DIGGING up our past almost seems to be a national obsession at times with programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are achieving regular viewing figures of around six million.

Some years ago my sister got on to me about our past, and in particular our mother. We knew virtually nothing about her except she met our dad and married him in 1940. We did know she was born in 1915 in Deal, Kent and she had said her mother died when she was born. I sent off for a copy of her birth certificate and tried to do some research, but with not a great deal of success.

One day I was out walking with a friend and he told me he had signed up to a course run by a history group tracing his family tree. He persuaded me to sign up. With the help of the class tutor I found out a great deal. I was able to get back to 1832 and found a long list of relations I never knew existed,

At present I am stalled as I now need to visit the archives at Canterbury Cathedral and the area where she was born and brought up. A good excuse for a few days holiday, if one was needed.

So now I have been there, done that, what did I learn from it all? Well anyone embarking on tracing their ancestors does need to be aware of the pitfalls. The many hours you can be sat staring at a screen, thinking “Whose bright idea was this?” When you don’t make any progress, or find the trail suddenly goes cold, or you’ve got something wrong. I was told of someone researching at the library who kept running up the road to the register office for a copy of some certificates or other, only to find having spent a lot of money that she’d got the wrong person.

Don’t be disheartened. The TV programme has been through exactly the same thing, except they don’t show that bit.

The next problem is what is called ‘Skeleton in the Cupboard Syndrome’. You will almost certainly come upon some dreaded family scandal or secret. In my case I found out my grandmother did not die in childbirth, as my mother had told my sister. She actually died in 1974 - two years before my mother. When I related this to my sister it caused not only distress but an argument. She cannot accept her mother may not have told her the truth.

If I have not put you off tracing your ancestors, the first thing to do is start talking to your relatives; get them to dig out all the bits of paper they have accumulated over the years. Birth, death and marriage certificates, old photographs, school reports etc. If nothing else you will get rid of some clutter and it hopefully provide you with lots of useful information that you’re going to need.

Ask them about great aunt Mabel or cousin Charles. They might actually enjoy relating some long lost secrets and scandals. Remember the old joke? He was always frank and earnest - Frank in Paris and Ernest in London. One bonus is you can spend many happy hours reminiscing about times gone by and have a laugh at all those black and white fuzzy photos with the clothes and hairstyles.

Family history is about far more than finding out when someone was born or died, it is an insight into a bygone era. It can also be a lot of fun.