Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Who Do You Think You Are: Hugh Quarshie

Tonight BBC 1 broadcast the Hugh Quarshie episode of the Who Do You Think You Are series 7. It was my privilege to contribute to the programme in several ways, advising the team, as well as providing materials and contacts. For me the story was not new. Already in 1995, as part of a research project into the Dutch historical presence in Ghana, I visited the Kamerling House in Elmina and Abii village. I met several of the family members and was impressed by their knowledge of their family history.

On my return home,I contacted Eric Kamerling, whom I had known for many years as a fellow genealogist. He showed me the photos and papers from Ghana and told me the story of his great-grand-uncle Pieter Martinus Johannes Kamerling, who went to Africa and had a family there. It is a thrilling story and it was very nice to relive and re-tell it with Hugh and the Wall-to-Wall production team.

Obviously, as is the case with all television documentaries, the story is bigger than the small screen allows for. Additional info on some of the stars from the programme is available in the Gold Coast Data Base. Work on a more complete publication is in progress but requires additional research, both in The Netherlands and Ghana.

One issue brought up in the programme can be addressed here already.

In the episode one of the mysteries is the name of Pieter Kamerling's wife. In family tradition she is called Efua Yenkye (pronounced 'Yentshee'; mis-spelled on the family tree as 'Jensch'). In the Dutch documents she is called Ellen van der Spek, and even signs a document with that name. On screen I say that in my opinion the two ladies are one and the same. It now turns out from new evidence that Efua Yenkye (aka Janet van der Spek) was Pieter's first wife in Ghana. He fell out with her over money and other matters and Janet took Pieter to court over the dispute. It meant the end of that relationship. About a year later he was married to Ellen, in all probability Janet's sister, with whom - as the programme showed so vividly - he had a loving relationship that survived their separation.

Photo's courtesy of Eric Kamerling, Vorden (NL)


  1. Interesting program. As a Sierra Leone Creole I find Mr. Quarshie's story intriguing. My own great grandfather was a Gold Coast Bruce who claimed descent from Robert Bruce.

  2. I just came across this blog while searching on Hugh Quarshie's WDYTYA episode. This story was fascinating. I have a similar story. However, due to the legal or illegal standing of enslaved Africans in the U.S. all the father of my ancestor could do was emanicpate his children and hope that his executor carrieid out his wishes. Fortunately, in the case of my ancestor he did. If you would like to read their amazing story you can visit, http://thefamilygriot.blogspot.com

  3. Loved this programme and as the daughter of Sierra leone parents born and raised in Liverpool and a dutch surname I was intrigued!

    1. May a=I ask what surname? As yet I have not found any Dutch descendants in Sierra Leone, so I am intrigued too.

  4. Serrie leonse have no Dutch roots only Ghana and south africaand caribbean americas