For one Dorset resident, a look into his ancestry led to a discovery he could never have predicted.

Nick Gilbey, 59, of Charmouth, has recently visited a temple in Sri Lanka which houses a casket of Buddha's bones, discovered by Nick's very own great-great grandfather in 1851.

Frederic Charles Maisey, at the time a lieutenant in the British Army, was sent to Sanchi in India, accompanied by archaeologist Alexander Cunningham. Tasked with finding out more about the culture of the area, Maisey and Cunningham visited several of the great stupa in Sanchi before coming across the relics at a site in Bhojpur.

Concealed within a crystal casket, the pair believed the bones belonged to Buddha because of the lack of inscription: while most cases would have been engraved with the name of the dead, Buddha's name was considered too sacred to inscribe.

Maisey and Cunningham split their findings and returned to England, with the relics going to the British Museum and the V&A in London, where they remained for several decades.

In the 1940s, Nick's grandmother, Ethel Leslie-Smith, travelled to Australia via Colombo, where she got speaking to a local monk. Upon hearing her connection to the relics, he asked for the bones to be returned to the country, which at the time was known as Ceylon. This was arranged by Nick's aunt, Winifred Burrows, and the Vidyalankara Pirivena temple in Peliyagoda has been home to the relics ever since.

Such a revelation called for a trip to Sri Lanka.

"I contacted the Sri Lankan Times, who found out for me that the relics were still there," Nick said. "They got in touch with the monks, who said they'd gladly welcome me and my family to the temple."

Nick paid a visit in April this year.

"Once we announced who we were, we were given star treatment," Nick said. "The monks pray to and worship these relics for hours every single day. When Buddha died, his remains were distributed throughout the land. I think these relics are particularly special because they're distinctive bones, not just ash."

Nick was not able to see the relics himself, as they remain concealed for most of the year. In December, however, the monks uncover the bones and visitors are invited to view the relics and pray. People queue in their hundreds outside the temple for a chance to see what they believe are the remains of Buddha.

Frederic Maisey died in 1892, but his book, Sanchi and its Remains, was published posthumously a year later.