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.

Alexander Armstrong

Tracing royal roots

Alexander Armstrong knew his family was “posh”. However, he had no idea how prestigious his roots really are, until he started his very own Who Do You Think You Are? quest.

Alexander’s mother comes from the wealthy McCausland family. The comedian looked up the name in the directory Burke’s Landed Gentry, and found he was listed as the latest descendant. He traced the line back to Mary Boughton, who was a lady-in-waiting to George III’s queen.

You can trace your own aristocratic roots with a number of Burke’s famous directories at our site. Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage lists true noblemen, while Burke’s Commoners is more prestigious than it sounds, detailing wealthy landowners.

Shropshire Archives’ records revealed how Mary’s first son, Edward, inherited a title and acres of land after his cousin’s suspicious death. Alexander visited the family home, Downton Hall, to learn more. Although Edward wasn’t implicated in the murder, he did turn out to be a scoundrel. His will showed he prevented his brother – Alexander’s 5x great-grandfather – from becoming a lord by virtually disinheriting him.

Because of the high value of its contents, Edward Boughton’s will would have been proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. We have various indexes for the Court covering different periods, to help you trace your ancestors’ records. For later wills, the best resource is our new National Probate Calendar.

Badmington House

Other forebears fared better. A newspaper article listed Mary as the great-granddaughter of Henry Somerset, the first Duke of Beaufort, who lived at the famous Badminton House. Henry’s father was Edward Somerset, who lived at Raglan Castle and bankrolled King Charles I during the 17th-century Civil War.

Alexander delved deeper into Edward’s life, and found an unfortunate story. His 10x great-grandfather suffered an embarrassing military defeat, before attempting a secret mission to Ireland – and getting caught. The King was forced to disown him, and he was arrested for treason.

Edward SomersetThankfully, Edward’s later life was happier, as he turned to invention. A trip to the Science Museum revealed he created a revolutionary steam engine, 200 years before the Industrial Revolution. Victorian scientists even exhumed his body to try to learn more.

Finally, Alexander visited the College of Arms to see how far back he could trace his lineage. He was in for a shock. The Heralds’ records showed Edward Somerset was a direct descendant of King Edward III. Taking that line further back, Alexander found his 27x great-grandfather was none other than William the Conqueror!

Heralds visited families to record their entitlement to coats of arms. Their records include detailed pedigrees, so they can reveal huge chunks of your family tree. You’ll find several heraldry collections in our Stories, Memories & Histories section.

To read our opinions on Alexander'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

Rupert Penry-Jones:
Delve into the TV heart-throb’s Indian roots, as he traces his family through the time of the Raj.
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