Genealogy websites that help people trace their family histories love to focus on fortunate souls descended from royalty, or related in some distant and indirect way to George Washington.Yet genealogical research is just as likely to turn up horse thieves, drifters and scandals of every sort.

“You’re going to find stuff you don’t want to know,” says Ceil Lucas, a sociolinguist, amateur genealogist and author of How I Got Here: A Memoir. “But who knows, those might be your most fascinating finds.”

For others who want to delve into their family histories Lucas suggests:

• Talk to relatives. The best place to start is with what you already know, Lucas says. You’re probably aware of at least some of your family’s history, especially as it pertains to your mother and father. An excellent way to begin adding to that is to speak to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who can fill in some of the blanks.