Brighton spotlighted on Who Do You Think You Are?
It was, in most ways, a very familiar request.
Hi, I’m researching a man who lived in Brighton in the 1880s. Do you have any information in your records that could help?
These are the kinds of emails we receive all the time at Brighton Historical Society. They come from local residents curious about the stories hidden in the walls of their homes, from Brighton retailers searching for historical photos of their shops, from people on the other side of the country striving to join the dots of their family histories. They all share something in common, a desire to connect with the past— which, after all, is what our Society is all about.
The only difference with this email was that it had come from Warner Bros. in Sydney, and the man in question was the ancestor of a mystery celebrity who was to feature in the new season of Who Do You Think You Are?
As luck would have it, we did have some information in our records: some references to names, a few details about the house, an auction flyer, and even – most excitingly – a photo of the celebrity’s three-times-great-grandmother. The photo had come into our collection many years before with no more information than a name handwritten on the back, Dolean Gilmore, but behind that name there lay a wonderful (and scandalous!) story, one that the show was intent on uncovering.
It all came together on a sunny morning in January when our Vice President, Jess Curtain, joined a camera crew at the Royal Brighton Yacht Club to share the puzzle pieces with Dolean’s descendent: the Bondi Vet, Dr Chris Brown.
We won’t tell you what happened next – for that, you’ll need to watch the show! – but it’s an unexpected tale of changing fortunes, a complicated family and a highly determined woman, and we’re delighted that the Society was able to play a small part in bringing it to light.
It’s also a wonderful example of how the simple act of asking a question can enrich and give new meaning to a collection like ours. Dolean’s photo has been in our collection for decades. It’s been catalogued, digitised and carefully stored in an archival sleeve— but until we were approached by Who Do You Think You Are?, we knew nothing about her beyond her name. All this time, she’s been hiding here in plain sight, just waiting for somebody to ask the right question.
And this is true of so many of the queries we get at the Society: the more conversations we have with people, the more we endeavour to help them find what they’re after, the more we end up learning ourselves. Every family history, every house history, every individual like Dolean brings new texture and colour to the rich tapestry of our area’s past.
If you’re curious to learn the full story, episode 4 of Who Do You Think You Are? season 13 is free to watch now on SBS On Demand.
And if you have your own niggling family history questions, we’d love to help! BHS members can access our room for research free of charge; visitors are also welcome to use our resources for a small $10 fee. We can also undertake research for you on request. Let us know what you’re looking for, and we can advise you on what information we might have and whether any research fees might apply.