17 March 2010

Celebrity Genealogy: Kilner as Surname

Here in the U.S., perhaps as part of a media blitz in the run-up to the national census, there's suddenly a lot of shows about genealogy on the tube. One of them, Who Do You Think You Are, is a poor spinoff of its long-running British cousin of the same name. The U.S. version is prone to sappy musical montages and weepy-eyed revelations, where the U.K. version tends toward ironic self-mocking and witty asides -- much more to my tastes, anyway.

So while I was delving around, speculating about what hero among men might have borne the last name of Kilner who might have been so awe-inspiring as to cause generations of Newmans to name their sons after him, I was delighted to find an episode on the BBC edition of WDYTYA featuring Jeremy Clarkson, a host on the automobile enthusiasts programme, "Top Gear," as he explores the Kilner heritage on his mother's side.

As a welcome respite from the unrelieved monotony of the generation after generation of farm laborers on his father's side, Clarkson decides to look at John Kilner, a 19th century industrialist, who was a very successful glass manufacturer. He invented the Kilner Jar, the UK equivalent of the Mason jar, used for preserving food. His company produced thousands of glass products in Yorkshire, which, by the end of the 19th century, they were shipping worldwide, employing thousands. They also belched enough smoke from their furnaces (kilns, actually), that they became the subject of one the earliest environmental suits in Britain.

Harking back to a previous post where we pondered on the possible significance of Kilner Newman (of the Bronx) naming one of his children John Henry, I found someone on the message boards who asserts that John Kilner the glass maker (or perhaps his ancestor) was actually John Henry Kilner, unfortunately without providing dates, places, wills, census records or any of that other minutiae which keeps us happy.

The episode is available on YouTube. It's about as much fun as a TV show on genealogy is likely to get, even if it doesn't lead to any useful leads in our hunt for the Ur-Kilner. My son is a huge fan of Top Gear, and Jeremy Clarkson in particular, who's funny and smart, albeit curmudgeonly and anti-environmentalist. Maybe his association with fast cars and ironic humor will give some vindication to my drab, boring and tedious hobby of genealogy.

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