Every family is unique, and so are our services
Ancestral Footsteps provides comprehensive personalised family history research and tours. We dig deep into your family’s past to place your ancestors in the social and historical context of the times. We help you understand where they lived, worked and loved to create a compelling narrative that may resonate with the way you live today or come as a complete surprise.
Our team worked on the BBC award-winning series of Who Do You Think You Are? giving us a real eye for spotting a great story, investigating it to the full and then bringing it to life. We also have an unrivalled international contacts book, as well as the experience and expertise to take on challenging projects.
We help you find your roots wherever in the world they are and have researched stories for clients across Europe, the Americas, Africa, Australasia and Asia. If you cannot find records online that doesn’t mean they do not exist. We have a trusted network of researchers on the ground who can visit local archives across the world.
We don’t just trace the names and dates on your family tree; our researchers follow your story to track down all the relevant documents that bring your ancestors to life. We then present our findings to you in a detailed research portfolio including a 30-page illustrated book, family tree and set of documents. You then have the option to visit some of the places associated with your family in the company of one of our expert researchers.
Ancestral Footsteps will leave you with a deeper understanding of your family’s story, and a new emotional connection to the past as you discover your place in history.
‘Ancestral Footsteps goes far beyond a family’s past on a genealogical quest filled with intrigue, adventure and enlightenment’
Robb Report magazine
‘The Magical Ancestry tour’
‘The Adventure of a Lifetime’
The New York Times Style Magazine gift guide
‘All I want for Christmas is … an Ancestral Footsteps package’
Guardian Weekend magazine
‘Ancestral Footsteps combine in-depth genealogical research with treasure-hunt-like journeys that reveal their findings, clue by clue, along the way’
Wall Street Journal
How it works
You choose your Ancestral Footsteps package
You tell us what or who you want us to investigate and what you already know about your ancestry
We consult as many sources as possible to find fascinating new material and place your family in the historical context of the times
We present you with your research portfolio of illustrated book, family tree, and all your documents
You then have the option of a personalised tour built around your research
Are you looking for a unique and once-in-a-lifetime gift for someone special?
An Ancestral Footsteps Research or Tour package is an original and thoughtful present for anyone curious about their past with a beautiful gift voucher for the recipient
‘Ancestral Footsteps is a miracle worker’
Art, Washington DC, USA
‘There was a revelation every decade of the way! Fantastic’
Tony, Melbourne, Australia
‘My Ancestral Footsteps weekend was a gift from work colleagues and one of the best presents I have ever received’
Michelle, Berkshire, England
‘The 5-day ancestral voyage of discovery was terrific … not knowing where you were off to next keeps you enthralled’
Nic, Cape Town, South Africa
‘You have managed to completely change my life during the last few days. I have never felt I actually belonged anywhere and had always been searching for my roots … now I feel complete for the first time’
Peter, Sussex, England
Our research packages include in-depth genealogical and historical research into your chosen ancestor or family line, which we present to you in a beautifully designed and detailed portfolio that will be an heirloom for future generations. The portfolio includes a 30-page book, your family tree and copies of all your documents.
You start by choosing who or what you want to know about. It may be that you want to trace your family as far back in time as possible, you may have a mystery that we could solve or an intriguing legend about your family’s past. Alternatively, you may have a very specific request about the war career of just one ancestor or want to trace a missing relative. You may even need help verifying, archiving, curating and telling the story behind existing photos and documents.
All of our packages include at least 30 hours of dedicated research plus editing, design and writing services. How our time is spent largely depends on the nature of our investigation – if your family is from the UK then you can expect a comprehensive selection of documents and revelations, if your family is from a far flung corner of say, Eastern Europe or Asia then more time may be spent on translations and sending a researcher to a remote archive.
We can also build a tour based on our findings accompanied by one of our in-house researchers who plans your itinerary, negotiates access to the places linked to your ancestors and tells you your story in situ with plenty of time to ask questions and discuss our findings. We can even reveal our findings on the tour itself by laying a trail of clues and documents that you follow throughout your trip.
- Comprehensive research package on your family history
- Preliminary interviews with family members
- All our findings beautifully presented to you in a 30-page illustrated hardback book
- Electronic copies of your family tree and all your documents
- Price £2,950 (includes at least 30 hours of research)
Or as above with 60-page illustrated book and including at least 60 hours of research. Price £4,900
- Take your Ancestral Footsteps research one step further with a fully-guided trip of a lifetime to discover the places your ancestors lived and worked, accompanied by one our in-house researchers
- Prices from £500 a day for your Ancestral Footsteps researcher and guide plus additional expenses, such as on the ground transport, to be agreed in advance. Quotes all depend on tour location and complexity
- Visits: we can visit you at home either to discuss the project and review existing documents or to present our findings to your family
- Oral histories: we can visit your home to interview family members about their lives and provide a professionally edited audio or film recording
- Films: we can make a short film of our ancestral findings to include moving archive and images
- Prices on enquiry
‘Remote curiosity was quickly overtaken by a cluedo-style chase as we galloped through history’
Mike & Caroline, Dubai
‘There were so many treasures on the trip that it's hard to pick out just one favorite highlight’
Anne & Eddie, Ohio, USA
‘The team amazed me with the depth of their findings … everyone should take this trip of a lifetime’
Jo, Cambridge, England
‘My Who Do You Think You Are? type tour totally blew me away! It’s incredible to see how traits and patterns are passed through generations. A remarkable experience’
John, Perth, Australia
‘It was the best trip of my life. The most amazing thing was having my family come to life and that many generations from now, our family will know where they came from. I have my story and I will treasure it always’
Lori, Texas, USA
Sue Hills, Ancestral Footsteps’ founder, is a veteran producer and director on the international hit BBC family history series, Who Do You Think You Are? While filming all over the world with celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Barbara Windsor and Jerry Springer and helping to give them a fascinating insight into their past, Sue realised she could provide a similar experience for a wider audience. She developed the ‘Ancestral Footsteps’ concept of bespoke family history research packages and tours. Founded in 2008, and based in the UK, Ancestral Footsteps is proud to be the world’s first international ancestral tour company.
Sue’s dedicated team is largely made up of former TV researchers and producers. They have an eye for a story, tenacious research skills, and a wealth of experience and make excellent travelling companions. The Ancestral Footsteps team also boasts an unrivalled international contacts book, to help bring your family’s story to life wherever it leads us.
Sue combines running Ancestral Footsteps with her TV directing commitments. Recent assignments included Happy 100th Birthday Vera Lynn, Danny Dyer’s Right Royal Family and Gary Lineker: My Grandad’s War.
- What is the difference between family history and genealogy?To fully understand your ancestry we need to draw on the techniques of both genealogical and family history research. Genealogy traces the names, dates and relationships between your ancestors in order to construct your lineage. In contrast, family history will help you step into the shoes of your forebears and understand the reality of their lives and experience. Ancestral Footsteps’ interests lie in family history rather than straight genealogy. We work with excellent genealogists to build our clients’ family trees, but our research also goes beyond the family tree, sourcing the documents, photographic material and experts to bring your history alive.
- How much information do I need to give you for you to begin your research?The more information you can give us about your family at the start of our research, the greater chance we have of finding interesting new leads rather than spending research time on what is already known. If very little is known, don’t despair: for ancestors in the UK or in much of Western Europe we can usually start research with as little information as a name, date and place of birth. For ancestors from further afield, for instance in Eastern Europe or Asia, we may need to gather information on your wider family rather than just your direct ancestors. Other information that is useful is contacts for relatives in the wider family as they could have interesting insights. And any ancestor photos are a welcome bonus for the team so we can see the faces of those we are researching, plus they also greatly enhance your book.
- What type of sources do you use in your research?
We consult as many sources as possible to find new material such as court reports, land records, pre-nuptial contracts, poor law books, passports, passenger lists, naturalisation papers, military records, census returns, newspaper articles, prison photos, school reports, tax papers, rent books, patents, maps… then we place your family in the historical and social context of the times.
- Broadly speaking, what does 30 hours of research get me?
How our time is spent largely depends on the nature of our investigation – if your family is from the UK then you can expect a comprehensive selection of documents, if your family is from further afield then more time may be spent on translations and sending a researcher to a remote archive.
We would probably advise selecting the 60-hour package if you wish to have more than one branch of your family investigated or have a complex international history. We can discuss this with you when you contact us.
- What happens if you don’t find anything?We have never yet researched a family with no results. Every family has a story, and even in far-flung countries there are usually new findings to be made. Moreover, if we ever did find it impossible to uncover information from one branch of your family then we would agree with you to focus on another branch.
- How long should I allow between engaging your services and receiving my research portfolio?It is best to allow at least three months for our research in Britain and at least four months if your ancestry lies further afield. Time is spent assigning the best researchers to your project, and engaging the services of our excellent local researchers who are often in high demand. We may also have to wait for documents to arrive by post before starting the next stage of our research.
- What does an Ancestral Footsteps illustrated book include?The book is the central part of your research portfolio and where we tell the story of your family. It is fully illustrated with visual material we find such as ancestral documents and maps and other research sources as mentioned above, as well as relevant photographs. Book topics for clients have included: From Holland to Michigan, the story of the Nyland family; The Hays, a family of entrepreneurs; Grandad Alec’s Second World War; The Forrest family: from Scotland to England; The mystery of Reginald de la Mote; The St. John family, our West Indian ancestry; The Brown family: humble origins in Tudor England. If you wish to see sample pages showing the type of content and layout you might find in one of our books then please email us to request this. Please note that we can provide additional copies of your illustrated book for other family members.
- Tell me more about your gift service?
The majority of our packages, whether research or tours, are gifts to a loved one, whether from one spouse to another or from children to a parent for a ‘big’ birthday or wedding anniversary. 50th birthdays are currently very popular, as are leaving presents for work colleagues. We offer beautiful gift vouchers for any of our services.
- I have Jewish ancestry and believe all records from their hometown were destroyed. Can you help?It is a common misconception that if records are not available online then they do not exist. They often do, but in local archives. Also, while many records were destroyed in the Second World War, many do survive. Some of our most rewarding research and tours have been for Jewish families, where we have started with little information and been able to reveal so much in our research portfolio or on the tour. Past tours have included visits to graves, mikvahs, former homes, synagogues and workplaces, all personal to the family.
- I was always told I was related to royalty. Can you confirm this?We will investigate all sorts of family stories, though often your lineage may not be what you expect. The reality of your family history may be quite different to the legends but that does not mean it is any the less interesting.
- I am adopted. Can you trace my birth family?You need to first contact social services in order to learn your birth mother’s name and date of birth and secure your adoption records but once you have details of your parent(s) we can then trace your birth family’s ancestry. Several of our team have worked on Long Lost Family and are used to conducting very sensitive research. We memorably helped a client trace his birth family members, who had been looking for him since the 1970s, and were able to give him a locket his mother always wanted him to have.
- Do you also research houses as well as people?Yes. We have researched the history of houses (and gardens) for clients both in the UK and abroad and again they made wonderful gifts. Please enquire for more information.
- I have got an old box of photos and documents. Could you come to my home to help me make sense of them?Yes. We have often done this for clients and then compiled them into a book.
- Once you have conducted our research would you always advise us to take it one step further and go on a tour?
This will depend entirely on what we discover, where your family come from and what you know already. Although the research portfolio is fascinating and informative in its own right there is something very special about following your ancestors’ footsteps and forming a real emotional connection with them.
We may discover a particularly interesting incident or place involving a particular ancestor and may give you the option of revealing our findings on a one-day tour. (For example, we took one family to Brussels to visit the shop where the family ribbon business was located in the 1800s, and took another client to HMS Victory to reveal that her ancestor was involved in a court martial there). It may be that you feel your whole story could lend itself to a weekend or 5-day tour, particularly if your ancestry is abroad and entirely unknown to you. We took one extended family to Belarus and Hungary to see family homes and graves the family assumed had been obliterated during the war. Please see our client tour photos and testimonials on our website for more examples.
- Do you really go anywhere in the world?Over the years Ancestral Footsteps has led families back to their roots in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine & North Africa. Through our Who Do You Think You Are? documentary work, members of our team have researched families in the Americas, Africa, Australasia and Asia. We will of course not travel to parts of the world that are deemed dangerous by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. What differentiates us from other ancestral companies is that they tend to be one country-focused and offer more general genealogical tours in, say, Ireland or Germany, as opposed to highly personal tours. What makes Ancestral Footsteps different is that we design tours that are entirely led by your family documents.
- What type of tours do you do?If you know very little about your family history, you can enjoy one of our ‘mystery tours’ with a journey of revelation. We will guide you to uncover the story as you travel, with each new document or encounter giving clues to the next step back in time. If you know your ancestors’ names and some information but want to develop your understanding of the family, your tour can be a journey of exploration. Guided visits to relevant locations and a wealth of social and historical detail will help to ‘colour in’ your ancestors’ stories, and our research will aim to find surprising revelations in documents such as newspaper articles, court reports, wills and photographs. You may have one ancestor whose life you want to commemorate and investigate, perhaps because they served in the forces, were victims of persecution, helped make history or achieved glory as an athlete or artist. A tour of commemoration can help you sort fact from fiction, honour your ancestor’s life, and take you to the heart of their story.
- What does the Ancestral Footsteps researcher and guide do on the tour?Your dedicated personal researcher and guide will be there on your tour to ensure you get the most out of your experience. Your researcher will already be immersed in your family history and will help you get to know the people behind the names and dates, by exploring your ancestors’ lives and the day-to-day challenges they faced. He or she will take charge of your daily schedule to personally facilitate all the meetings and visits that will help you experience your ancestors' stories. We also recommend our researchers do a recce. This is a preparatory trip (sometimes called a ‘scoping mission’ in the US) done in advance of your tour. A thorough recce helps us to ensure the smooth running of your schedule and lets us arrange special access to family locations, talk through our findings with local experts, visit local archives, and check out places of relevant historical interest.
- What sort of experts could be involved in my tour?Our Ancestral Footsteps researcher and guide will become an expert in your family’s story. When possible, we will arrange meetings on your tour with other experts such as archivists, local guides, or military historians who have new insights to offer into the history of your family.
- What is the payment process?Once you sign up for one of our packages we will issue you with an invoice via email. Payment is in advance please and made via bank transfer (or cheque if you do not have internet banking). We do not have credit card facilities, but, if you wish, you can pay via Paypal, for which there is a small surcharge.