“It would be quite awful to find out someone in my family history was a villainous character,” YouTuber Joe Sugg says at the start of his episode of Who Do You Think You Are? “I hope that doesn’t come up. If it does, I want to point out now I’m a lovely person. It’s nothing to do with me!”
To find out more about his ancestors, Joe meets his mother Tracey and his sister, social media influencer Zoe ‘Zoella’ Sugg. Tracey shows him the marriage record for his 2x great grandparents Henry Philpot and Mabel Pritchard, which gives Mabel’s father’s name as Albert Le Meseurier Pritchard and his profession as a telegraph operator. Joe is intrigued by Albert’s job and the possibility that he has French ancestry. Zoe can’t come on Joe’s family history journey because she’s heavily pregnant, but he sets off to find out more about Albert while his sister conducts family history research from home.
Searching the 1861 census records, Joe finds Albert, age 16, living on the island of Jersey. He’s one of the seven children of Thomas and Emily Pritchard. Albert worked as a messenger for a telegraph company, while his older brother Adolphus was a clerk.
To find out more, Joe goes to the Science Museum in London. Curator Liz Bruton shows him an old newspaper article from 1863 about the first telegraph message sent from Jersey to London via underwater cable. Albert Pritchard was one of the workers in the London office, and was at the forefront of this technical innovation.
However, Albert’s life took a sad turn. Burial records show that Albert’s father Thomas and brother Adolphus died in 1870 and 1871, both of phthisis, a form of tuberculosis.
“Adolphus and Albert were both in this new wave of technology,” Joe says. “It does kind of remind me of me and my sister… I can just imagine him just getting over the fact that you’ve lost your father, and then you lose your brother. It must have been the worst feeling ever.”
To learn more about phthisis, Joe visits the Pathology Museum. Medical historian Dr Helen Bynum tells him that at the time, Jersey was a health resort. Many phthisis patients visited the island in the hope of recovery, but in doing so spread the infection to local residents. Tragically, phthisis continued to spread through the Pritchard family. Between 1872 and 1875, Albert’s mother and two of his sisters also died of the disease. However, Albert went on to live a long life, settling in Ramsgate with his family and working for the telegraph company until 1897.
Taking his family tree further back, Joe learns that his 7x great grandparents, Jean Sorel and Marie Le Marchand, were described in records as refugees. He wants to find out more about them, so he visits the French Church in Soho to meet genealogist Sandra Robinson. Sandra tells him that the Sorels were Huguenots – French Protestants who suffered religious persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries. Jean and Marie would have been forced to worship in secret, and had their children declared illegitimate because only marriages in the Catholic church were considered valid. In 1747 the King of France issued a new law, giving Catholic priests the power to remove Protestant children from their homes and place them in convents. To escape, Jean and Marie smuggled their children to safety on Jersey before fleeing France themselves.
“Bloomin’ good parents,” Joe marvels, “risking their lives day in, day out for the sake of their children.”
Next, Joe meets up with Zoe, who’s been researching the family line of their maternal grandfather Richard Chapman. (Richard died in September 2021 and the episode is dedicated to his memory). She’s traced the line back to their 5x great grandparents, William Sandford Wapshare and Cooth Anna Austen. William was the minister at St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury.
Joe visits Salisbury and gets to see the church and the house where the Wapshares lived. He also meets historian Cheryl Butler, who shows him more about the Austen family. Joe’s 10x great grandfather John Austen was a jeweller who made enough money to send his son Henry to Eton.
To learn more, Joe visits London’s jewellery visit, where he meets historian Paul Jagger. Paul tells him that John came from a farming family in Berkshire, but served an eight year apprenticeship as a jeweller, possibly starting when he was just 11 years old. John’s wealth is shown by 17th century hearth tax records, which reveal that he had an incredible 16 fireplaces in his house.
Not only that, but John survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. His house on Foster Lane would have been at the heart of the fire. As Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths Company, John also had an important role in overseeing the institution’s recovery from the fire, selling off many of its treasures to raise funds to repair the building.
“Amongst my ancestors there’s this recurring theme of determination,” Joe reflects. “Throughout all those troubled times, they have really stuck at it and worked hard and it’s paid off.”
Rosemary Collins is the staff writer of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine