Miles Kington: How to prune your shabby family tree

'I'll show you how to give an Oxford degree to anyone, alive or dead. (Dead is easier!) I'll demonstrate how to airbrush out Australian relatives'
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The Independent Online

An exclusive introduction for Independent readers on how to give your shabby old genealogy a bright new look.

By Professor Ginette Beaujolais, family history consultant.

Hello, there! I'm Professor Ginette Beaujolais, and today I am going to start help you get the best out of your family tree. Anyone - and I do mean anyone - can make things look better with just a bit of effort. Take me, for example. I didn't use to be Professor. I used to be Miss Ginette Beaujolais, and that didn't help to get seats in restaurants or trips abroad, I can tell you! But a quick postal order to the right American university, and suddenly I was Professor Ginette Beaujolais, and everyone was consulting me.

(I didn't use to be Ginette Beaujolais either. Friends in Basingstoke will probably remember me better as Sue Purvis. But that name has gone with history. Nor do I have any friends in Basingstoke any more! Always onward and upward as my old genealogy teacher, Percy Winter, used to say. I wonder whatever happened to him?)

So there you are, probably in your middle years, and almost certainly having done your family research and ended up with a pretty respectable family tree. There it hangs on the wall, framed, so that everyone can see it. Mother... father... uncle served in First or Second World War... auntie went off to Canada or New Zealand (have you ever noticed that some of us have relatives in Australia, and some have family in New Zealand, but everyone has a relation in Canada? Weird, isn't it?) and all the other things that happen in family trees.

And you haven't really looked at it in a while, have you?

Because it's just a little bit boring, isn't it?

A bit like everyone else's family tree, isn't it?

Well, now's the time to do something about it!

What you need is a Family Tree Makeover.

People are always doing it with gardens they don't like any more, and houses they have got bored with, and cars, and everything, so why not family trees?

People even do it to their own bodies. Nip and tuck and lift and fasten! Yes, they do it to the body that God gave them. "No, thank you, God," is what they are saying. "I am not very happy with the body you gave me, and I intend to improve on it."

But you can't change your family tree, I often hear people say. Isn't ancestry immutable?

Not at all! You can, for instance, change from being one nationality to another. The Royal Family did it when they changed from Battenberg to Mountbatten. It was a style change. British looked nicer then German. John Betjeman's father seriously considered changing his German-sounding name in the Great War, but never got round to it. John Cleese's family used to be Cheese, but they changed that, by one letter, and it made all the difference!

Unwanted relatives can be easily removed. I know of several people in Who's Who who have "forgotten" to mention their first wives. Naughty, naughty! But your secret is safe with me, chaps.

When it comes to adding new relatives to the family tree, things are trickier, but it can be done if you know the right people. Believe me, if you get the right team of experts in, your family tree can become more colourful, more extensive and, dare I say it, more noble overnight!

There's no time to elaborate today, but in my new TV programme Give that Family Tree a Makeover (starting this autumn), I'll be telling you exactly how to make your ancestry the envy of your neighbours. I'll explain the New Labour technique for getting a title. I'll show you how to be related to the Queen. I'll let you in on the secret of how to give an Oxford or Cambridge degree to anyone, alive or dead. (Dead is easier!) I'll even demonstrate how to airbrush out any Australian relatives.

Keep the family tree you've got till this autumn. Then you and I can get cracking on it together!

Professor Ginette Beaujolais regrets she cannot enter into any correspondence about individual family trees.