Sunday, 14 October 2007

TV Genealogy

Saturday evening's History TV Canada schedule included two programs of genealogical interest.

Ancestors in the Attic: Icelandic Horsemen
The episode followed the journey of Icelanders retracing the footsteps of relatives who left the island in the 1870s, forced out by a harsh climate that couldn't sustain the population. Having specialized in atmospheric science for many years I'm always interested to find examples of direct links between a climate fluctuation and a large migration.

The quest was for descendants of emigrant relatives who settled in the inter-lake region of Manitoba, around Gimli. Of genealogical interest was mention of a research centre in Iceland with a large database of emigrants of the period.

Likely owing to the topic I didn't find the episode of personal interest. It did illustrate again that this production team is capable of telling a story without recourse to antics.

Bloodlines: Famous Last Words
This one hour program centered around the Battle of Queenston Heights. Specifically the secondary title refers to an attempt to determine whether Sir Isaac Brock would likely have survived long enough after he was mortally wounded to utter words attributed to him. Contemporary sources, from soldiers names Jarvis and Ridout, told different stories.

Woven into the program was the story of researching the origins of Samuel Thomas who served with a black company at the battle -- entirely separate from the question of Brock's last words.

I enjoyed the program although the interweaving of the Jarvis/Ridout and Thomas story lines seemed forced.

A couple of aspects of the program were quite puzzling. At one point descendants of Jarvis and Ridout are shown walking alongside Ottawa's Rideau Canal, which otherwise played no role in the story. I thought perhaps it would link to information found from Library and Archives Canada, but no such link was made.

Also the descendant of Thomas took a mitochondrial DNA test on the basis of which they announced an origin in Africa, Angola if I recall correctly. However, as males don't pass their mt-DNA to their children the origin was of no direct relevance to Samuel Thomas.

The credibility of the genealogical content was enhanced by the appearance of mensch-like Brian Gilchrist, well known Ontario genealogist. He found land records at the Ontario Archives and the birth place of Samuel Thomas recorded on the Ontario death registration of his son, but was unable to crack the tough nut of his origins in Virginnia (sic).

In the final analysis the investigation of whether Brock died instantly, or would have had time to make a dying statement, was not convincing. Millimetres in the location of a bullet can make a major difference, recall that Ronald Regan survived by just such a margin. Given the inevitable errors in forensic reconstruction the experts conclusion appeared too definitive.

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