Are there any skeletons in your closet?

Did you see last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? with Lisa Kudrow? It was so moving. I really felt for her as she discovered the awful truth about what had happened to some of her ancestors – but there were some happy moments, too, as she was reunited with long lost rellies.

Tracing your family tree is such an emotional voyage – I’m speaking from experience. I’ve traced my family back to the 15th century on my dad’s side and the 19th on my mum’s. It took a couple of years, lots of patience and several subscriptions to the brilliant Genes Reunited, where I found some living family who helped point me in the right direction, and I've encountered so many sad stories – but some uplifting ones (and some shocking ones), too.

If you’re thinking about tracing your tree, here are my top 5 tips:

1.   It sounds obvious, but the best place to start is in the present. Write down everything you know about your parents, their parents and your uncles and aunts, going as far back as you possibly can, and ask any living relatives to help.

2. Start searching the birth, marriage and death records for your ancestors. Work backwards – if you have your grandmother’s birth certificate, for example, this will list her mother’s name and place of birth, which will help you to find your grandparents’ marriage certificate, and your great grandparents names, and so on.

3. Use the censuses to help you verify your ancestors’ details – this will often throw up interesting info (and possible skeletons).

4. You can find out if you have any war heroes in your family – plus details of where your ancestors may have fought and lost their lives – on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

5. Finally, don’t forget that many of our ancestors travelled frequently, so if an ancestor ‘goes missing’ then a good place to look is the passenger lists, emigration and immigration records.

written by Liz Jarvis