Ancestry Blog http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm Thu, 06 Nov 2014 23:31:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 10 Rare English Surnames About to Go Extincthttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/11/05/10-rare-english-surnames-about-to-go-extinct/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/11/05/10-rare-english-surnames-about-to-go-extinct/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 22:58:57 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6363 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

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10 rare english surnames

[Photo credit: Shutterstock]

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 whole generation of their men. Because names at that time were often specific to an area, a name could be almost completely eliminated.

There are less drastic reasons for a surname’s disappearance as well. Sometimes, a name is changed over time, or a male line may simply die out.

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Since 1901, about 200,000 names have disappeared altogether from England and Wales, according to a study conducted by Ancestry.co.uk. These include

  • Chips
  • Hatman
  • Temples
  • Raynott
  • Woodbead
  • Nithercott
  • Rummage
  • Southwark
  • Harred
  • Jarsdel

Hundreds of other English surnames are “endangered” — so rare that fewer than 50 people in England and Wales have them — and many more may be extinct within a couple more generations. These include

  1. Pober
  2. Mirren
  3. Febland
  4. Nighy
  5. Grader
  6. Bonneville
  7. Gruger
  8. Carla
  9. Fernard
  10. Portendorfer

Actress Helen Mirren, whose name is on that list, was born with the last name Mironoff, which her Russian father Anglicized to Mirren. Actors Hugh Bonneville and Bill Nighy also have endangered surnames.

Names that are dying out the fastest these days, as compared to the 1901 UK census, include the surname William, which in 1901 was the 374th-most common surname. In that year, one in every 1,000 people had the surname William; now, not 1 in 50,000 people in the UK does, a 97 percent decreased in prevalence. Other names dying out in the UK include:

  • Cohen (-42%)
  • Ashworth (-39%)
  • Sutcliffe (-36%)
  • Clegg (-34%)
  • Butterworth (-34%)
  • Crowther (-34%)
  • Kershaw (-34%)
  • Brook (-34%)
  • Greenwood (-32%)
  • Haigh (-31%)
  • Pratt (-31%)
  • Nuttal (-30%)
  • Ingham (-30%)
  • Ogden (-30%)

More people researching their roots today has led to an interest in preserving rare surnames, and as a result, more people are using hyphenated surnames in England. In 1901, “double-barreled names” were used only by the upper class, and just 1 in 50,000 people had one. Today, 1 in 50 people has a hyphenated surname, and almost half of them say it’s to preserve a family surname.

—Leslie Lang

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Johnson: A History of the Popular American Surnamehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/11/05/johnson-a-history-of-the-popular-american-surname/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/11/05/johnson-a-history-of-the-popular-american-surname/#comments Wed, 05 Nov 2014 19:54:19 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6362 [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

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[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 in England in 1287. The given name John itself derives from the Latin name Johannes, meaning “Jehovah has favored.”

Johnson is a common surname, the second-most popular on both the 1999 and 2000 U.S. censuses. In 2000, there were 1,857,160 Johnsons in the U.S., behind only the Smiths (2.3 million). In the UK, it’s the 10th-most common name.

In the 1840s, more American families with the name Johnson were concentrated in New York and Ohio than anywhere else in the country. Some lived elsewhere in the east, with a few in the Midwest. By the 1920s, the most Johnson families, per the census, were in New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas.

Data from the 1891 England and Wales census shows most Johnson families in the north, in Yorkshire and Lancashire. In Scotland, the Johnsons were particularly prominent in the Shetland Islands — this was the case in the censuses of 1841, 1861, 1881, and 1901.

Ancestry.com has millions of birth, immigration, census, voter, military, and other historical documents for folks named Johnson.Visit and we’ll help you narrow down your Johnson ancestry search.

—Leslie Lang

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Finding Your Roots on PBShttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/30/finding-your-roots-on-pbs/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/30/finding-your-roots-on-pbs/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 20:45:52 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6335 Have you seen the PBS show, Finding Your Roots? If you haven’t then you are missing out on how Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes each celebrity on a journey in discovering the stories of those who came before them and the connection they have to them today. You will see how traditional research and DNA… Read more

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skip gates

Have you seen the PBS show, Finding Your Roots? If you haven’t then you are missing out on how Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes each celebrity on a journey in discovering the stories of those who came before them and the connection they have to them today. You will see how traditional research and DNA can be used to help unlock the mysteries of their past and change their perspective on the future. It’s not too late to get caught up. See which celebrity is in each episode and watch all of them here.

 

Episode 1

In Search of My Father: Stephen King, Gloria Reuben, Courtney Vance

Episode 2

Born Champions: Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, Rebecca Lobo

 Episode 3

American Storytellers: Ken Burns, Anderson Cooper, Anna Deavere Smith

Episode 4

Roots of Freedom: Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander, Ben Jealous

Episode 5

The Melting Pot: Tom Colicchio, Aaron Sanchez, Ming Tsai

Episode 6

We Come From People: Angela Bassett, Valerie Jarrett, Nas

Episode 7

Our People, Our Traditions: Carole King, Tony Kushner, Alan Dershowitz

One of my favorites to watch was, ‘Roots of Freedom’.  Watching Ben Jealous discover how his 3rd great grandfather did a very brave thing to protect his family brought tears to his eyes photo 2as he realizes the impact that had on their story. Khandi discoveries truly where her roots come from and Ben Affleck finds out that he has an ancestor that fought in the Revolutionary War and is related to his friend Matt Damon. It was powerful to watch the connection that each one of them had with the stories that were shared. At the end of the episode, because each guest took a DNA test the results were revealed to show where in the world their ancestors came from. Every episode is interesting to watch as we see the guests learn more about themselves by going back into their family history and discovering the people and places that came before them.

Catch the last three episodes on PBS, Tuesday evenings. Watch how the story unfolds for each celebrity in discovering something new about their past.

Click here to get your DNA test before the DNA special episode 10 airing on Nov 25th, ‘Decoding Our Past Through DNA’.

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13 Spooky Family History Findshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/30/13-spooky-family-history-facts/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/30/13-spooky-family-history-facts/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:07:29 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6321 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. Real Witch Found in Emma Watson’s Family Tree: Muggle actress Emma Watson, famous for playing Hermione Granger, the preternaturally talented witch and ally of Harry Potter, has a real-life… Read more

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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 Spooky Family History Finds

  1. Real Witch Found in Emma Watson’s Family 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 c hest after being rejected by the woman who would later become his wife!
  8. Twilight Star Robert Pattinson Related to Dracula: Family history experts at Ancestry.com 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.

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Finding Your Roots: Anderson Cooper Investigates His Own Historyhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-anderson-cooper-investigates-his-own-history/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-anderson-cooper-investigates-his-own-history/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 21:34:13 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6311 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

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Anderson CooperAs 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 over to Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team of genealogists to get some backstory on his father, Wyatt Cooper’s, side of the family on the “Our American Storytellers” episode of Finding Your Roots.

Growing up in Manhattan Anderson could hardly escape his maternal family heritage. There’s even a giant statue of his 3x great-grandfather shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt standing in front of Grand Central Terminal. While the Vanderbilts have a rags-to-riches tale that can be traced back to Jan Aertsen Vanderbilt who arrived in America in the 17th century from the Netherlands, Anderson feels more kinship with the Southern roots on his father’s side.

Aside from his father’s love of Mississippi and knowledge that his father grew up poor in a small shack, Anderson knew little about his Cooper lineage. Wyatt Cooper didn’t have a chance to share much, since he died of a heart attack when Anderson was only 10. Gates and his team quickly uncovered a photograph of Anderson’s great-grandfather William Preston Cooper. His family was made up of settlers who migrated south to seek their fortune growing cotton. Most never owned much land or came close to hitting it rich and instead worked small farms or as laborers.

Further research found Civil War records on the Cooper line, including Robert Fletcher Campbell (Anderson’s great-great-grandfather), who was one of many family members who volunteered to fight for the Confederate Army even though they didn’t own any slaves. But there was one relative on the Cooper line who did actually own slaves. Burwell Boykin, Anderson’s 4x great-grandfather, was the most successful farmer in the family, but he also owned 12 people. Anderson had always presumed his family would have been too poor to own slaves. Another sad fact was that the record didn’t include the names of most of the slaves; most were listed only by age and sex.

While wondering what kind of man Burwell was, Anderson was shown a shocking bit of information from the 1860 U.S. Census Mortality Schedule: Burwell Boykin’s cause of death is listed as “Killed By Negro.” Boykin’s slaves were so unhappy with their treatment that one rebelled and beat him to death. Anderson figured that Boykin probably deserved it but wished that he could know more about the man who murdered Boykin (aside from the fact that he was hanged without a trial) and what happened to the other 11 people after Boykin’s death.

Details dried up at this point for Gates and his team, though given Anderson Cooper’s love of storytelling, we can’t help but wonder if he’ll keep investigating long after this episode airs.

Watch episodes of Finding Your Roots on PBS.org and learn more about your own roots on ancestry.com.

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Finding Your Roots: Documentary Filmmaker Ken Burns Uncovers Lincoln Connectionhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-documentary-filmmaker-ken-burns-uncovers-lincoln-connection/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-documentary-filmmaker-ken-burns-uncovers-lincoln-connection/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 21:31:22 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6305 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

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Ken BurnsDocumentary 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 and attributes his love of the cinema to his father, who got him hooked on going to the movies. With a supportive family who encouraged his dreams, he originally thought he’d direct feature films, but after his mother’s death when he was 11, his focus shifted to documentary storytelling. One friend declared that Burns’ mother’s long battle with cancer left him wanting to “wake the dead” and use stories to help bring people back to life.

His fascination with the Civil War is longstanding, and he told Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. that when he was a child and he and his brother would play a Civil War game, he’d make his brother play the Confederates; Ken was a loyal Union supporter from a young age. But Gates and his team of genealogists found that Ken’s great-great-grandfather Abraham Burns not only fought for the Confederate army but enlisted to do so. He was eventually imprisoned by the Union, and in order to win back his freedom, he had to swear an oath of allegiance; records show him saying he was forced to join the rebels. Ken didn’t really buy that statement, and while he’s never supported his relative’s viewpoint, he admits these sort of truths come with our families and their past.

He had a slightly harder time stomaching the next revelation that Gates unfurled about another Abraham on the Burns family tree. This Abraham is on the maternal side, Ken’s great-great-grandfather Abraham Smith. Ken could barely read the records that clearly showed that this ancestor owned six slaves before the Civil War broke out, a fact no one in his family had talked about.

Things briefly looked up as they explored further branches of his tree. Ken’s paternal 5th great-grandfather Gerardus Clarkson was a surgeon during the Revolutionary War and a major advocate for modern medicine. Better yet, Gerardus was related to Ken’s personal hero Abraham Lincoln, making Burns a distant cousin of the president. That news left Ken beaming from ear to ear.

But that bright spot turned dark quickly as Gates revealed some information about Ken’s maternal 5th great-grandfather Eldad Tupper. When Ken heard the name, his initial reaction was that he ought to call his pregnant daughter and tell her to use this unique family name for her unborn child, but that quickly changed. Eldad was a soldier in Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War, but he was a Loyalist fighting for the British. “Oh no, a Tory!” Ken exclaimed.

Trying to end on a positive note, Gates did have some good news from Ken’s DNA results. Burns family legend said that they were somehow related to Scottish poet Robert Burns, and DNA proved that Ken is indeed a cousin.

Despite some unsettling news about a slave owner, a Confederate soldier, and a British Loyalist, Ken learned that he’s distantly related to poet Robert Burns and his hero Abraham Lincoln, creating a very diverse and fascinating family tree.

To watch full episodes of Finding Your Roots, visit PBS.org. To research your own family history, join ancestry.com today!

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Finding Your Roots: Actress Anna Deavere Smith Discovers Underground Railroad Connectionhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-actress-anna-deavere-smith-discovers-underground-railroad-connection/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-actress-anna-deavere-smith-discovers-underground-railroad-connection/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 21:25:05 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6301 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

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Anna Deavere SmithActress 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 before Finding Your Roots (in the “Our American Storytellers” episode) was the important role one of her ancestors had in American history.

Anna was born in Baltimore and she noted that while her mother’s side was humble, her father’s side had “glamorous” and “jazzy” people. But she didn’t know much about the family’s past; even her grandfather, whom she spent lots of time with, didn’t talk much about it.

ButIt didn’t long for Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team to uncover some more fascinating people hidden in Smith’s family tree. Not only was she descended from slaves, but she also comes from a long line of free people of color — going back as far as 12 years after the end of the American Revolution. Upon hearing this, Smith joked, “I should have made something of myself.” But she was pleasantly surprised to find that she had free ancestors in her family tree.

Her great-great-grandfather Basil Biggs was a free man, and census records show that he was married to Mary Jackson and still free in 1850, more than a decade before the Civil War. Basil was a veterinarian and moved his family from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Only five years after moving, Basil found himself in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg. An obituary for Celia Biggs Penn (Basil’s daughter) notes that they were the only colored family in the area and fled the advancing Confederate troops. During the battle, Confederate soldiers turned Basil’s home into a field hospital, and when the family returned, their farm was in ruins and littered with rotting corpses.

Basil was contracted to remove the bodies from the field, and he and his 8-10 employees took on the unsavory task of exhuming Union soldiers from shallow graves and reinterring the bodies in the neatly ordered row that would become Gettysburg National Cemetery, the location of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.

After building the cemetery, Basil used the money he earned to rebuild his life and buy a new farm. A newspaper article about Basil reported: “He’s a veterinary surgeon and is reputed to be the wealthiest Afro-American in Gettysburg.” Anna didn’t understand why her whole family didn’t want to talk about this impressive individual. She was even more shocked when she saw his obituary which read: “Leading colored citizen was an active agent in the Underground Railroad.” Basil was a conductor, as his veterinary practice allowed him to travel without suspicion, though what he was doing was a federal offense and extremely risky.

Learning about Basil was a powerful revelation, but one last thing Anna wanted to know about was her African roots. Using DNA, they discovered that she’s from the Igbo tribe, which is part of present-day Nigeria.

Anna told Gates that while she was in Uganda, a witch doctor wanted to give her a blessing from her ancestors, which involved him spitting banana at her. She admitted that learning about Basil and her roots was an emotional journey, but was a lot tamer than getting spat on.

To watch full episodes of Finding Your Roots, visit PBS.org. And to learn more about your own family history, join ancestry.com today.

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Finding Your Roots: Benjamin Jealous Gets in Touch With His Revolutionary Heritagehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-benjamin-jealous-gets-in-touch-with-his-revolutionary-heritage/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/finding-your-roots-benjamin-jealous-gets-in-touch-with-his-revolutionary-heritage/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 21:12:50 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6292 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

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Benjamin JealousAs 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 Finding Your Roots, we found out that Benjamin wasn’t the only one in his family to stand up against adversity.

He was already aware that his 3x great-grandfather Peter G. Morgan was a former slave who helped to rewrite the Virginia state constitution after the Civil War. But Ben didn’t know much about Peter’s life before the war or how he came to be in a position to help draft the state’s new governing document. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team uncovered a registry of free people of color that dated back to two years before the Civil War and indicated that Peter became free in 1857 through manumission. Other documents showed that he was a shoemaker and was able to earn and save enough money to buy his own freedom. Ben vividly imagined how Peter must have counted every nail and shoe.

But buying his own freedom didn’t ensure his safety, as freed men at the time had limited rights, and if they were kidnapped, they could be sold back into slavery (think 12 Years a Slave). The most shocking thing Gates discovered was that Peter was listed on the 1860 census slave schedule — not as a slave himself, but instead as a slave owner. He owned his wife and three daughters. He bought them, but if he had freed them, they ran the chance of being sold back into slavery. They were also subject to a law that slaves that were free had to move out of the state within a year (Peter got special permission to stay). By keeping them listed as property, he was actually protecting them. But in 1864, a year before the end of the Civil War, Peter took the brave chance to free his family, writing a touching letter of emancipation. Ben appreciated the difficult struggle that must have been and said that Peter must have had a fire to be free.

On his father’s side of the family, things were less clear. Ben’s dad was disowned by his family after entering into a mixed-race marriage with Ben’s mother. Fred Jealous was a community activist from a blue-blood New England family and due to inherit a big fortune as his relatives founded Sargent and Company, a large hardware manufacturer. Because of this, Ben has little knowledge of his white relatives.

Gates found that Ben’s 6x great-grandfather Jonathan Harrington lived in Lexington in the heart of the Revolutionary War. He served as a fifer when he was only 16 and might actually have been on hand to hear the shot heard ’round the world. Additionally, Jonathan wasn’t the only soldier; Ben had eight other Patriot ancestors who fought during the war.

To get more information on Ben’s roots, Gates’ team turned to DNA testing. Ben’s ethnicity estimate came back as 80 percent European and only 18 percent sub-Saharan African. Gates joked that Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, was the “whitest black man we’ve ever tested.” They laughed, but Jealous said that despite the DNA evidence, he still proudly identifies as black, and this knowledge doesn’t change anything about that.

To watch the full episode, visit PBS.org. And to learn more about your family tree, visit Ancestry.com.

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The Story Behind America’s 4th Most Popular Surnamehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/the-story-behind-americas-4th-most-popular-surname/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/the-story-behind-americas-4th-most-popular-surname/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 20:58:11 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6290 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

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America's 4th most popular surname

Numerous Browns made it as far as Australia in the 1880s. (Courtesy of State Library of Queensland.)

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 the United States, freed slaves sometimes named themselves for the color of their skin.

Frustratingly, the name itself reveals little about a family’s origin. On Ancestry you’ll find more than 40 million historical documents related to the name Brown. You can narrow some of this information down by researching passenger lists to see where your great-grandfather sailed in from to see if your name was Anglicized at the border.

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These many different roots add up to an incredibly popular surname, one of the most common in the United States and Great Britain. Brown ranks fourth in the 2000 U.S. Census, with 1,380,145 occurrences; in 1850, there were 143,376. Browns have always been especially numerous (over 5 percent of the population) in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with an increase in the South after the Civil War:

Brown families 1840 census

Brown families 1880 census

In the latter part of the 19th century, Browns continually rang in at well over 100,000 in England, particularly concentrated in Yorkshire and Lancashire, where 10 percent of the population had the name:

Brown families 1891

In Scotland, Lanarkshire was historically a Brown stronghold, with a third of the population named Brown in the 1881 census:

Brown 1891 scotish census

Browns may be ubiquitous, but each family’s name has its own nuances and derivations. But probably, somewhere way down the line, there was a kid nicknamed for his auburn locks.

—Rebecca Dalzell

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Who Are the Most Likely Homeowners in the U.S.?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/who-are-the-most-likely-homeowners-in-the-u-s/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/29/who-are-the-most-likely-homeowners-in-the-u-s/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 19:26:06 +0000 Paul Rawlins http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6284 Members of the armed services are among those least likely to own a home in the United States, according to a new analysis from the research team at Ancestry. We analyzed 112 years of U.S. Federal Census data to better understand the connection between occupation and home ownership across the nation over the last century.… Read more

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Members of the armed services are among those least likely to own a home in the United States, according to a new analysis from the research team at Ancestry. We analyzed 112 years of U.S. Federal Census data to better understand the connection between occupation and home ownership across the nation over the last century. As of 2012, optometrists have the clearest line of sight to home ownership at 90%, while dancers and dance instructors have the lowest home ownership rate at just 23%.

Occupation has had a major impact on home ownership rates since 1900. While the typical size of a profession’s paycheck is an important factor in the rankings, it’s not the only one. There are many instances of a profession having a higher rate of home ownership than another that typically pays more. Some interesting findings:

  • Public service often pays off in terms of home ownership rates, except if you are in the armed forces. Fire fighters ranked #7 at 84% and police officers and detectives #12 at 79%, compared to lawyers and judges, who ranked #20 at 78%. Teachers were higher than economists (#45 at 74% versus #97 at 64%).
  • Janitors and sextons had a rate about double that of waiters and waitresses (54% versus 27%).
  • It turns out that not all artists are starving. Sixty-three percent of artists and art teachers own homes, which is almost twice as high as dancers and dance teachers, which have the lowest rate of home ownership among any profession. Higher rates of home ownership were also seen among musicians and music teachers (62%), entertainers (57%), and authors (63%).
  • Some skilled professions that include many unionized workers have fairly high rates of home ownership, such as electricians at 73%, plumbers at 70% and power station operators at 87%.
  • Sixty-two percent of editors and reporters owned homes in 2012, dropping from 64% in 2010, but 62% is higher than in every other analyzed decade.

Home ownership rates were at just 32% in 1900 and have doubled since then, but nearly all that growth came by 1960. With the stability of the housing market and the economy fluctuating drastically in recent years, occupations with specialized skills and heavy ties to the community fared the best. According to our analysis, top occupations for home ownership in the United States for 2012 are as follows:

  • Optometrists: 90%
  • Toolmakers and Die Makers/Setters: 88%
  • Dentists: 87%
  • Power Station Operators: 87%
  • Forgemen and Hammermen: 84%
  • Inspectors: 84%
  • Firemen: 84%
  • Locomotive Engineers: 84%
  • Airplane Pilots and Navigators: 83%
  • Farmers: 81%

Lower Rates of Home Ownership

From a list of nearly 200 occupations, the rate of home ownership in 2012 is as low as 22% for certain job types. While the professions with the highest rates of home ownership weren’t necessarily those with the biggest paychecks, the majority of the professions with the worst rates of home ownership have a mean hourly wage of $20 or less. Job stability and job security also played a large role in how likely those in a given profession were to own a home.

As expected, many of the lowest ranking occupations don’t require higher education—including cleaners, waiters, counter workers, and cashiers—and have lower job stability. Though surprising at first, members of the armed forces are less likely to own a home due to requirements to live on base, possible deployment, or the average age skewing younger.

The following are occupations with the lowest rate of home ownership:

  • Dancers and Dance Teachers: 23%
  • Motion Picture Projectionists: 27%
  • Waiters and Waitresses: 27%
  • Counter and Fountain Workers: 28%
  • Members of the Armed Forces: 33%
  • Service Workers (except private households): 34%
  • Bartenders: 35%
  • Charwomen and Cleaners: 35%
  • Cashiers: 36%
  • Cooks (except private households): 36%

Home ownership has been the dream of working men and women in the United States from the nation’s founding. No matter whether your ancestor was a toolmaker, grandfather was an optometrists, or you’re a dancer, home ownership continues to be part of the American dream.

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