The new series of Who Do You Think You Are? started this week with Samantha Womack nee Janus, who is well known for her recent role in Eastenders.
Samantha Zoe Janus was born in Brighton in 1972, the only child of Noel Robert Janus and Diane O'Hanlon. Her parents relationship broke down when she was about six years old and her parents separated, Samantha moving away with her mother.
Samantha's father remained in Sussex and according to newspaper reports had a difficult relationship with his daughter. Noel Janus was born in 1949 in Kensington, the son of Robert William Bough Janes and Doris Cunningham Ryan and he was half brother of Angie Best (wife of George Best). He continued to live in Brighton but suffering from depression, he committed suicide in 2009.
Noel's mother and Samantha's grandmother Doris still lives in Brighton but this line of the family were newcomers to Sussex and tracing her father's ancestry back you soon find yourself in Scotland, France and Dublin.
The episode was the usual well put together programme but as always it skipped over anything that was inconclusive, too complicated or unknown.
One thing that this episode did show was how names can vary, causing so many problems for researchers. You don't have to go far back in Samantha's family history to find name complications - her birth was registered as Samantha Zoe Janus, daughter of Noel Janus but Noel's birth was registered as Noel Robert Janes. Presumably Noel amended his surname to make it more distinctive
|Noel Robert Janes aka Janus|
(he was a singer songwriter). Then there is Samantha's great grandmother who was known to the family as Beatrice Ryan nee Garraud - Gerraud is an unusual surname which has advantages but being unusual it is more likely to be misspelt. No birth record can be found for Beatrice Gerraud, not because the surname was misspelt, but because, as the programme shows, she was originally named Berthe Marie Garraud. Her father was French which explains the choice of name, possibly it was Anglicized (as was her father's name from Pierre to Peter) or the orphanage may have felt Beatrice was a more 'suitable' name. Later when Beatrice went to America with her mother she was recorded as Beatrice Finkle; her mother's new surname, so any searches for Beatrice have to take into account her different forenames and changing surnames.
As mentioned above the programme does gloss over some details which would stop the story flowing so smoothly. We are told how Anthony and Beatrice were found in the 1901 census to be living in orphanages, an assumption was made that their mother Jessie had abandoned the children to go to America after her husband's death but of course she could have gone to America leaving them in the care of her husband who may have then died after she left. That is, if he died at all. I can't trace a record of his death even taking in to account the various versions of his name. As there was no mention of when he died in the programme I doubt WDYTYA? found it either.
A bigger niggle is the relationship of Beatrice Garraud to Alexander Cunningham Ryan - WDYTYA? referred to Beatrice as the partner of Alexander and it is quite likely that they never married although this was never mentioned. Alexander Ryan's attestation papers in 1914 shows his wife was Beatrice Winifred Pickford, they had married in 1908 in Plymouth. This Beatrice was ignored by the programme
|Alexander Ryan's unexplained wife|
so we have no idea what happened to her. There is an interesting family trend here - Samantha's parents were not married, her paternal grandparents were not married and it seems that her maternal great grandparents were not married either. Unlike many modern families which break with tradition by not getting married, Samantha Janus broke family tradition when she did get married.
BBC Who Do You Think You Are? broadcast 16th August 2012
GRO Birth Index - www.freebmd.org.uk
Wikipedia - wikipedia.org/wiki/Samantha_Womack
Daily Mail - 25th August 2009
Argus - 7th September 2009