Jonnie Peacock caught himself by surprise as he broke down in tears after making a heartbreaking discovery about his family on BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?
The Paralympic hero, 25, was told how his four times great-grandmother Louisa Voss was a single woman who had four illegitimate children.
She spent time working as an agricultural labourer, as part of a controversial kind of gang whose leaders were known to whip their charges.
Police documents showed that in 1841, she was branded a "bad character" for “excessive noise and fornication” in the village of Warboys, Cambs.
Louisa, related to Jonnie on his dad’s side, spent a couple of months in a workhouse in nearby St Ives, but left with two of her children in 1853.
He was told that she was a strong character because she had testified in court against two men who had wronged her.
Jonnie, a Paralympic gold medallist in the men’s 100 metres in 2012 and 2016, met historian Nicola Verdon in Warboys parish church to find out more about Louisa.
She showed him something that touched a nerve.
After showing him various certificates, including one for a marriage in that very church, Nicola presented Jonnie with Louisa’s death certificate from 1855.
He said: “So this is her death certificate? She died of breast cancer?
“It’s weird, it’s sad, it’s like it has ended. But she…"
He continued: “I don’t know why I’m getting emotional. I’m getting… I didn’t get emotional before. I don’t know why.”
Nicola concluded that Louisa was "a woman who didn’t want to be put down by anybody".
Jonnie, a former Strictly Come Dancing contestant, replied: “No, and I don’t know if I draw comparisons to almost myself in that she’s quite fiery and she’s very strong willed."
Addressing his tears, Jonnie admitted: “I really didn’t expect that."
He later reflected on his fidnings, saying: “When I first learned about Louisa having four illegitimate children, you just think she’s a young woman who’s just a bit wild.
“But then you learn more about her and you learn she was involved in this gang.
“She lived a really tough life. She always seemed to come back, you know, whatever she did, she always seemed to come back and she wasn’t afraid of getting in men’s faces.
“And back in the 1850s, you know, standing up to men was no mean feat. She was not afraid. You know, she took two men to court. She was before her time, really."
- Who Do You Think You Are? is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer now.
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