Looking back at 2017

By Rosemary Collins, 20 December 2017 - 12:32pm

We take a break from tracing our ancestors to look back at some of our top stories and features this year

A party at the Overseas Club in London on behalf of injured RAF pilots, New Year's Eve 1941. (Credit: Planet News Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)

2017, Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine's 10th anniversary year, was an exciting one for family historians.

It also saw more celebrities discovering family stories from around the world as Who Do You Think You Are? celebrated its 14th series.

As we get ready to celebrate Christmas and ring in the New Year, we thought we’d take a moment to look back at some of our highlights from the last 12 months.



We began 2017 by continuing our 12-Week Family History Challenge.

WDYTYA’s genealogist, the brilliant Laura Berry, showed readers how to trace their ancestors using military records, newspapers and more.

January also saw a new beginning, with the successful launch of our first Transcription Tuesday.

Over 300 of our readers gave up their time to help out from home, transcribing records for five important family history projects.

Meanwhile, WDYTYA? returned to our screens, with Sir Ian McKellen discovering fellow actors in his family tree.



Series 13 of WDYTYA? continued, showing Greg Davies, Warwick Davis and Sunetra Sarker taking their turn to trace their ancestors.

Laura wrapped up the 12-Week Challenge with an important message about how joining the family history community can help take your research further.

There was also good news for those of you with Catholic ancestry, as Findmypast announced its Catholic Heritage Archive.



March saw the final episode of series 13 broadcast after delays, with Sophie Raworth following her family’s footsteps to New York.

As readers compiled their tax returns, Jonathan Scott explained the best websites for tracing your family’s tax records.

Elsewhere, Jon Bauckham visited the reopened National Army Museum.



We started April by pulling readers’ legs, with our April Fool’s story claiming that the descendants of historical tax evaders could be on the hook for repayment.

But there was plenty of true family history information at the 11th annual Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE, which opened its doors in the Birmingham NEC on 6 April.

From new record releases to behind-the-scenes talks from Danny Dyer’s legendary episode, the event had something for everyone.

For genealogists at home, we provided some great guides on how to further your research without leaving your computer, from choosing the right DNA testing company for you to using Australian newspapers.

WDYTYA? Magazine editor Sarah Williams at WDYTYA? LIVE


May began on a sad note, with the announcement of the decision to cancel WDYTYA? LIVE owing to financial difficulties.

However, it provided an opportunity to look back at a fantastic event, while also looking forward to new things we could try – whether that was following our Second World War ancestors by taking part in Mass Observation, visiting film archives or viewing Ancestry’s new collection of Wiltshire records.



June was the anniversary of Dunkirk, also commemorated this year in Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed film of the same name.

Janet Dempsey showed us how to trace the men caught up in the evacuation, while for Poldark fans, Anthony Burton took an in-depth look at the Cornish mining industry.

We made a discovery of our own with a mysterious research folder that a reader had lost at WDYTYA? LIVE – remember that for later!

The month finished with great excitement, as the BBC revealed that the TV show would return in July, with celebrities including Charles Dance, Craig Revel Horwood and Clare Balding.



In July, we were treated to a range of memorable and poignant episodes of WDYTYA?, with celebrities travelling to South Africa, Australia, the USA, Kenya and Uganda, and stories including Charles Dance’s surprising discoveries about the father he never knew, Clare Balding investigating rumours about her great grandfather’s sexuality and even Craig Revel Horwood following his ancestor’s example by clog dancing!

For each episode, we provided vital behind-the-scenes guides for fans, including episode summaries, key resources, location guides and bonus footage.



Family historians were relieved in August when Northamptonshire County Council announced it would revise controversial plans to charge £31.50 an hour for access to its archives at certain times.

We also saw that archives were vital to uncovering the celebrities’ family histories in more cracking episodes of WDYTYA?

Lulu’s family struggled with poverty, crime and sectarian divisions in 20th century Glasgow, Fearne Cotton’s ancestors faced imprisonment as conscientious objectors and sailed the seas with the SS Great Britain, and Noel Clarke’s moving journey revealed a legacy of immigration, slavery and survival.

Lulu traced her family history in Glasgow


In another cracking episode of WDYTYA?, EastEndersLisa Hammond found out her grandfather was a prisoner of war, as well as discovering some surprising rural roots.

Elsewhere, we shared top advice for breaking down brick walls from five of the biggest names in genealogy, as well as interviews with survivors of the Battle of Britain.

There was also good news for tracing criminal ancestors when the Digital Panopticon, an exciting free website, launched.

We finished the month by passing a milestone, with the publication of a special issue to mark our 10th anniversary.



Ruby Wax’s episode of WDYTYA? was delayed until October, but it was more than worth it, with one of the most moving episodes of the series.

The comedian and mental health campaigner’s journey to research her parents’ escape from the Holocaust and her ancestors’ history of mental illness was sometimes harrowing, but as she said: “Now knowing my ancestors, I understand a lot more about myself.”

Speaking of delays, family historians rejoiced as the General Register Office announced the return of its pilot scheme for ordering PDF birth and death certificates, although it has not yet introduced the scheme permanently.



November was full of discoveries from the past. As people around the world commemorated Armistice Day, we looked at the latest websites for tracing First World War ancestors.

We were delighted to hear from WDYTYA? reader Pauline Thomas, who we were able to reunite with the missing research folder, and to launch our Explore Your Archive series, in which archivists around the country shared the fascinating gems found in their collection.



In December, we took the opportunity to see what we've taught our readers this year with our family history quiz.

With family history continuing to grow, including a free set of 98 million immigrant records being released on Findmypast, we’re sure there’s much more to discover in 2018. We can’t wait!

In the meantime, we wish all our readers a happy Christmas and New Year.

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