Ancestry Blog » Stories The official blog of Ancestry Fri, 27 Mar 2015 14:44:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How AncestryDNA has added new life to my family history research Tue, 17 Feb 2015 21:42:28 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> Intl_UK_DNA_250x250_Badge

I am privileged to work for a company that genuinely makes a difference to the lives of many thousands of people around the world. I have seen first-hand the breakthroughs, connections and family reunions that have been made possible by the records and trees available on Ancestry. Obviously, like many of you, I have used Ancestry to research my own family tree. I am Irish and my family has not left our home place for as far back as I can research, given the limitations of Irish records. Many of my grandparents’ siblings did leave. They traveled, as many Irish emigrants did, across the globe to the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. As a consequence I am more familiar with being found, than I am with finding others. Year after year throughout my childhood and in recent years too, family after family would arrive in Ireland to see the house where their ancestors were born and from which they had to leave in order to find a future in a foreign land. Thanks to resources like Ancestry these families were able to trace their family history right to my doorstep.

Being unable to go further back than I have with records, I have been anticipating the launch of AncestryDNA to see if it can give me that sense of discovery that I had seen so many times on the faces of my relatives as they returned to the birthplace of their ancestors. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from my AncestryDNA results. My parents are both Irish, as are their parents and their parents before them. Would it tell me anything?

After carefully reading the instructions, providing my saliva sample and activating my kit on the Ancestry website; I waited. When I got the notification email to advise the results were back I was a little nervous. What would they say? Am I 99% Irish as I suspected? Will I have any cousin matches? I rushed to open my Ancestry account and see my results.

To say I was overwhelmed was an understatement! It was difficult to take it all in at first glance. Not only did I have a cousin match, I had many cousin matches! I had expected to see matches at 4th cousin or more distant but I had a possible 3rd cousin match! Wow! I have since contacted this person and she is my mother’s second cousin. When I told my mother of this discovery, she was astounded. She was aware of her cousin’s name, but the families had lost touch many years ago and my mother had never met any member of that family. That changed yesterday when they spoke on the phone for over an hour. AncestryDNA made this reunion possible. What was previously just a name on a family tree is now a relationship in the real world.

I also had matches on my father’s side of the tree too, at 4th 5th and 6th cousin. I have not had the chance to go through all my cousin matches yet, I have over 50, but so far on my father’s side we have managed to finally find the answer to an old question. My father and a neighbour had always believed that our families were related, but neither of them knew how. Thanks to AncestryDNA I was able view the family tree of one of my matches in the United States and we have finally found out where the link is! My father could not believe that a simple saliva sample could hold the answer to a question he had been unable to find for decades.

Cousin matches are only half of the results process. AncestryDNA also gives you your ethnicity estimate. I was expecting to find out that I am somewhere around 95% Irish based on what I already know from my family tree. I was in for a surprise. I discovered that I am 85% Irish, 7% British, 4% Eastern European and some trace results from Scandinavia, Northwest Russia and Asia making up the remainder. Not what you might describe as a typical Irishman!


While AncestryDNA has answered many questions and solved some mysteries it has also raised new questions for my family history research. Not since I started my family tree have I been this excited about all the discoveries that lie ahead. I would recommend AncestryDNA to everyone who wants to learn more about their family history, not because I work for Ancestry, but because it is truly a revolutionary product that can take your research to the next level.

If you would like to learn more about AncestryDNA, or to order your kit, click here.

Have you taken the AncestryDNA test? Please share your stories with us on Facebook and  Twitter.


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Tracking the Service of a World War I Veteran for our UK Branch Out Winner Sat, 24 Jan 2015 11:53:41 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]>  


By Neil Holden, AncestryProGenealogists

Alan Small recently won our Branch Out Sweepstakes, and received 20 hours of research with AncestryProGenealogists. High on Alan’s list of interests were the experiences and movements of his grandfather, John James Collins, who served in the British military both before and during World War I. Our research provided detailed context for John’s service, and highlighted the value of a resource that is sometimes overlooked—military pension records.

John James Collins was born on 6 June 1876 in Walsall, Staffordshire, England, the son of Irish immigrants. He signed up for the British Army in 1895 and enlisted in the Royal Irish Regiment. He served through to 1908, and during that time was well-travelled. In 1898 John was stationed in Mhow, located in western India, then a part of the British Empire. He arrived shortly after Tirah Campaign, a military conflict against native tribes in northern India. However, John’s stay in Mhow was certainly not uneventful; in February 1900 a perilous fire broke out in the Commissariat stack-yard in Mhow, and the battalion took charge in putting it out. A regimental history states that the soldiers were commended for their “promptitude” and “zeal” in handling the danger.




John’s battalion was reassigned to South Africa in 1902 to assist with the ongoing Second Boer War, but the war ended just before the battalion arrived, meaning that John had again, fortunately, just missed out on a conflict. He was later sent back to India, spending time in Rawalpindi, now a city in Pakistan. However, he saw more than his fair share of warfare during World War I. After finishing his original term of service, John James Collins signed up for the military reserve, and was consequently activated in the summer of 1914. He was sent to front lines in 1915 and saw the worst of the war’s horrors at the town of Ypres in May 1915. John was among the soldiers who were incapacitated by the use of poison gas and sent back to Great Britain to recover, later serving the remainder of his time stationed in Ireland. In addition to being a victim of a gas attack, John also suffered from deafness as a result of shell concussion.




All of these details are outlined in the pension file that pertains to John’s service. Many of the men who survived World War I applied for a pension, although many such applications were rejected. These pension records are referred to as the “unburnt collection,” since they have largely survived and were not lost during World War II. Many of the “burnt collection,” the World War I service records, were lost, and so there is great value in learning whether or not a military ancestor applied for a pension. As Alan Small found out, they can provide a wealth of information about our ancestors’ lives.

Follow Ancestry on Facebook and  Twitter and join the genealogy conversation.


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Mary Christmas, Belle Ringer & Miss L. Toe – Festive names found on Ancestry. Sat, 27 Dec 2014 12:12:15 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> Aholly


We have all discovered interesting names and stories in the course of our family history research. Some more unusual than others. Researchers here at Ancestry took a look through our collections to see if they could find some festive names.

Mary Christmas from South Carolina and Mrs. Belle Ringer of West Virginia are just two of the real life festive names uncovered this Christmas by our researchers. A. Goodyear, Dallas-born Snowflake Williams and six year old Tim Sell from Essex were also found in our collections.

A Christmas Day sing along would not be complete without Caroline Song, who is listed as living in the 1861 UK census. Holly Berry’s records reveals she grew up under the care of her father, a corn and manure merchant, in Devon.

Santa Claus may not have made it around the world without the help of Rudolf Deer, who our researchers found in Ancestry’s Jamaican ‘1878-1930’ Civil Birth Registrations collection. Christmas can be a romantic time for some and it wouldn’t be complete without Miss L. Toe who appears in the All Calendar of New Jersey Wills ‘1670-1760’ in 1689.

Finally, a family of elves were located in the 1921 Canadian Census. Head of the household Alexander Elves lived in Ontario along with his wife Sarah and their three children, the youngest of which was – rather fittingly – named Minnie Elves.

Have you discovered any interesting names in your family tree?

Follow Ancestry on Facebook and  Twitter and share your thoughts with us.


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Why do we wear the poppy? Sat, 15 Nov 2014 09:31:51 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> London Team at Tower Hill

 The Ancestry team at the Tower of London

Remembrance Day has passed and many of you observed a moment of silence to honour the memory of those that sacrificed so much so that we would know peace. Memorials and monuments were attended in vast numbers. The crowds that gathered to remember were bonded in collective appreciation for the brave men and women who had paid the ultimate price in their service to their country.

People of every creed and race gathered together to remember. Among the crowds there was one common feature, one common symbol – the poppy. During World War One the battlefields were scarred and devastated. It seemed as though nature had given up in the face of such tragedy. The landscape was littered with the bodies of the fallen.

It was here in the seemingly barren earth that the poppy flourished. To the soldiers they must have symbolized the blood of their brothers and friends. It may have offered hope to those brave men who wondered if they may ever return to their families; a sign that new life is possible no matter the circumstances.

In 1915, Lt Col John McCrae, after losing his friend at Ypres, wrote the now famous poem In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

To mark the centenary of World War One, the Tower of London created an installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies. The installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was created in the moat area and each poppy represents a British fatality during World War One. We at the Ancestry London office went to see this installation. When faced with the stark reality of so many lives lost, so many families missing loved ones, we were deeply moved by the reality of what war means for so many.

That is why we wear the poppy.

Lest we forget.

Follow Ancestry on Facebook and  Twitter and share your thoughts with us.

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Beyond Records. Adding Colour to Your Tree. Sun, 12 Oct 2014 10:36:39 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> I was visiting an old friend recently who I had not seen in some years. We talked about our lives and our jobs and all that had happened since we had last met. She was very interested to hear about Ancestry and immediately began to tell me about her father.

Her father passed away in 2009, but it was only recently that she and her brother had decided to sell his house. They started to clear it out and pack away furniture, paintings, ornaments; all the things we accumulate during our lives. When they were clearing the attic, my friend recalls lifting a small cardboard box from a dark corner. Covered in spider webs and thick with dust, she sensed there was something important about that box.

‘I don’t know what it was, when I lifted it and it rattled, I knew-well I guess I thought there was something special in that box’, she said.

The box contained tapes and those tapes contained hours of recordings. Her father had bought a recorder back when nobody had one, certainly nobody from their quiet rural village anyway. Each tape held precious recordings of interviews her father had conducted with his elderly relatives and neighbors. Some recordings were funny, some were sad, but all contained information on their families back through the generations. This information would have been lost had her father not had the interest to record their stories.


My friend has been busy converting the tapes to digital and writing down the family tree information she has gleaned from the recordings. She admits to not having had an urge to research her family history until she found that box. Now with the information on those tapes and the records available on Ancestry she can build her family tree for future generations to appreciate.

Could she have found records and built her tree without those tapes? Of course she could, but the tapes were the catalyst and the inspiration to build her tree. The recordings will save her time and more importantly, add colour and stories to her family tree that records alone could not.

When it comes to family history research many of us are creatures of habit. We research and record data about our family with care and precision. Often we can find ourselves following tried and tested methods of research, building our trees meticulously over time. However, with such dedication can come isolation. Isolation from resources closer to home which can help build out your family tree and add colourful stories to each branch. Technology has come a long way since my friend’s father decided to record his relatives’ stories. These days most of us carry a recording device in our pocket but never think to use our phone to record our family’s stories.

Have you ever thought to record your family’s stories?

Wherever possible, record your parents’ and grandparents’ stories. If you are a grandparent – record your stories for your grandchildren.

Records are the foundation of our trees; family stories are the colourful leaves to fill the branches!





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’60s icon Twiggy is next to explore her roots on Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) Wed, 08 Oct 2014 15:37:17 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> It’s the 100th episode of Who Do You Think You Are? tomorrow night at 9pm on BBC1. Next to explore her family history is 1960s icon Twiggy.


Raymond Bryson


Twiggy, born Lesley Hornby, is a famous model, actor, and designer. Growing up in London, Twiggy had a happy childhood but knew very little about her relatives. Her parents told her nothing about their families.

‘We were a very ordinary, happy family, and I had a happy childhood’, said Twiggy.

Everything changed when Twiggy was sixteen-years old. A photographer spotted her photo on the wall of a Mayfair hairdresser and went on to write a story describing Twiggy as the ‘face of the sixties’. She went on to be known as the world’s first supermodel.

‘It was madness. I was suddenly in the newspapers and being flown all around the world’, recalls Twiggy.

Having been born and raised in London, Twiggy feels she is a Londoner through and through. Will she discover that her roots lie elsewhere?

‘What am I going to find out? I’m off on an awfully big adventure and I’m very excited’, said Twiggy.

The Who Do You Think You Are? team discovered that Twiggy has more than one strong woman in her family tree, and just a touch of crime, too.

Tune in to see what happens on Twiggy’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 tomorrow at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.

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World Famous Comedian Billy ‘The Big Yin’ Connolly is next on Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) Thu, 02 Oct 2014 08:45:39 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> World famous comedian Billy Connolly is the next star to go on his family history journey on tonight’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?


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‘The Big Yin’ is famous for his Scottish wit and has entertained audiences for many years with stories of his life in Scotland. Having endured a tough childhood at the hands of an abusive father after his mother walked out, many people were surprised to hear that he wanted to explore his family history.

“I’m 71, so I’m a lot closer to death than I am to birth… I’d like my children to know where I come from. I know so pitifully little” said Billy

Billy’s journey starts in his hometown of Glasgow. Having always considered himself Scottish through and through, he is surprised to find out that the Who Do You Think You Are? team is taking him to India. The show takes Billy on a trip that follows in the footsteps of his Army ancestors.

He finds out that his great-great-great-grandfather was present at a very important moment in Indian history. The surprises don’t stop there though! Billy discovers that his connection to India is deeper than he could have ever imagined.

Tune in to see what happens on Billy Connolly’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 tonight at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.

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From London to Ghana with Reggie Yates on the next episode of Who Do You Think You Are? (UK) Wed, 24 Sep 2014 11:52:49 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> Presenter and DJ Reggie Yates is the next celebrity to share their family history journey with us on tomorrow night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are?


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Growing up in London Reggie was conscious of the bustling nature of a city with a diverse immigrant population. Both of Reggie’s parents are from Ghana and his father is mixed-race. It is his father’s family that are a mystery to him.

‘‘Growing up in London you sort of get asked all the time where you’re from because there are so many immigrants’’ said Reggie.

His parents split up when he was just four years old and having been raised by his mother, Reggie knows little about his father’s family. The Who Do You Think You Are? Team travel to Ghana with Reggie to delve deeper into his father’s side of the family.

Reggie meets with a local chief and his trip uncovers some unexpected surprises in his family tree.

‘‘Oh my God, what is wrong with these Yates men?’’ exclaims Reggie at one point in his journey.

Tune in to see what happens on Reggie Yates’ episode of Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are? airs on  BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts or questions.




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Two searches, one family! Get ready for another episode of Long Lost Family Sat, 02 Aug 2014 09:18:15 +0000 Brian Gallagher Read more]]> The inspiring stories on Long Lost Family have brought us to tears on more than one occasion, as Davina McCall and Nicky Campbell worked tirelessly to reunite long separated families. In episode four we will witness a first for the Long Lost Family team.


Inge Dart

Growing up in Kenya, Inge’s life was overshadowed by her domineering mother. It was the last days of the British Empire and Inge was very much in love with her childhood sweetheart, Jeremy. When she became pregnant at 19, her mother banished her half way across the world to have the baby in secret.

Her mother sent her to Surrey in the UK where she was taken in by a couple who looked after her until her daughter was born. She cared for her daughter for ten days knowing time was running out. Jeremy visited and the young couple were overjoyed to be able to spend time with their daughter before she was taken away.

Now sixty-six years old, the loss of her baby has haunted Inge ever since and she now craves the peace she knows will only come when she sees her daughter once more. In one of the most extraordinary searches ever undertaken by Long Lost Family we see a mother looking for the daughter she had to say goodbye to when she was only ten days old. From Colonial Kenya to Northern France, watch what happens when they end Inge’s search and, in a first for Long Lost Family, they take on her daughter’s search for her father Jeremy, who has spent a lifetime yearning for the chance to give his daughter a hug.  

Long Lost Family is broadcast on ITV this Monday August 4th at 9pm. Join us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts on Inge’s emotional journey.

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Long-Lost Sisters United After 60 Years Apart Wed, 30 Jul 2014 12:05:09 +0000 Jessica Murray Read more]]> Long-lost sisters Carol and Amy went most of their lives never knowing of one another until their passion for genealogy brought them together in 2013.

Veteran genealogist Carol Moss was adopted 60 years ago and only last year decided to research her birth mother’s history. In doing so, Carol discovered an abundance of photos attached to Amy Woodrick’s family tree and she immediately believed Amy to be a possible half-sister. Since Carol wasn’t certain if Amy knew of her existence, she was hesitant to reach out but continued her research by saving shared tree and image information to her birth mother.

Amy began receiving notifications that her images were being shared with Carol. Interestingly enough, Amy had just learned a few years prior that her mother had another daughter before Amy was born, but she knew nothing about her. This had to be her. Well, she at least had to find out. Several messages and phone calls later, it was confirmed. They were half-sisters.

Only a month after finding each other online, they decided to meet at the Rootstech conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have developed a great bond over their shared love of family history and will continue to build on their relationship for years to come.

We are pleased to have been the instrument they used to find each other and thought it would be great to have Amy and Carol share their story with you here:

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