Past Articles

Popular Toys in History: What Your Ancestors Played With

Posted on December 10, 2014 in Family History

Toys haven’t always been a part of childhood. It was only during the Victorian era that families began viewing play time as central to a child’s development. Paired with industrialization, that meant the invention of many new and exciting toys, with some more enduringly popular than others. The Sears-Roebuck catalogs archived on offer a… Read more

Go West, Young Man — No, Go South: Great American Migrations

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Family History

As a country founded by immigrants, the desire to seek out new lands of opportunity is a quintessentially American trait. It’s no surprise, then, that expanding into 50 states required not only immigrants from other countries but also migration on the part of the nation’s citizens. Understanding when, how, and why people migrated from one… Read more

You Look Marvelous: Sears & Roebuck and the High Cost of (Historical) Beauty

Posted on November 20, 2014 in Family History

One hundred years from now, will our great-great-grandchildren be laughing at our wrinkle creams, hair dryers, and Botox? Probably. But that’s not going to stop us from enjoying a laugh or two at the expense of our own ancestors’ attempts to achieve their contemporary standards of beauty. Ancestry has a collection of Sears and Roebuck… Read more

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

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 in England in… 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