Discovering one's past can be intriguing, enlightening and I daresay in some cases unsettling.

Some years back a distant relly living in Australia had begun assembling a family tree of sorts, which was gradually added to by those she contacted who put together what they could in terms of adding branches, even twigs, to that tree.

Particularly the very early stuff is not so easy to unlock given much of it emanates from now distant lands.

Everyone comes from somewhere, but going back to that somewhere to collect the names and events which led to one standing where one is now standing is not an easy path to take.


I found it daunting enough about a decade ago trying to piece together my late father's military history but was assisted by virtue of the fact that through the RSA I was able to make contact with one of his old battalion mates as well as the battalion's padre.

I would not have been able to glean such first-hand memories if I were to embark on trying to unearth personal accounts of a grandfather or grandmother.

There are however agencies and institutes and deeply cellared rooms of research and history which can and will assist in the search of new or unknown branches to a family tree.

Many of those who served in WWI and WWII kept notebooks and service logbooks which prove invaluable in pinpointing where they were, and when and what they were involved in.

My dad also snapped a few photos in Egypt and, after the main stoush was over, what was then Yugoslavia, although none from the front line of course.

When you're steering a Sherman tank away from incoming fire you don't pull over to get a quick snap of the half-wrecked old church in the distance.

But in civvy life very few people bother, or indeed bothered, to keep detailed diaries, and I daresay going back to the 18th and 19th century stages of family evolution a large number were probably unable to write anyway, or felt the need to jot down daily events even if they could.

So what words and snippets my distant cousin was able to come up with from the early days were valuable, although didn't fill in all the details.

But the tree did show that my ancestors had lived in Ireland and some had shifted across to the English coast there were some indications that they were asked to ... sort of.

And then some Spanish sailors apparently sailed on to the scene so we have a touch of Spanish heritage there.

Of course, our early ones arrived here by sailing ship and the voyage took months, and there's one intriguing note within the old family history as it mentions "Granny Spence enjoys a drink".

They probably ran out of rum by Fremantle.

Digging into the past was what drove the creation of the British series Who Do You Think You Are? and such luminaries at Griff Rhys-Jones, Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley have been subjects for it, and inevitably surprised subjects as their family trees were debarked.

The American industry also picked up the idea and has delved into the ancestry of people such as Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Broderick and Susan Sarandon.

And now, along those lines, Prime has picked it up with a documentary titled Shaun Johnson: Across the Mekong.

The Kiwi and Warriors rugby league hard charger goes on a journey to discover his Laotian roots, and it does, indeed, become an interesting learning curve.

Shaun Johnson: Across the Mekong, Prime at 9.30pm Saturday: Shaun arrived in Laos last December with his three brothers, his dad and his mum, a Laotian.

She fled the country for a better life and found that in New Zealand, and the lads were raised as Kiwis with little knowledge of their Laotian heritage - until this remarkable visit where there emerged something of a homecoming as there were plenty of colourful reunions to embrace and enjoy.


Fine trio of movies approaching ...

Babe, Prime at 7.30pm Friday: A fine comedic union between the filmmaking rooms of Australia and the US which was, rightly, a big hit when it emerged.

Mind you, how could they have gone wrong when the star character of the title was a cute little piggy.

A piggy who had been raised by sheepdogs and who learned to herd sheep ... to the point where the little oinker becomes a competitive star at it.

James Cromwell is the farmer, and at the time I figured he was an Aussie actor, but he's American. Although Magda Szubanski (his on-screen missus) is very much an Aussie.

They work so well together ... and the piggy's pretty darn flash as well.

Shaun of the Dead, Maori TV at 8.30pm Friday: Another great comedy, but with only one flaw.

It starts an hour into Babe over on Prime but hey, they're both available on DVD or online somewhere out there.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost really sparked as another great comedy duo and both share a unique talent - startling facial expressions when required.

Everything starts out just dandy as the lads enjoy a night out at the pub but things just grow big-time on the bizarre scale as zombies begin walking the streets ... looking for people to eat. Just another night in the big city.

The Trip, Maori TV at 8.40pm Saturday: On the subject of fine pairings of smilemakers, here we have Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon who are, it has to be said, exceptional at their craft.

They team up here as a food critic and his mate who embark on a tour of various eating spots across England, and the situations are superb.

The conversations are also superb as they discuss and argue about fine food, and life in general.

It is so casually yet smartly done you end up wrapped in their escapade ... like a fly on the wall catching it all.