WDYTYA? key documents: Amanda Holden's episode

By Jon Bauckham, 6 December 2016 - 4:58pm

Amanda Holden’s Anglo-French episode of Who Do You Think You Are? was packed with fascinating genealogical sources. Learn about the documents seen on screen with this handy guide

Dr Peter King told Amanda Holden about her ancestor's early brush with the law while working as an apprentice cordwainer

Star source

Military service record

In the second half of her episode, Amanda learns about the experiences of her paternal grandfather, Frank Holden, as a psychiatric nurse during the Second World War.

To begin the research process, the Who Do You Think You Are? team ordered a copy of Frank’s military service record from the Ministry of Defence. According to TV series genealogist, Sara Khan, the document was key to understanding Frank’s lengthy career and his “rise through the ranks”.

While not available online, next of kin can apply for a deceased relative’s Second World War service records by filling in a search form (containing details of the serviceman) and next of kin form (showing proof of relationship).

These are available to download here, and will vary depending on whether your ancestor served with the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines or Royal Air Force. The completed forms should be submitted to the relevant postal address, along with a cheque for £30.

Other key sources

Apprenticeship indenture

To investigate the early life of her 5x great grandfather, Collin Thomas, Amanda Holden travels to Exeter Castle, where she meets Dr Peter King. The first document he shows her is a copy of an apprenticeship indenture, which reveals that Collin trained to become cordwainer. The original document is held by Cornwall Record Office in Truro.

Royal Marines description and disposal books

Like the Army, the Royal Marines did not keep individual service records during the early 19th century. Instead, Amanda learns of Collin’s attempts to enlist illegally by viewing extracts from the Royal Marines description and disposal books. Held within the Admiralty collection at The National Archives, Kew, the ‘description’ books recorded details of men upon enlistment, while the ‘disposal’ books noted when they left.

Devon Quarter Sessions records

A number of documents relating to Collin's criminal past are held by Devon Heritage Centre (formerly Devon Record Office). The programme researchers found the trial papers among the archive's Quarter Sessions records, revealing details of Collin’s crime and that he was charged with “indirectly stealing from the King”.

A muster roll for the 51st Light Infantry, held at The National Archives, shone a light on Collin Thomas's military career (Credit: The National Archives)

Army muster rolls

After disappearing off the radar for several years, Amanda discovers that her ancestor ended up serving with the Army in France. Napoleonic Wars expert Carole Divall managed to narrow down the search for Collin to ten different regiments, based on his location in the country when he married Radégonde Charbonnel. The researchers eventually found him in a muster roll for the 51st Light Infantry, held in series WO 12 at The National Archives.

The letters of William Henry Hare

After meeting Dr Grégory Champeaud in Caudrot, Amanda reads a letter written by Lieutenant William Henry Hare, in which he discusses liaisons between soldiers and local women. Hare’s letters are held by the National Army Museum, with a selection available to view online here.

French records

Amanda was able to learn more about Collin's relationship with Radégonde Charbonnel thanks to French civil and parish records. These are typically held by the country’s departmental (regional) archives, each of which falls under the jurisdiction of the Archives de France. For a detailed guide to tracing your French ancestors, click here.


To learn more about research behind Amanda Holden's episode, make sure you don't miss the January 2017 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, on sale from Tuesday 20 December

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