Michael Parkinson is not interesting, say the BBC, or rather his family aren’t. A pity really for those of us who have become a little fed up with his relentless Barnsley persona that “Who Do You Think You Are” claim to be unable to find any relieving quality in the mix. In recent generations it seems that most of them have been the hewers of wood and the drawers of water, to get Biblical about it, as many of them would have understood. Parky’s were miners, domestics, and such and not much else back to the great grandparents and perhaps beyond.
But might he be related, or indeed descended from the Robert Parkinson of Hull, an Ordinary Seaman, or the Thomas Parkinson of Leeds, Yorkshire, who was a Royal Marines Private, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805? There were four others of that surname, including interestingly a Quarter Master from Greenock, and another from Southwark, so Parkie might even be a southern softie after all who has just returned to his roots in his maturity. One who is close to me had family from London and Hampshire who finished up North in Yorkshire, accents and all, and in the mining industry, and listed amongst the accident victims. One of the family lived along the road from Jane Austen, and worked at the local paper factory. Another helped burn down the local workhouse and got a free ticket to Australia. There were others I know who were recruited from the poverty stricken of the fields of East Anglia.
Then there were the seven Parkinson’s listed for the Waterloo Medal, those listed in Burke’s Gentry, and a few others dotted about. Certainly there were many of them in the male line in Yorkshire, but their marriages may well have turned up one thing or another. During the 19th Century there was a very great deal of downward social mobility if you want that sort of thing.
As someone who has done time in this area of historical research, as well as others, my view is that either the BBC did not try very hard, or they have another agenda. Certainly, they look for the exotic, and also for the recent migrants, but what has been signally absent from most of their programmes are the missing millions of the ordinary working population from the time before, the early 19th, the 18th and 17th Centuries. You have to work hard at it, and you have to really know your history. Yet for those who have delved more into any or all or them as far as possible, there can be intriguing stories. Try the sicklemakers of Moorholes for one, the lead miners of Derbyshire for another, the Luddite shearmen of the West Riding, the toilers in the liquorice fields of Pontefract, as well as the linen weavers of Barnsley.
It is surprising what can turn up. The Bagshawes were lead miners, and one family did well, rising to gentry status. They are easy enough to find, they are in the ancestry of HM The Queen from her maternal side. So if Parky has a Bagshawe in the generation where he might have 2048 ancestors, as he might well have, then he was related to the Queen Mum, but that would never do for the BBC, would it?