This Sunday, Ant and Dec are taking us on a DNA journey, as they look into their surprising past in a new ITV documentary series.
But Ant and Dec aren’t the only ones tracking down their long lost relatives. Today we’re hearing from Margaret Abbotts, who surprisingly inherited a life-changing quarter of a million pounds from her long-lost sister.
Margaret is here alongside family historian forensic genealogist and Founder of Finders International , Danny Curran, who’ll be sharing his advice for tracing your own family tree.
Danny's tips on tracing a lost relative
Basic level: The first basic step to take is to talk to the oldest relatives in your family. We don’t ask them as many questions as we should anyway. Ask them, where they’ve lived? What there occupation was? Who in the family they’ve met and for any family stories? All this will help build a picture of the social, as well as factual, history. These are vital bits of information that you can only get from conversation. It’s worth making a note of the answers to then pass on to others in the family for later reference. Get as much from them to sketch out a family tree.
Factual documents: Next try to back up anecdotal evidence with facts. You should search for birth, marriage and death records. You can get factual information from many online sites with one of the best being ancestry.com. You can find out where a person was born and if you buy the document you can see their father’s occupation and the address the family lived at. You can then use census records to find out more about where they lived and you build a factual picture of their lives.
Basic DNA: You can also do a basic DNA tests. There are many online kits or tests whereby you can swab your DNA and send it to a lab to be tested for your biological heritage and ancestry. However, this is non-specific and very general. It doesn’t tell you your specific relatives (for example ‘Bob from Poland in 1890’) but it will tell you if you have a percentage of a particular heritage based on your eye colour or other characteristics derived from the DNA.
Note: Doctors have recently been quoted telling people not to buy DNA tests for Christmas due to their lack of reliability. It’s also worth noting that there are certain data risks when it comes to sending out your DNA and intimate information.
Analytical DNA testing: Analytical DNA testing can be a lot more thorough. If someone had died recently and you thought you were related you might be able to find that out via DNA research. You can’t take DNA from a deceased person's house because of possible contamination but you can, under the right circumstances and with legal permission, take the DNA of a deceased person's bones and test the results. We had a recent case of a man potentially inheriting a $1 million estate and to find out if he was in fact the heir we obtained an exhumation order to enable a DNA test.
Documents that can't be traced due to war: Internationally, there can be issues with tracking down records especially because of wars. The Second World War can really affect tracking down ancestors when we do German or Polish cases. The Nazis burnt down many record offices and so there is lots of information missing.
Transcribing issues: Another problem is transcription online. In 2006 online records were restricted for UK and Wales because of the privacy of data policy. So to find information post 2006 we now have to go to a library as information is not available online. Throughout history, transcribing has been a problem. Sometimes the original information has been typed out wrongly with misspelling or incorrect dates being used. Many people also change their names or they use nicknames - these are all issues we have to combat.