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 Everett

Tracing an adventurous aristocrat...

Rupert Everett’s known to enjoy the finer things in life. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that his romp through his family history began with claims of an upper-class stockbroker in Piccadilly. The film star’s mother told him his paternal grandfather, Cyril, had been left by a wealthy father to grow up with two aunts.

So, Rupert started his research with Cyril. A search of the colonial records at The National Archives told him his grandfather had been an Empire builder in Nigeria, eventually taking charge of the busy port of Lagos. However, it seemed he hadn’t taken his family with him, choosing to live alone among the natives he directed.

Delving deeper, Rupert found an even lonelier story. The 1891 Census listed Cyril not with aunts, but as an “inmate” at the Farningham Home for Little Boys in Kent – an orphanage. The home’s Case Book revealed he had been abandoned at just three years old by a seafaring father – a far cry from the money and prestige Rupert had hoped for.

Find clues in certificates
Ordering a birth, marriage or death certificate doesn't just tell you about one ancestor – you can also find revealing details of their parents, including occupations and approximate death dates. Find your forebears in our indexes, then order their certificates.

Cyril's marriage certificate suggested his father Frederick was dead by 1915, giving Rupert a period to focus on. He visited the National Maritime Museum to find out more. A sea service record and a master's certificate showed his great-grandfather riding the waves between China, Australia and the Americas, settling for the longest period in exotic Hong Kong. A description including three tattoos completed a picture of a rebellious seadog.

Tracing Frederick's life forwards showed a further marriage, and a death certificate from 1936 – clearly the family had simply presumed him dead in 1915. Rupert used this information to order his probate records from the Principal Probate Registry. These included a will, in which the sailor left everything to a third companion, with Cyril as a reserve in case she died – clearly he remembered his son, but still considered him second choice.

Track down census strays
It’s not just individual houses that appear in the censuses. The entire population was polled, so you’ll also find ancestors listed in orphanages, workhouses, schools, prisons and anywhere else they might have stayed. Look for these institutions in our records

At this stage, Rupert received news of a long lost relative. He arranged to meet Marguerite, his great-aunt, whose husband had been the son of Frederick and yet another wife. She told him the promiscuous seafarer had come from upper-class roots. This was confirmed by his birth certificate, which described his father as a stockbroker from Piccadilly! Apparently the family story was a generation out.

There was still further scandal to expose, though. Digitised newspapers described a mixed career, which culminated in a fraud case and bankruptcy – a sorry end to a tale of rags and riches.

Find lost money in your family
If you suspect there’s wealth and prestige waiting to be discovered in your tree, we have records to help your search. Try Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage and our other nobility, royalty and heraldry collections

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

WDYTYA? TV Episode on BBC1

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