Last week I was one of millions of people participating in an event that has been officially entered into the Guinness Book of World Records: the largest simulcast of a television drama. The event, of course, was The Day of the Doctor, the 50th Anniversary special of Doctor Who. For those unfamiliar with the show, the Doctor can regenerate, at which time his appearance and personality undergo a change. This has allowed the Doctor to be played by successive actors since 1963. To me and to millions of other fans, the Doctor will always be Tom Baker, whose portrayal from 1974 to 1981 is the longest incarnation of the Doctor ever.
Doctor Who is a Time Lord, and travels in his craft, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), which resembles a 1950s-era English police call box. He has been everywhere from the Big Bang to the end of the Universe and everywhere in between. And he has a particular affinity for Earth history. He accompanied on his travels by his companions (each incarnation having his own companions).
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be able to spend awhile with the Doctor. The places I would ask him to take me. As a good genealogist, of course, I have quite the list. Starting with the village of Sorel, Quebec, in 1731. I have a bone to pick with my eighth-great grandmother, Thérèse Lavallée. I want to talk to that 27-year-old girl and ask her who the father of her illegitimate son is! Next stop would be Philadelphia in July 1766. I want to attend the funeral of Benjamin Franklin’s brother Peter and talk to his daughter. I need to find out who she married!
Unfortunately, as big a fan of Doctor Who as I am, I’m afraid that Matt Smith (the current Doctor) will not be arriving at my doorstep in a blue police call box anytime soon to give me a lift. Whilst this leaves me disappointed, there are other things I can do to answer these genealogical questions.
As to the illegitimate child born in 1731, the modern wonders of DNA testing may yet assist me. Nine generations separate me from Thérèse’s son. Eight of those generations are men. Unfortunately, my great-great-grandmother Célina Lavallée breaks that chain of y-chromosome DNA that would be helpful. Fortunately, there are other routes. Célina was one of 13 children, and five of them were sons. One of those sons, Charles, had no known children. But hopefully his brothers Pierre, Joseph, Michael, and Louis left a few male descendants who might have living male descendants. These men would carry the necessary y-chromosome DNA to identify the father of that child.
As to Peter Franklin, he is a great mystery. He was a merchant and shipmaster at Newport, Rhode Island, before being appointed postmaster at Philadelphia in 1766. We know that he had a daughter Sarah, who had two sons, but we do not know the name of Sarah’s husband. Records at Newport have many holes in them, and his occupation means that he could have easily travelled to get married, have children, etc. His daughter could have even married at quite a distance from Newport. One nephew even ended up leaving Newport for Nova Scotia. But more careful analysis of existing records for additional clues may yet reveal a solution to the mystery. And information about an adopted son of Peter may also assist in the search.
The point is that we do not always need a dashing man in a TARDIS to come by and take us back in time and space to answer our genealogical problems. Sometimes the answers may be there waiting for us. We just need to adjust our thinking, and break outside the box in our research. The answer will not come from the single push of a button on a computer, but through careful sifting of original records and analysis of the clues they leave behind. Eventually, if that doesn’t work, perhaps I shall write to David Tennant (the tenth Doctor) and Matt Smith (the eleventh Doctor) and ask them to give me a lift!