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:

• Sign up for a genealogy class. Many community colleges offer non-credit courses in genealogy that will help you understand how to research your family and interpret what you find.