WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

Find your family’s star stories

It’s exciting watching the stars of Who Do You Think You Are? as they delve into their family history. But it’s not just celebrities who have incredible stories in their past. Discover the TV-worthy tales in your own family tree with our expert advice.

Rupert Penry-Jones

Building an empire

Rupert Penry-Jones set out to discover the truth behind a rumour of Indian blood in his family. He came tantalisingly close to proving this link, but it was the thrilling stories he uncovered along the way that proved truly revealing.

Rupert's adventure began with his maternal grandfather, William Thorne – commander of an Indian Army medical unit in World War II. William's unit records at The National Archives detailed the major role he played at the crucial Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He was responsible for treating over 1,500 casualties, and his work meant hundreds of lives were saved.

Top TipTOP TIP
Service records are usually the most revealing records of war heroes from any period. If members of your family served in World War I, try our two crucial collections, Service Records and Pension Records, 1914-1920.


Delhi DurbarThe military connection continued with the actor's 2x great-grandfather, Theophilus. A service record at the British Library showed the former gardener rose to become a Major in India during the height of the British Raj. He ran state camps organised to celebrate the British Empire, including the Dehli Durbar that marked a visit from King George V.

Theophilus' wife had even deeper roots in India. Her line led back to Thomas Johnstone, who fought for the East India Company during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Rupert travelled to Allahabad in the north of the country to learn more.

Top TipTOP TIP
We have a number of resources to help you trace your colonial forebears. These include a complete register of the East India Company from 1844, and a directory covering the whole country in 1895.


Indian MutinyWhat he found shocked him, as letters written by Thomas spoke of taking treasure from natives and burning villages "for sport", in revenge for the killing of European women and children in the Cawnpore Massacre.

Looking through Thomas' family, Rupert found his mother-in-law listed simply as "Susanna", with no surname. Intrigued by this, he visited her local Christian church to consult its parish registers. Her daughter's baptism record listed her as an "Indo Briton", showing she was of mixed race.

The final step in this journey was Susanna's own baptism entry, which described her mother Elizabeth as a "native woman". For a moment Rupert thought he had found his Indian blood – only to be told it simply meant she lived in the country. There the trail went cold – he had come within touching distance of achieving his aim, but he could go no further.

Top TipTOP TIP
Parish registers are the foundations of any research before 1837, as they provide details of earlier births, marriages and deaths. Check out our growing range of parish registers from around the country


To read our opinions on Rupert's story - and share your thoughts - see our blog

Get started today!

New to family history? To start tracing your ancestors, and uncovering their fascinating stories, follow our simple step-by step guide.

Build your family tree: Our easy-to-use tree builder even gives handy hints as you go, to help you find the right records.

Trace your surname: Just enter your name to discover a wealth of fascinating facts, including the places where it was most popular through history.

Find out more

Keep up-to-date
Make sure you hear about our latest record releases, site news and special offers by signing up to our newsletter.

Ask for help
Chat to thousands of other members, and find answers to your family history questions, on our Message Boards.

Find new relatives
Our Member Connect feature automatically matches you with other members that are researching the same ancestors.

WDYTYA? TV Episode on BBC1

Alan Cumming: Monday 13th September

Explore the military exploits of the thespian's medal-winning maternal grandfather - with a shocking twist. Find out more here

UK TV Series 2010 Celebrity Stories

Bruce Forsyth:
Follow the Strictly Come Dancing host as he travels to America in search of hard evidence about his bigamist great-grandfather.
Find out more here

Rupert Everett:
Discover the shocking truth about the film star's paternal grandfather, and a relative he never knew existed.
Find out more here

Dervla Kirwan:
Examine the Ballykissangel actress’ connections to an Irish revolutionary icon who died for his cause.
Find out more here

Monty Don:
Discover whether the celebrity gardener can unearth a lost fortune in his roots.
Find out more here

Alexander Armstrong
Enjoy a right royal treat as the funnyman strides through a past full of castles and titles.
Find out more here

Jason Donovan
Follow the soap star's mission to learn about a mother he hardly knew.
Find out more here

Hugh Quarshie
Trace the Holby City actor’s journey across Europe and Africa - uncovering a royal connection along the way.
Find out more here

Alan Cumming:
Explore the military exploits of the thespian's medal-winning maternal grandfather - with a shocking twist..
Find out more here