Who Do You Think You Are – With Billy Connolly

Who Do You Think You Are – With Billy Connolly

For someone who is extremely interested in Family History and well, history in general, I haven’t really watched much of the BBC TV series “Who Do You Think You Are?”. I used to find myself beginning to watch an episode and feeling frustrated with just how easy it can make family history appear to be, to search for your ancestors and obtain quick results, as this is not always the case and can also be very time consuming if the records are nowhere to be found! Plus I couldn’t “contain myself,” I struggled to sit through an entire episode without getting an itch to delve back into my own family tree instead of watching someone else do the same!

I was pleasantly surprised this week, after watching a couple of random episodes on BBC iplayer I have started to appreciate the program and educational benefits a little bit more, so much so that I decided to watch an old episode from 2014 featuring Billy Connolly a Scottish comedian.

While I appreciate Billy Connolly’s sense of humor and do find some of his stand up shows funny, I am not his worlds biggest fan, therefore my opinion of him does not massively impact my overall interest in the episode, however he is very like-able and down to earth as opposed to other celebrities that have appeared on the program, which does make the episode more appealing.


Connolly believed his ancestors originated from Ireland; however the discoveries left him a little dumbfounded. He had no idea that some of his direct ancestors had been in the military and were also based in India.  His great grandmother from his mother’s maternal lineage had been born in Bangalore and subsequently we are transported with Connolly to India to delve deeper into his roots.  As the program progressed we discovered more of his relatives and we were also provided with a quick historical background by a historian as to what life was like at this time in India, the uprising and how living in the South and being in the Military was a completely different kettle of fish to the North. This was extremely interesting to me as I have direct ancestors who lived in Bangalore and Madras over a period of many decades. I think by this stage my eyes were glued to the television, eager to learn more.

We also followed in the footsteps of Connolly’s Great, Great, Great grandfather Daniel Doyle who had fought in the Royal Horse Artillery in India, in the 19th century. He was reported to have had good conduct and a promotion, to later discover he had been court martialed therefore leading an end to his budding military career, despite not seeing much action in terms of military conflict where he was based. Connolly predicted part of the reason for this court-martial could possibly be alcoholism,   “It is a family tradition,” he openly admitted. Connolly was partially correct, after a local historian revealed an intriguing set of hospital records which detailed Daniel Doyle’s personal struggles such as alcoholism to his health woes, syphilis.

We were also then informed that syphilis was quite common at that time in the army in India, I believe estimated at 1 in 3 men having an STD. According to the historian, (I apologize her name escapes me) prostitutes were seen as an “evil necessity” and sometimes there would be as little as 20 women for over a 1000 men. These women if suspected of having a sexually transmitted disease would be locked in a separate location for months until it was believed they were cured, and then offered back to the soldiers. These were usually local women.  I felt like I was connecting to Connolly’s discoveries, as if it were my ancestors. I was  happy when Daniel Doyle had appeared to settle down and sort out his life, he married and moved back to Scotland, only to be saddened to discover he and his wife applied for poor relief on a couple of occasions because they were in poverty. The emotional reaction Connolly produced was real and extremely disappointing, he had hoped Doyle would have had a happier ending and was deeply saddened by the end of his ancestors life. It was endearing and also quite touching to see the compassionate side to Connolly and has made me respect and admire this individual more, he seems like such a genuine person.

Towards the end of the documentary we discover that Connolly had an Indian ancestor which left him feeling exhilarated and in high spirits and ended the episode with a nice vibe. I would recommend to watch this if you like genealogy and also if you have any relatives that were based in India in between 1800 and 1900, it is very interesting and informative.

Billy Connolly health