Ancestry Blog » Holidays The official blog of Ancestry Wed, 01 Jul 2015 12:05:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Throwback Thursday: Holiday Gift Guide Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:55:21 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> It seems like every year there’s a long list of the season’s hottest toys and most desirable gifts to give your loved ones. That got us thinking, what were the most sought-after gifts in the late 19th century-early 20th century?

Since Santa hasn’t brought us that time machine we asked for, we need to be creative in going back in time. Two of our favorite sources are the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs and historic newspapers. Here are some gifts we think our ancestors may have given and received over the holidays.

Whether our great-great-grandparents were writing each other love letters or making notes in the family bible, every serious writer requires a beautifully designed fountain pen. It’s a work of art in itself!
Alright, what woman doesn’t love to receive something sparkly for the holidays?
In the Victorian era, it was considered fashionable for women’s hair brooches to incorporate the hair or portrait of a deceased loved one as a way to pay tribute. As this trend evolved, it came to be a decorative piece to attach to garments.
Before wrist watches became the go-to watch after WWI, the pocket watch was the traditional timepiece worn by men and women. They were often attached to a chain and were easily tucked away (hence “pocket watch”) or even worn around the neck.
What little boy didn’t want a toy train set? Let’s hope they made Santa’s “nice” list and woke up to their very own iron train set with red, white and blue cars on Christmas morning.
Every little girl wanted a lifelike doll adorned with long curls and pretty bows. Adjusting for inflation, this $0.98 doll in 1915 would be about $22.00 today.
For the well-to-do families, a record player was a must-have for entertaining and spending the evenings listening to sweet jazz tunes.
Don’t we wish every one of our ancestors had a camera?

You can’t leave out the animals! Does your horse need a new sleigh bag or blanket? Visit J.H. Colliflower for holiday specials for your horse!

What are some interesting or unique holiday gifts you’ve heard of your ancestors receiving?
]]> 2
13 Spooky Family History Finds Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:22:46 +0000 Ancestry Team Read more]]> Witches, ghosts, murder—researchers from Ancestry found them all and more when they started combing the headlines for spooky facts in some current, and former, celebrities’ pasts.

13 Halloween Things FINAL V2-01


  1. Real Witch Found in Emma Watson’sFamily Tree: Muggle actress Emma Watson, famous for playing Hermione Granger, the preternaturally talented witch and ally of Harry Potter, has a real-life connection to the wizarding world. According to family history experts at Ancestry, English records show Watson is a distant relative of one Joan Playle of Essex County, England, who was convicted of witchcraft in 1592.
  2. Alleged “Jack the Ripper” Committed to Leavesden Asylum! Murders Cease! “Jack the Ripper” suspect Aaron Kozminski was committed to the Leavesden Asylum after his previous discharge from Colney Asylum in 1894. A hairdresser by trade, Kozminski died in 1919. While the Whitechapel murders stopped following Kozminski’s incarceration, the true identity of Jack the Ripper remains a mystery.
  3. CNN’s Jake Tapper recently discovered that his enigmatic 128-year-old 7th great-grandfather is buried at the Hopewell Church Cemetery in a town otherwise known as SLEEPY HOLLOW!
  4. Noisy GHOST Means Tax Cut for Bonham Carter Cousin: Helena Bonham Carter’s 2nd cousin once removed, Lt. Col. Algernon Bonham-Carter, received a 10 percent tax cut in 1957 when “the local tax valuation court agreed to reduce the taxes on the Colonel’s 500-year-old house” because a ghost that frequented the first-floor bedrooms “was knocking down the property values.”
  5. Taylor Swift Has an Undertaker in the Family: Charles Baldi, 2nd great-grandfather of pop star Taylor Swift, was killing it himself as an undertaker in Philadelphia in 1900. His own start rose as he became a real estate broker, then, by 1930, president of a banking company!
  6. Colonial Fratricide in Stephen King’s Tree: Horror master Stephen King’s 7th great-grandfather Jonathan Nason was killed with canoe oar on the Pascataqua River. The fatal blow was delivered by his brother, who, according to historical records, was acting in self-defense.
  7. Star of Dr. Who, Peter Capaldi, might not have been here to assume the role without a good doctor in his own past. John Capaldi, Peter’s grandfather, survived shooting himself in the chest after being rejected by the woman who would later become his wife!
  8. Twilight Star Robert Pattinson Related to Dracula: Family history experts at discovered that the role of dreamy vampire Edward Cullen is in Pattinson’s blood. Pattinson is a distant relation to Vlad the Impaler himself, a possible inspiration for Bram Stoker’s vampire. Pattinson comes through the lineage via the British royal line: his family tree merges with Princes William and Harry’s on their father’s side, and the royal brothers count Vlad as a distant uncle.
  9. The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson Have Ancestors with Grave Occupations: Talk about burying the competition. Hutcherson’s 2nd great-grandfather Weber L. Fightmaster of Kentucky appears as a “grave digger” in the 1940 U.S. Census. Meanwhile, across the river in Ohio, Harrelson’s grandfather Kenneth Oswald was working as an “embalmer.”
  10. Happy Birthday to PETER JACKSON, director of fantastical films such as The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and King Kong.
  11. Ghostbusting Is an Aykroyd Family Affair: Dan Aykroyd reports that his grandfather was a “Bell Telephone engineer who actually queried his colleagues about the possibility of constructing a high-vibration crystal radio as a mechanical method for contacting the spiritual world. His son, my father, as a child witnessed séances and kept the family books on the subject…and from all this Ghostbusters got made.”
  12. Houdini DIES on Halloween! “Harry Houdini, the magician, died today. The noted escape artist, whose adeptness at freeing himself from strait-jackets, chains and cells mystified audiences in all parts of the world, died after second surgical attempt had been made to save his life from the effects of peritonitis. —Independent Record (Helena, Montana)
  13. The Addams Family Yearbook Photos: See the yearbook photos of your favorite freaky family from classic television. John Astin as Gomez Addams, Carolyn Jones as Morticia Addams, and Ted Cassidy as Lurch.


]]> 1
Talk Like a Pirate and Improve Your Research Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:25:07 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> pirate-ship-flagIt’s Talk Like a Pirate Day – that day when people get in touch with their inner pirate and pepper their sentences with words like “Arrrrrr,” “avast,” and “bilge rat.” (It’s a good day when you can work “bilge rat” into friendly conversation.) Facebook even has a language setting for “English (Pirate).” Don’t want to go that far? Maybe a basic tutorial on key phrases will get you through the day.

For all of the silliness that is Talk Like a Pirate Day (TLAPD), there is something about it that can help us with our genealogy. No, it’s not some newly-uncovered pirate manifest. It’s how we talk. Part of the fun on TLAPD is talking outside our normal way.  What if we did that with the names that we’re researching?

We tend to have a way of “hearing” words when we read them. But what if how we hear that word or that surname isn’t how our ancestors pronounced it – or how someone else heard it?

One of the surnames I research is Daubenmeyer. It’s easy to pick out a few variant spellings – Daubenmeier, Dobenmeyer, Daubenmyer, etc. But what if we pronounce it like they might have, with a strong German accent? We could easily lose the second syllable – and it becomes Daubmeyer. That D at the beginning? It sounds a lot like a T; suddenly you have Taubmeyer. I have seen these variations as well.

Place names are also something that you should play around with. There’s a town in Ohio named “Piqua.” When you read that word, did you “hear” it with a short “A” (pick-wah) or with a long “A” (pick-way)? Although we pronounce it with a short A today, it started out with a long “A.” That might not seem like a big deal until you find a record that says your family was living in “Pickway, Ohio.” Is that a misspelling of the town of Piqua (in northwest Ohio) or the county of Pickaway, which is in the south-central part of the state? You could be putting them in the wrong place if you don’t consider how pronunciation can cause these variant spellings.

So let’s celebrate TLAPD not by greeting everyone with “Ahoy!” or drinking grog. (Who really wants to drink grog, anyway?) Instead, let’s celebrate by playing with our words and seeing what new words or new spellings we can come up with. It might help you consider names and places you hadn’t thought of before.



]]> 0
Throwback Thursday Theme: 4th of July Thu, 03 Jul 2014 14:56:59 +0000 Amy Johnson Crow Read more]]> Fireworks, 2010. Photo by Amy Crow.

Fireworks, 2010. Photo by Amy Crow.


The 4th of July for many American families is a time for cookouts, parades, and fireworks.

While I was growing up, the 4th for my family also meant vacation in northern Michigan. We rented a cabin at Carp Lake, just south of Mackinaw, and it was there that our 4th of July traditions were born. One of the best parts of the day: the whitefish cookout.

There were four cabins where we stayed. Most years, we coordinated our vacation with some family friends my sisters and I called “Uncle Bob” and “Aunt Mabel.” (I think I was 10 before I figured out they weren’t really related to us.) On the 4th, we would have a big cookout with everyone at the camp. (Well, at least the families who wanted to be included.) Someone would make a trip into town to Bell’s Fishery to get a couple of whitefish filets. When I say “filet,” I mean basically an entire side of a fish. These things were huge. In the early afternoon, we’d start the fire so that there would be nice hot embers when it came time to cook.

We had two large cedar planks, each about three feet long, 18 inches wide, and an inch-and-a-half thick. The sides had nails that stuck out about half an inch. When the fire was ready, someone (usually Dad) would lay out the filets on the planks and string them into place with wire. Then he’d lay the planks fish-side down over the fire. The aroma from the fish as it cooked was almost intoxicating. The smoke, the cedar, and the fish all mingled together into a scent that made our mouths water.

What is a 4th of July cookout without side dishes? Mom would make her best-in-the-world potato salad or macaroni salad (sometimes both). Other families would provide additional sides and desserts. One of my favorite memories was the year we got a watermelon that wouldn’t quite fit in the cooler. I found it amusing when Dad put it in the lake under the dock. (It worked!)

As evening approached, we would head into Mackinaw for the fireworks. Since we were “regulars” up there, we knew the best places to park and the best vantage points. Our favorite spot was the lawn of the Lutheran Church. We’d get there early and spread out our blankets. Someone (usually Mom) would stay with the gear while the rest went into “downtown” Mackinaw for the traditional 4th of July ice cream cones. (Don’t worry — we’d take one back to Mom.)

There was one year we deviated from the fireworks plan. Instead of going into town, Dad parked the car at the top of a hill on old US 31 heading into town. On the plus side, we could see the fireworks exploding over the Mackinac Bridge and there were no traffic or parking problems. The downside was that we couldn’t hear the booms. It was a noble experiment, but one we didn’t repeat!

How did you celebrate the 4th of July when you were growing up? Did you watch parades or have block parties? Did you enjoy fireworks? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to share your stories with your family!



]]> 3
Here’s To All The Fathers! Wed, 11 Jun 2014 02:29:20 +0000 Kristie Wells Read more]]> For many of us, our fathers are our heroes. We look to them for their support and guidance. A good father can set an example of strength, honor, sacrifice, and responsibility. We honor dads for their love and the lessons they have taught us.

Join us in celebrating the fathers in your house, in your heart and in your family tree and share this video with the ones you love.

]]> 1
Ode To Mothers Fri, 09 May 2014 18:09:32 +0000 Kristie Wells


Happy Mother’s Day. From our family to yours.



]]> 1
On This April Fool’s Day, Tell Us Which Ancestor Made A Fool Out of You Tue, 01 Apr 2014 16:21:36 +0000 Anne Gillespie Mitchell Read more]]> There are all sorts of silly pranks that are done on April 1st. And it got me to thinking, have any of my ancestor’s played practical jokes on me? You know, left clues in strange places. Or falsified documents. Or anything that made you sigh and start talking aloud to yourself when you found it?

My 3rd great grandfather was Charlton Wallace and his wife was Martha Jane Cash. Now I know that Martha Jane Cash was the daughter of Ready Cash. (Yes, really, that was the name he went by.)  But who was Charlton’s father? Now I searched and searched and finally dug up a marriage record where William Wallace signed for him.


It didn’t state the relationship between Charlton and Wallace, but it seems like a pretty good clue. But that document took me a few years to find. And that name was right under my nose all along if I had just bothered to look for it!

When I searched for records of Ready, I found him in 1840. Right where I expected him.


Do you think I took the time to look at the next page? I did not. Do I even have to tell you who was on the top of that next page and probably a neighbor of Ready? You know it was William Wallace.


And if I had looked right away, I would have had a really good candidate for Charlton’s father! I felt pretty foolish when I found that a few years later. Lesson learned: Always look at the preceding page and the next page on a census!

All right, which ancestor made a fool out of you?  Time to fess up!

Happy Searching!



]]> 10
What Do Boston, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh Have in Common? Fri, 14 Mar 2014 18:45:08 +0000 Julie Granka Read more]]> At AncestryDNA, we’re celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day a little differently than most. We’re exploring how we can use genetics to study Irish heritage in the U.S.

Throughout our nation’s history, millions of individuals from Ireland planted new roots here in the United States. While hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arrived in the 1600’s and 1700’s, more than two million arrived in the mid-19th century – most to flee the “Potato Famine” that destroyed crops and led to widespread starvation in Ireland.

Historical records and census data tell us that many Irish settled in the Northeastern region of the United States. By 1850, people from Ireland made up over a quarter of the population of Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York City.

Let’s fast-forward to the 21st century and discover where descendants of Irish immigrants now live in the United States – using DNA. We may help to explain why you do (or don’t) see many people around you wearing green.


Using DNA

At AncestryDNA, all customers receive a unique estimate of their “genetic ethnicity” – where in the world their ancestors may have lived hundreds to thousands of years ago – based on their DNA. For example, an AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate can tell someone how much of their DNA likely came from Ireland – anywhere from 0% to 100%.

The ethnicity estimate can give a fascinating glimpse into one’s past: Americans with some Irish ethnicity may have an ancestor who immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland.

Based on AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates for over 300,000 AncestryDNA customers*, the AncestryDNA science team set out to discover the “most Irish” regions of the U.S.


States with the highest Irish ancestry

First, for all AncestryDNA ethnicity estimates of people born in the same state, we averaged their fractions of Irish ethnicity. Then, we found the U.S. states whose residents have the highest, and lowest, amounts of Irish ancestry.

On the map are the top five states with the highest average Irish ancestry.  Massachusetts is #1, and all of the other top states are also in the Northeast.

IrishMap_USASound familiar?  As we mentioned at the start, Irish immigrants disembarked primarily in the Northeastern region of the U.S., particularly in Boston.

Genetics and history agree!  Using only DNA, we find that many of the present-day descendants of Irish immigrants still live in and are born in the Northeast.

Since descendants of Irish immigrants have made their way all over the country, Irish ancestry is found in many states outside of the Northeast as well.  But some areas of the U.S. seem to be less commonly settled by people of Irish descent.  The states with the lowest average Irish ancestry are North Dakota, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Minnesota, all with less than 12% average Irish ancestry.


Cities with the highest Irish ancestry

Which U.S. cities have the highest amounts of Irish ethnicity based on DNA?

To answer this, we averaged the Irish ethnicity of all AncestryDNA customers born in a given city.

In the map below, the darker the green, the higher the average Irish ancestry of the city (bigger circles mean that more AncestryDNA customers were born there).  You may not see your city listed because we only looked at the top 50 cities with more than about 400 AncestryDNA customers.


R version 2.15.1 (2012-06-22). Made using googleVis-0.4.7.


Here’s a list of the top 10 cities with the highest average Irish ethnicity:

Top 10 Cities

CityAverage Irish Ethnicity
Boston, MA34.3%
Philadelphia, PA22.3%
Pittsburgh, PA19.6%
Fort Worth, TX19.6%
Birmingham, AL19.3%
San Francisco, CA19.0%
Tulsa, OK19.0%
Springfield, MA18.9%
Oklahoma City, OK18.4%
New York, NY18.3%


The “greenest” city by a large margin is Boston – with an average Irish ethnicity of 34%!  Other top cities are Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth.

As before, many of these cities are in the Northeast.  Millions of Irish immigrants set their roots there – and genetics shows that many of their descendants have not strayed far.  But the fact that cities outside the Northeast are on this list shows that Irish immigrants also settled in non-Northeastern big cities, and that some of their descendants moved elsewhere.



What about the cities with the lowest average Irish ancestry?  It might not be a surprise that none of them are in the Northeast.

Bottom 10 Cities

CityAverage Irish Ethnicity
Milwaukee, WI10.3%
Toledo, OH13.0%
Minneapolis, MN13.1%
San Antonio, TX13.3%
Salt Lake City, UT13.3%
Los Angeles, CA13.6%
New Orleans, LA14.0%
St. Paul, MN14.2%
Detroit, MI14.3%
Chicago, IL14.4%


While there are likely some people in these cities with Irish heritage, there aren’t as many as in Boston – suggesting that fewer Irish immigrants settled in these areas.

And in cities such as Los Angeles where Irish immigrants are known to have lived, the signal of Irish ancestry has likely been lessened by an influx of immigration of individuals of other ancestries.




So where’s the best place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?  The “Top 10” list might be a good place to start.  In fact, Bostonians have been celebrating with a St. Patrick’s Day parade since 1737, New Yorkers since 1762, and Philadelphians since 1771.


Genetics of Irish Americans

Although everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, AncestryDNA can tell someone whether they have Irish heritage the other 364 days of the year– and whether they might have had an ancestor who immigrated from Ireland to America.  We’ve found that people from states and cities of the Northeast, where many Irish originally started their new future in the U.S., have the highest amounts of Irish ancestry.

While U.S. census data based on “self-reported” Irish ancestry shows similar patterns, our study is unique since we’re using only genetics.  This allows us to incorporate information about “Irishness” from people who may not self-identify as Irish, but still seem to have Irish heritage based on DNA.  Both views of one’s ancestry are equally important.

So even if your AncestryDNA results don’t reveal your Irish heritage, there’s no reason not to wear green and seek out the best corned beef and cabbage.  Now you know where to look for it.


*All AncestryDNA customers in this study consented to participate in research.


]]> 14
What Are You Asking Santa For? Tue, 24 Dec 2013 21:27:20 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more]]> Many of us remember sitting on Santa’s lap, giving him the long list of toys and other items we wished he’d deliver to us on Christmas morning. We imagine your lists have changed as your wants and needs have over the years, and wondered …

If Santa could bring you anything genealogy-related, what would you ask him to bring you? 

This could be anything – software, a record, even an elusive ancestor whose information you can’t seem to track down. Whatever it is, we want to know what you’d hope to find under your Christmas tree – comment below and share!


LibraryofCongressPhotoCollection1840-2000 (23)


]]> 38
What Kind of Beard Did Your Ancestor Sport? Fri, 29 Nov 2013 21:44:07 +0000 Pam Velazquez Read more]]> We hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving yesterday! Now as the smell of turkey disappears and the food coma fades, we wanted to share a fun photo we found in our Library of Congress Database and a good cause.

Movember is a global organization dedicated to generating awareness and raising funds for men’s health issues. Movember supports world-class men’s health programs that combat both prostate and testicular cancer. Why Movember? Well, because the organization likes to make things easy and fun – for the 30 days in the month of November, Movember asks that men grow (and women support) a moustache  therefore becoming advocates and symbols of the fight for men’s health. As moustaches sprout up across the country, men can register their moustaches at Movember’s site and ask for donations throughout the month to support the cause.

So in the spirit of Movember, we’d like to ask you, what kind of a moustache did your ancestor sport? 

Beard Trimming Chart



]]> 4