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.

Lisa Kudrow

Life goes on

Lisa Kudrow knew her relatives were among the millions of victims of the Holocaust in Poland. She was determined to learn more about their terrible fate, and pay her respects.

Lisa's father told her about his difficult childhood. His mother Gertrude raised the family on a shoestring after emigrating to New York. He also revealed how a mysterious cousin named Yuri Barudin had visited to tell Gertrude about her parents' death, before disappearing, never to be heard from again.

The actress travelled to her ancestral home, which is now part of Belarus. Voters lists showed her great-grandmother Meri lived in a village called Ilya all her life. However, further documents proved she was not only murdered, but also burned during the Nazi occupation.

Voters lists and censuses provide snapshots of local populations at precise moments in history. We have similar records from the UK and all over the world, including Australia, Canada and the USA

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Lisa visited Ilya with a historian. They saw Meri's old home, met local residents who knew the family, and uncovered the horrible story of what happened to the Jewish population. They were rounded up, marched to the side of a pit, and shot, before being burned where they lay.

After pausing to pay her respects to her murdered forebears, Lisa set off to discover more about Yuri Barudin. She found passenger lists at Ancestry.com that showed a Boleslaw Barudin travelling to New York. He then returned to Gdynia in Poland – Lisa suspected this person was her relative, so she followed him there.

Our passenger lists let you follow your ancestors' journeys all over the globe. Track your immigrant forebears with the UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960, and find those who travelled overseas in records from abroad

At the State Archives, the Friends star was delighted to learn that not only were Boleslaw and Yuri the same person, but this man had survived to marry and start a family. The next discovery was even more exciting – a local phone book suggested he was still alive, and provided a number. Lisa called, and found he was still there!

This distressing tale had a happy ending, as she was able to meet her long lost cousin, and hear how he had escaped the killing in Poland by signing up to the Russian Army – planning all along to defect to the Polish forces. Lisa even set up a video chat between her Yuri and her father – the first time they had spoken in more than 60 years.

Phone books are fantastic resources for tracking down your long lost cousins. See who you can find in our exclusive British Phone Books, 1880-1984

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