Past Articles

10 Rare English Surnames About to Go Extinct

Posted on November 5, 2014 in Surnames

Did you know that surnames can go extinct just like species do? Think about it: do you know anyone these days named Chaucer? One historical reason for surnames becoming extinct was World War I. Often, men who were friends and neighbors served together; when there were mass casualties, a village or town might lose a… Read more

Johnson: A History of the Popular American Surname

Posted on November 5, 2014 in Surnames

[Photo credit: Shutterstock] The English surname Johnson is a patronymic, meaning the name was originally derived from a father’s name. When people started adopting last names, the first Johnson was the son of a man named John. What’s thought to be the earliest recorded use of Johnson as a surname — spelled Jonessone — was… Read more

Finding Your Roots: Anderson Cooper Investigates His Own History

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Finding Your Roots

As the child of famed high-society staple Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper could easily open any history book about New York City and find details about relatives on his maternal line. But his famous jeans-designing mother was only partially responsible for Anderson’s genes. Though he’s typically the one digging deep into stories, he turned the reins… Read more

Finding Your Roots: Documentary Filmmaker Ken Burns Uncovers Lincoln Connection

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Finding Your Roots

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is well known for his lengthy and well-researched films, notably his five-part series The Civil War. But until his turn on Finding Your Roots’ “Our American Storytellers” episode, Burns didn’t have a true understanding of how deeply his own family tree was intertwined with that war. Ken was born in Brooklyn… Read more

Finding Your Roots: Actress Anna Deavere Smith Discovers Underground Railroad Connection

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Finding Your Roots

Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith (best known for her work on The West Wing and Nurse Jackie) has made a name for herself telling personal stories on stage in one-woman shows. Her ability to capture the voices and mannerisms of people as she explores life in America is uncanny, but what she didn’t know… Read more

Finding Your Roots: Benjamin Jealous Gets in Touch With His Revolutionary Heritage

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Finding Your Roots

As the youngest person ever appointed as president of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous is no stranger to fighting for what he believes in. While in college at Columbia, he was suspended for leading a campaign of civil disobedience to save the building where Malcolm X was assassinated. But on the “Roots of Freedom” episode of… Read more

The Story Behind America’s 4th Most Popular Surname

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Surnames

The last name Brown essentially derives from a nickname. In England, Scotland, or Ireland, those with brown or red hair, or dark skin, might have been called “Brown,” and the name stuck. Sometimes, it has roots in a translation from another language, such as the French “Brun,” the German “Braun,” or the Gaelic “Donn.” In… Read more

Williams: A History of the Popular American Surname

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Surnames

      Williams means “son of William,” and its origins date to medieval England, when an increasing population meant people needed a way to identify each other by more than just a given name. One way to do this was to use a person’s father’s name as a surname. Williams got its start as just… Read more

How Does Your Family Stack Up to the Average Life Expectancy?

Posted on October 28, 2014 in Family History

We’ve all heard about that one older relative who lived until 100, but where does your family fall when it comes to the national average of lifespan? Do you have a particularly strong gene pool? If not, don’t fret. No matter your genetics, people are definitely living longer these days; over the past century, there’s… Read more

Five Jobs That Transformed America

Posted on October 28, 2014 in Family History

From 1860 to 1910, the population of the United States nearly tripled, from 31.4 million (including 3.9 million enslaved individuals) to 92.2 million. During that period, of course, the United States endured the Civil War. But the country also underwent the Second Industrial Revolution, transforming itself from a largely agrarian society into the greatest industrial… Read more