Could You Have Secret Relatives?

Could You Have Secret Relatives?

When Michelle Obama was genetically linked to Joan Tribbon - a white distant cousin living in Alabama - after a two year study of the First Lady's DNA, it got us questioning how much we really know about our past.

While most of us can track our family trees quite far, there is always a risk that certain individuals have been missed or even hidden from official records.

Speaking to HuffPost Lifestyle Dr Nick Barratt, founder of Family History Show and head of Sticks Research Agency, explained: "It is very easy for people to drop out of history. A surname can go within a couple of generations if only daughters were born; and younger sons of younger sons tended not to receive money, fame, or titles – making it more likely they will become lost amongst the general population.

"Illegitimacy is another cause – many connections to royalty or aristocracy come through children born out of wedlock."

We're told that the best way to find hidden relatives is through a "gateway ancestor" who can unlock the potential secrets of our past.

"Gateway ancestors are people who are prominent in the past and therefore appear in records; or are sufficiently well connected as to appear in authenticated family trees and pedigrees from the gentry," Dr Barratt explains.

After the initial connection has been made, hidden family members can often be found by going through records in the public domain - such as census returns, phone number listings and electoral registers.

A few years ago, appearing on BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? Mayor of London Boris Johnson was shocked to discover that he was related to the British royal family.

"If you had told me that I was related to George II, I would have thought you were absolutely crackers," he told the programme.

"I think most of us have scandalous or colourful ancestors lurking in the family tree," Dr Barratt added, explaining that his own grandfather was a Soviet spy.

"In one sense, anyone from the same ethnic group and rough geographical area will be connected with you at some level, given that we’re an island people and movement around the UK is still only a modern phenomenon."

We can't wait to get cracking.