Past Articles

Jones: A Short History of an American Surname

Posted on October 21, 2014 in Surnames

There are a lot of Joneses because there have always been a lot of Jons. In the Middle Ages, children were given surnames related to their father’s first name, such as Williamson for the son of William, which meant that the surname changed with each generation. Jones fits into this category, modified from the Middle… Read more

Smith: A Short History of America’s Most Popular Surname

Posted on October 20, 2014 in Surnames

If you have a Smith in your family, you have a staggering 81 million records to pore through on Ancestry. Smith has long been the most common surname in both the United States and Great Britain. Each U.S. census lists more and more Smiths, from 274,919 in 1850 to 2,376,206 in 2000. Yet the name… Read more

7 Real Patent Medicines the FDA Would Never Approve

Posted on October 14, 2014 in Family History

Once upon a time, some of the greatest medical crises America faced included “tired blood” and “female weakness” — or so many patent medicines claimed. Between the end of the Civil War and the Great Depression, Americans spent millions of dollars on heavily advertised “natural” remedies whose claims of being free of addictive substances overlooked… Read more

Designer Impostors: 8 People Who Faked Membership in Famous Families

Posted on October 14, 2014 in Family History

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, the saying goes. Throughout history, though, there have been particularly skilled and audacious con artists who’ve done a darn good job of faking membership in the family of their choosing. A few succeeded in passing as royal heirs to ascend a throne, some used… Read more

A Trip to the Past: America’s 8 Best Living History Farms & Museums

Posted on October 14, 2014 in Family History

If you’ve been researching your family tree on Ancestry, chances are you’ve stumbled on a relative or two who has worked in agriculture or experienced the challenges of pioneer life. If you are looking to get a feel for how they actually lived, living history farms and museums scattered all across the U.S. that use… Read more

There Are Four Common Types of German Surnames. Which One Is Yours?

Posted on October 9, 2014 in Surnames

In German, a surname is called the “Nachname” or “Familienname.” The family name gradually started being used during the Middle Ages. Prior to that, people generally used only a given name. As the population increased, though, that population needed a way to differentiate between all those new people. Now, those surnames can help you trace your family… Read more

Hate going to the dentist? So did your ancestors.

Posted on October 9, 2014 in Family History

Neolithic-era teeth found in modern-day Pakistan show evidence of having been drilled — with drills made of flint — and in a “remarkably effective” way, according to modern researchers who studied the 9,000-year-old teeth. Which goes to show that fear of going to the dentist probably predates written history. During the early Middle Ages in… Read more

The Killer Flu: How Did the 1918 Pandemic Affect Your Family?

Posted on October 9, 2014 in Family History

Normally, the flu is regarded as a winter misery we endure. But the strain that circled the globe at the end of World War I proved one of the deadliest illnesses to strike humanity. “The 1918 flu epidemic puts every other epidemic of this century to shame,” observed Gina Kolata in her book Flu. “It… Read more

‘Finding Your Roots’: Derek Jeter Digs Into His Mixed-Race Origins

Posted on October 8, 2014 in Finding Your Roots

New York Yankee captain Derek Jeter may have just retired from baseball and likely is heading for a a spot in the Hall of Fame, but before he said farewell to his pinstripes, he investigated his family tree to find out if his skills on the field had anything to do with his genetics. In… Read more

Famous Two-Timers: Bigamists, Polygamists, and Secret Families Throughout History

Posted on October 7, 2014 in Family History

Not every dig into a family’s past is going to come up with happy discoveries. Witness Kim Cattrall’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? a few years ago, when she found out that after her grandfather disappeared — leaving behind a wife and three daughters — he started a new family just 40… Read more