Genes Reunited Blog
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Last night's episode of Who Do You Think You Are saw actor Rupert Penry-Jones eager to learn more about his Indian heritage.
Rupert was born in 1970 and he is listed below in the birth records on Genes Reunited:
The best way for anyone to start their family history is to talk to as many family members as possible, take notes recording dates, names and events which you might have forgotten about or not witnessed. Rupert began his journey by speaking to his mother, Angela Thorne. Angela was born in 1939 in Karachi, India, which was part of British India.
For the first five years of her life, Angela's father, William Thorne, was a doctor in the army. William commanded the 29th field ambulance unit as part of the Indian Army in World War Two. William died when Rupert was 12 and he wanted to learn more about his grandfather's time in the Indian Army.
William was posted to Italy from India and was involved in the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1943, one of World War Two's most vicious battles - find out more here. Rupert's wanted to know more about William's experiences in the army and so travelled to Cassino to find out more.
Rupert met a soldier who served in the battle and paid tribute to how brave William's medical unit was. William's unit worked on the front line, treating over 1,500 casualties with no regard for their own safety. William stayed in Italy until 1945 and returned to India where he worked until 1971.
Rupert was still keen to find out more about his Indian heritage and went on to investigate his great grandfather Theophilus Thorne. Rupert visited The British Library and discovered that Theophilus was a self made man who did well for himself, despite a humble upbringing.
Theophilus was born in Somerset and joined the army as a private when he was 18, leaving behind his job as a gardener. He arrived in India in 1881 when Queen Victoria was empress of India and the British Raj was at its height.. Theophilus quickly rose through the army ranks to become major and he looked after ceremonial and state camps. These camps were lavish places where India's and Britain's elite paid homage to each other. Rupert learnt that Theophilus was part of the 1911 Delhi Durbar, a mass assembly held in Delhi to commemorate the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary as Emperor and Empress of India.
Theophilus married a Sarah Jane Todd in 1885 - Rupert discovered Sarah Jane's baptismal record which showed her parents to be Thomas Todd and Louisa Johnstone. They got married in 1866 in South India when Louisa was just 15.
Rupert travelled to India to find out once and for all if he had true Indian blood. He discovered that Thomas Todd, his great great grandfather, was stationed in Allahabad in 1857 during the uprising in India, when the Indians were rebelling against the British and their western culture. Thomas was 38 at the time and fought to calm and control the rebellion. At this time his wife Louisa and their children were in South India out of harm's way. Rupert read some of the letters Thomas had written to Louisa which portrayed him as a loving husband and father. In 1857 Louisa received a letter from a commanding officer telling her Thomas had died after falling victim to cholera.
After tracing back six generations of his family in India, Rupert found out that Louisa's parents were John Smith and Susannah (no surname). Rupert went to Nagpore to find out more about Susannah. Susannah's baptism record shows her as an 'Indo Britain'. Susannah's and John Smith's marriage record shows her surname as Collum.
Rupert then discovered that Susannah was baptised in June 1817 and the baptismal record showed her parents as Samuel and Elizabeth Collum. Elizabeth was born in 1816 but Rupert was unclear as to whether she was a native Indian or an Anglo-Indian.
Rupert successfully traced his mother's line back eight generations, spanning two centuries, but never really achieved clarity around the origin of his Indian ancestry.