Josh’s ancestry journey was when it was revealed that Katherine Knollys’ mother was Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn and mistress of Henry VIII, and was told that some believe that Henry VIII was Katherine’s real father. But it did not stop there, Josh also has connections to the royal family of France. His 23x great grandfather was Edward I, who married the daughter of King Phillipe of France!  

The process was highly recommended by Josh who was astonished by all he’d learned. “I would 100% recommend to anyone,” he says. “If you do want to trace your family tree, that’s an amazing thing to do.”  

Judi Dench – Season 18, Ep.2 

Oscar-winning actor Dame Judi Dench kicks off the episode by explaining her passion for William Shakespeare, ever since she played Ophelia in Hamlet, which actually has a significance to her story.  

Judi was aware that her father Reginald, a doctor, received the Military Cross twice – an award for bravery – after fighting in the First World War. The first for fighting off a German raid at Ypres in 1917, and the second for leading a raid on the enemy trenches himself.  

Judi’s search then begins on her mother’s family, and she learns of her Danish lineage. Her 6x great grandfather married a Danish woman called Anne Catherine Bille. Further research into the Danish lineage resulted in Judi meeting her distant cousin, and fellow actor, Joen Bille, and traced a link to her 10x great aunt, Beate Brahe, who was the mother of famous astronomer Tycho Brahe.  

Beate was a lady-in-waiting to the Danish royal family at Kronborg castle in Helsingør – made famous by, you guessed it, William Shakespeare as Elsinore, the setting of Hamlet! Tycho Brahe was descended from families called Guildensteren and Rosenkrans – names which appear as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Shakespeare’s play. 

The story came full circle in linking Dame Judi Dench with her hero, William Shakespeare, and another fascinating story of links to royalty. These are the amazing things that can be discovered when researching your ancestry! For more tips on starting ancestry research, read our latest blog here 

Make it easy for your future generations to understand their lineage by documenting your life story with My Story Told. We help you tell your story, your way, and focus on providing an accurate and interesting family heirloom for your relatives to enjoy.  

Start your storytelling journey by contacting us today.