Who Do You Think You Are - Season 8, Episode 5 recap

Rachel Griffiths


Season 8 of the popular family history show Who Do You Think You Are? screened over several weeks during 2016. Here at State Records of South Australia we recapped each episode at the time and highlighted any records in our collection relevant to topics covered. Now on our blog for your reading pleasure are all of our recaps. 

Episode 5 featured actor Rachel Griffiths. She focused on her father’s side of the family as she already knew a lot about her mother’s side. Her father exhibited a strong sense of adventure and entrepreneurial ideas, so she was hoping to find similar stories in his heritage.

She started by visiting her father’s sister, who had undertaken a DNA test. The results included nearly 50% Irish, some Eastern European, and a notable 2% European Jewish ancestry. Her aunt provided a family tree tracing the Jewish branch back to her great-great-grandfather, Louis Mallan, a dentist. Louis Mallan died in Australia but had been born in 1862 in London, England.

Meeting with a genealogist at the British Dental Association in London, Rachel uncovered a dynasty of dentists, including one who was patronised in the late 1820s by the King of France. She then unfurled a family tree which went back over 370 years to the mid-17th century. Many episodes this season have focused on recent history, so it was clear this episode was going to skip the interim stories and start much further back in time.

Rachel then focused on the life of her eight-times great-grandfather Benjamin Wolf Levy who was born c.1646 near Hamburg, and had arrived in London around 1669. As a gem merchant, Levy was a person of considerable influence and wealth, so records about him were readily found in the archives of Synagogues, Guilds and Companies. He made significant contributions to charity, established the first Ashkenazi Synagogue in London, was an early member of the new business of stock brokerage at the Royal Exchange, and contributed a substantial investment to the newly-formed Bank of England in 1694. Levy was also one of the directors of the British East India Company, and a shareholder in the Royal African Company of England. These two roles saw him involved in piracy and human trafficking.

Levy died in 1705 leaving his three children orphaned. His Will demonstrated an unusual attitude for the time, as it named his daughter Abigail as an equal heir with her two brothers, protecting her wealth from ‘gold diggers’. As Rachel pointed out, the wording of a Will is a person’s own voice – it expresses their wishes and attitudes in their own words.

At the National Archives she discovered that Abigail had been married at age 11 to the also underage Moses Adolphus from Holland. An historian at the London Metropolitan Archives at Guildhall advised that records relating to women are very difficult to discover. The trick is to look for information about family members. The Guildhall records mentioned her son, Joy Adolphus, being enrolled at a school of merchant tailors.

He was known as Dr Joy Adolphus so Rachel was keen to find out about his later scholarship. Only members of the Church of England were permitted at English universities, so Joy went to Leiden in Holland, and Rachel went to the University of Leiden Archives. The trail of Dr Adolphus led to the Prussian town where he later lived with his well-connected Jewish wife, treated Frederick the Great, and wrote a novel. Rachel was able to conclude that her father’s Jewish ancestors were, indeed, smart and adventurous risk-takers.

Rachel Griffiths’ story did not venture into South Australia, and didn’t stay long in the same century as our earliest holdings. However as far as tales of smart, adventurous risk-takers are concerned, you may uncover some similar tales within our collection.

  • For clues about the lives of early migrants prior to their arrival in South Australia, try official assisted passenger lists, various migration schemes, and Royal Adelaide Hospital admissions.
  • For end-of-life records such as Wills, try GRS/1334 Probate files (wills) - Testamentary Causes Jurisdiction, Supreme Court of South Australia; GRG84/9 Succession duty 'Old Act' and 'New Act' files - Commissioner of Inland Revenue and successors; and GRG33 Public Trustee Department series. Many of these records are restricted from general public access for 60-100 years.
  • Registers of various health practitioners were recorded by State Government until the establishment of a national body in 2010. Access conditions vary.
  • While the corporate records of some companies are archived at the State Library, State Records holds a range of Lodged Company Files which were archived as they became defunct or were replaced by a new Company registration. The files may contain lists of shareholders or directors.

State Records does not hold the archives of religious denominations. See either the State Library or the denominations themselves for advice.

If you’re just beginning your family history journey, it’s also worth checking out our webpage on Family History Research at State Records.

If you would like some more information on the above records or have a question about how our collection can help you with your family history research then you can send us an enquiry.

More WDYTYA Season 8 recaps can be found on the State Records blog.

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