Meet the Yorkshire genealogist who uncovers long-buried family secrets

The deeds to a property in Scarborough
The deeds to a property in Scarborough
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Michael Rochford is used to finding skeletons in people's closets.

The genealogist from Wakefield and his wife Caroline run Heir Line, and together they research clients' family trees, as well as the histories of houses and companies.

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The couple's professional lives are a real-life, continuous episode of the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? - the long-running celebrity family history series which inspired many of their customers to delve into their own pasts.

Michael, who studied theatre at Bretton Hall College of Education and became interested in genealogy after watching his father-in-law's attempts to collate a family tree, now spends his days looking through registry office records, archives, old newspapers and parish documents to trace his clients' ancestors.

He's made some staggering discoveries - including proving that a medieval manor house near Barnsley was almost 100 years older than previously thought, and establishing that a Leeds businesswoman's mother, who had claimed throughout her life to be an Irishwoman with Spanish ancestry, was actually an Australian with indigenous heritage. Her birth certificate appeared to have been doctored, and Michael was able to discover she had been born in Australia. Her own mother was the product of a coercive relationship between a wealthy cattle station owner and an Aboriginal woman. As indigenous and mixed race Australians faced poor treatment and discrimination at the time, she had hidden her true ethnicity after meeting his English father during World War Two and moving to Leeds with him.

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One of his current projects is on behalf of an American woman whose ancestors were a married couple who emigrated from the village of Cawood, near Selby, in 1830. The wife, Jane Roodhouse, built a house called Cawood Manor in Illinois in 1843, which was supposedly modelled on the family's old home in Yorkshire.

Michael has managed to track down the house in Cawood where Jane's husband lived as a child - he died soon after arriving in America - and is searching for records of their first marital home, which they bought in 1809 and which he believes may have since been demolished. He intends to study the old deeds to the property to work out whereabouts in Cawood it once stood.

"Business tends to spike when Who Do You Think You Are? is on TV. At the moment, we're inundated with work, it's pretty hectic. We offers four different packages based on the history of each grandparent. It takes around 12 weeks of research. We often go back as far as great-great-great-grandparents, and sometimes further.

"Our clients are a real mix - often it's people who have tried themselves to do the research and ended up getting stuck. We get a lot of international clients too - one of the most crazy coincidences I came across was when I was working for a woman from Pennsylvania, and I found out her ancestors lived a few doors away from mine in England!

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"We also do house histories, and have access to experts in architectural history who can get involved. I spend a lot of time looking through indexes, censuses, parish records, property deeds - it's not that hard to find information but not everybody can piece it all together and join the dots.

"I have uncovered a few scandals. People are always quite shocked when they find out an ancestor was born out of wedlock, even thought it wouldn't be shocking today. People do sometimes get upset when there's a sad story in their tree - often I find newspaper coverage of their relatives' deaths.

"Other people are disappointed when there aren't any skeletons in their closet!"