What happens on Daniel Radcliffe’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

By Guest, 22 July 2019 - 11:16am

The actor, known to the world for playing Harry Potter, uncovers the story behind a family tragedy and reads poignant letters from the First World War

Daniel Radcliffe's great great grandfather Louis Gershon, a jeweller, Who Do You Think You Are?
Daniel Radcliffe's great great grandfather Louis Gershon (Credit: Wall to Wall)

From the moment he landed the part of Harry Potter as an 11-year-old, Daniel Radcliffe had to grow up in public. His parents, Marcia and Alan, were always there to help.

“To steer a kid through that with as much humour and calm as they did is, I think, very impressive,” he says.

So who were the people whose lives equipped Marcia and Alan with the emotional intelligence to deal with such an extraordinary situation?

Daniel begins his research with his mother’s family. He expects to find Eastern European Jewish ancestry and, perhaps, to understand the story behind the suicide of his great grandfather, Samuel Gershon.

A family tree compiled by Daniel’s ‘Granny Pat’ offers early lines of research. Pat changed her surname from Gershon to Gresham, but why?

Daniel also learns that Samuel, one of nine siblings, was the first in his generation to be born in England.

Daniel is surprised to learn that his 2x great grandparents, Louis Gershon and Jessie Greenwall, were married in South Africa.

Daniel heads to North London to meet one of the couple’s descendants, also called Louis Gershon.

Louis senior, it turns out, was a diamond prospector, who later set up a business in Hatton Garden, the historic centre for London’s jewellery trade.

A photograph shows that Daniel strongly takes after his forebear.

Louis did well. In 1917, a trade directory lists him as one of the “Directors or Managers of the African Wholesale Jewellers”, a company valued at the equivalent of £500,000 in today’s money.

Samuel followed his father into the jewellery trade. He married and the family moved to a large house in leafy Southend.

In 1936, the offices of Samuel and Edward Gershon were apparently raided by thieves.

But the police decided that the brothers, who were in debt, had staged the theft for the insurance.

Records from the period, when fascism was on the rise, suggest anti-semitism may have played a part in this conclusion.

Whatever the truth, the pressure on Samuel was huge. A newspaper report pictures him passed out in shock.

Five months later, Samuel killed himself.

Here lies the reason for Pat’s change of surname. Raie, Pat’s mother, saw it as a way to help the family put a scandal behind them.

Next, researching his father’s side of the family, Daniel heads to Northern Ireland to see a precious cache of letters kept by his aunt, Linda.

The correspondence consists of letters to and from Daniel’s 2x great uncle, Ernie, one of four brothers who served on the Western Front. What happened to them?

Three made it through, but Ernie was killed by a shell.

Poignantly, while on leave, he married his sweetheart, Jeannie – on Valentine’s Day, 1915.

Daniel’s research has revealed difficult stories, but he’s not too downbeat.

He’s found strong women and people who looked out for each other.

“Everyone was really loved,” he says of his relatives, “and ultimately that means that the time they had on earth, even if it ended prematurely and sadly, was worth having.”

 

 

 

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3 key family history records from Daniel Radcliffe’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
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3 key family history records from Daniel Radcliffe’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?
previous blog Article
Five things you might not know about Naomie Harris
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