My interest in family research was not prompted by the obvious question: Why do I have such an odd surname? (See answer below.) But there were gaps in what I knew about my ancestors.

I've now done enough digging around to get quite practised at hunting up missing details. And as I've related my family stories to friends, some have asked how they could find information about their own families. When one offered to pay me for my time, this started to go further, and though it began as a hobby I am now willing to accept genealogical assignments from people I'm not related to. Can I help you trace your family history and those missing ancestors? It isn't always possible, but I'm willing to have a look, or advise you as you search yourself. Contact me for an initial free chat by email here or phone on 020 7639 9840.

The Siederer family originally came from Czernowitz, in Austria in the 19th Century and early 1900s, but now in Ukraine and called Cernovtsy. A group of volunteers restoring the old Jewish cemetery have recently turned up my great-grandmother's 1918 gravestone, to the fascination of my family here and cousins in the USA. My grandfather arrived in Britain in early 1908. The surname is likely to have been adopted in 1787 by a legal requirement of the Austrian Empire. It translates as 'boilermaker' or 'panmaker' – which is strange, as the earliest known ancestor, my great-grandfather, gave his profession as maker of quilts.

Other ancestors I have traced came from the Netherlands from 1860 on, with surnames including Fortuyn or Fortuin, Koekoek, Van Praag and Moscow, all names adopted in 1811. Anyone interested in these families is welcome to get in touch. (I've had some wonderful help from the Dutch genealogists Reinier and Dirkje Bobbe.) I'm also descended from the Isaacs and Phillips families – whose other members may already have seen Monty Freshfield's 1953 family tree, tracing the lines back in London 150 or 200 years, including information I've recently been able to confirm from the 19th Century censuses.

I can't publish a family tree on the web without permission from the many living family members. But some of the dead ancestors have proved fascinating. Among the majority with presumably unblemished lives,
I found a sprinkling of curious ones who had got into trouble over drunkenness, gambling, unexpected pregnancy, public indecency, and even attempted murder – along with enforced exiles and tragic deaths (mostly at the hands of the Nazis) of cousins in shockingly large numbers.