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.

Susan Sarandon

So near and yet so far

The Hollywood star's family history flame was ignited by questions about her grandmother, Anita, who abandoned Susan's mother when she was just two. Mum had always been reluctant to discuss Anita, so Susan was delighted when she revealed that she thought her mother had been a showgirl in New York.

Susan's next meeting was with Megan Smolenyak of Ancestry.com. Megan took her through birth and marriage certificates and census records, which painted a picture of a difficult childhood in poverty-stricken surroundings. Anita's mother had died when she was just 12, and just one year later, already carrying a child herself, Susan's grandmother had got married.

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The records also showed that Anita's parents were Italian immigrants. So, Susan flew to Italy, and used church records to trace her lineage further. She was amazed to find that her family was listed back through ten generations, as far as a Michele Rigali born in 1640.

Church registers
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Returning to her grandmother's trail, Susan was shocked to discover a marriage license that suggested Anita was a bigamist. This second marriage didn't last long either. Unsure of what surname her grandmother was using, Susan used her birth date to locate a death certificate for an Anita Fiorentino. She then traced an obituary, which confirmed she'd found the right person.

Certificate links
Once you’ve found one record of an ancestor, you can use its details to track down further information. For example, a date of birth will help you narrow down the results in our death indexes.

Incredibly, it turns out Anita was living just an hour away from her famous granddaughter with a third husband, Dominic. Susan visited the neighbourhood, and even met Dominic's nieces. They shared pictures of the Anita they knew, which showed just how similar she was to Susan – a remarkable connection to a relative she never knew.


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