Genes Reunited Blog
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This week's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? follows actress Alex Kingston as she researches her father's family and discovers a photographer war hero and a remarkable woman living in the 19th Century.
Alex starts her journey by visiting her parents where she finds a picture of her great-grandfather William Keevil. William served on the Western Front as part of the Royal Engineers but in peacetime he was a photographer.
A visit to Alex's uncle reveals the original 1917 notice of William's death, claiming he was killed in action. Further research discovers that William worked in sound ranging, a practice whereby the Royal Engineers used microphones to record sound waves on film in order to locate German guns. The work involved laying lines across no-man's land, and it was whilst repairing these lines that William was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele. The notice of William's death claimed that he died from a gunshot wound; however, further research proves that he was actually hit by a shell.
Alex moves on to investigate rumours of Jewish heritage. She admits herself that she does not have a particularly English face and people have often asked her if she has Jewish roots.
A name in her family tree, Braham (derived from Abraham), and 19th century census records prove that Alex does in fact have Jewish heritage. Alex starts to focus on the life of her 4x great-grandmother Elizabeth Braham and discovers a very versatile and colourful lifestyle. The 1851 census reveals her to be a lodging house keeper based in Westminster. You can see the census record here.
Historian Catherine Arnold explains to Alex that this was almost certainly not a respectable house, and was instead a place where prostitutes brought their clients. This prompts Alex to claim "This morning I found my inner Jew, and this afternoon I found my inner whore", possibly one of the best quotes from the series so far!
Old newspaper articles reveal that one of the prostitutes who used the rooms supplied by Elizabeth brought in a man who committed suicide by drinking poison. Other documents show Elizabeth was charged with keeping ‘a disorderly house' as early as 1827. Despite her controversial means of earning money, Elizabeth died a rich woman and left an estate of over £1,500, a considerable sum for the time. And to show her future mind a business sense, she put her estate in trust for her granddaughter as a way to protect it from ever coming under the control of any husband.
Alex was delighted with her findings and proud to have discovered such a woman in her family history. If only all of our family history could be quite so colourful!