Ancestry.com Blog http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm Wed, 01 Oct 2014 17:47:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 8 Chilling Unsolved Murders in Historyhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/8-chilling-unsolved-murders-in-history/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/8-chilling-unsolved-murders-in-history/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 20:25:23 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5746 [Photo credit: Shutterstock] We all love playing amateur detective at one time or another. This explains the enduring popularity of mystery novels and detective shows and the reason we’re drawn to dig through records to discover the secrets of our own families’ past on Ancestry.com. If you find yourself particularly good at digging up the… Read more

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We all love playing amateur detective at one time or another. This explains the enduring popularity of mystery novels and detective shows and the reason we’re drawn to dig through records to discover the secrets of our own families’ past on Ancestry.com. If you find yourself particularly good at digging up the long-buried truth — and you have a strong stomach — you could take a crack at these famous unsolved murders that have been puzzling professional and amateur detectives for decades and even centuries.

1. The Screaming Mummy

In 1881, archeologists unearthed a man, who seemed to have died with his face contorted from some unspeakable horror done to him in ancient Egypt sometime in the 12th century B.C. Though we have since learned that his expression might just be the result of his mouth falling open after death, there are strange things about his burial — his brain was not removed, and he was covered in sheepskin, which was thought to be unclean — that indicate something wasn’t quite right about his death. The best guess these days is that he was the eldest son of Ramses III and was sentenced to death after his mother was accused of plotting to murder the pharaoh. But if that was the case, why was he allowed to be mummified?

2. Lord Darnley

After the death of her first husband, King Francis II of France, Mary Queen of Scots was talked into marrying Lord Darnley, a womanizing gambler who eventually contracted syphilis from whores in Edinburgh. On February 13, 1563, Mary attended the wedding of a servant while an explosion rocked the lodge where Lord Darnley was staying. He escaped out a window, only to be strangled by men said to have been hired by Lord Balfour. Darnley’s murder was probably a plot by several of the lords of Scotland, but it was Mary who was tried and convicted of the deed. The only evidence was some shady (probably forged) letters supposedly sent to Lord Bothwell (the man who raped her and forced her to marry him just after Darnley’s death). She spent 19 years imprisoned by her cousin Elizabeth I of England before being tried for treason and beheaded.

3. Jack the Ripper, aka the Whitechapel Murders

Between 1888 and 1891, as many as 11 women were murdered in the Whitechapel neighborhood of London. Just this year, Russell Edwards, author of Naming Jack the Ripper, claims to have found proof that the killer of at least the five main victims — whose throats were cut before their abdomens were sliced open and organs removed in 1888 — was Polish immigrant Aaron Kosminski. He bases this on DNA samples found on a blood-stained shawl taken from one of the murder sites and from a descendent of Kosminski’s sister. Immediately, other “Ripperologists” started disputing his findings. For one, the shawl’s been in private hands and therefore exposed to a whole lot of extra DNA. Then there’s the theory floated by Edward Jay Epstein in The Annals of Unsolved Crime. He claims the crimes assinged to the Ripper were unconnected murders sensationalized by the fledgling tabloid industry. Either way, Kosminski was institutionalized for coming after his sister with a knife and likely suffered from schizophrenia. He died of gangrene poisoning in 1919.

4. Abby and Andrew Borden

While we know of the incident that took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1892, as the “Lizzie Borden Murders,” the 32-year-old Lizzie was acquitted of killing her father and stepmother. The evidence against her: She and her older sister had fought with their father and stepmother over money, and Lizzie and the maid were supposedly the only people in the house at the time the killings took place. Abby Borden was hacked in the back 19 times, Andrew in the face 10 or 11 times, an hour and a half later, while Lizzie said she was in the barn looking for fishing sinkers. But there was not enough to convince the jury of Lizzie’s guilt. The case fascinates people so much to this day that you can even stay in the house where the murders took place, now a bed and breakfast.

5. Virginia Rappe

On September 5, 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Hollywood’s biggest comedy star of the time, was partying in a San Francisco hotel with friends. Model and aspiring actress Virginia Rappe was one of the guests and was in a room with Arbuckle when she began writhing and screaming in pain. She was taken to a hospital three days later and died of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. “He did this to me,” Rappe reportedly told someone before her death, and it was immediately assumed that the 260 pound Arbuckle had raped her, possibly with an object. The three trials he endured were a huge focus for those decrying the immorality of Hollywood, but he was acquitted of all charges.

6. William Desmond Taylor

The Arbuckle case was going strong when 49-year-old actor/director William Desmond Taylor was found shot in the back at his home on the morning of February 2, 1922. His houseman, Henry Peavey, called Paramount Pictures before the police, and a large amount of evidence was cleared out of the house before the investigation began. Actress Mabel Normand was the last known person to see Taylor alive, but a neighbor reported hearing a car backfire 15 minutes after Normand’s departure and saw a man in a long coat and hat leave the premises. Among the several suspects in this unsolved case are young actress Mary Miles Minter, who’d written Taylor many love letters, and her protective mother, Charlotte Shelby, who some say paid off the district attorney. There was also the former houseman Edward Sands, who had stolen money from Taylor and may have been blackmailing him. Actress Margaret Gibson, who had been arrested for opium use and involvement in an extortion ring and later went by the name Patricia Lewis, was said to have confessed on her deathbed in 1964. No one has been able to verify her claim.

7. Charles Lindbergh Jr.

Famed journalist H. L. Mencken called the March 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s 18-month-old son “the biggest story since the Resurrection.” Unfortunately, the media sensation around the incident may have prevented the crime from being solved, according to Epstein’s Annals. A ransom note and segments of a ladder outside the child’s two-story window were all the evidence the police had, but when Lindbergh turned the note over to a private investigator (who later sold it to the press), the family received demands for ransom from opportunists unrelated to the kidnapping. Three months later, the child’s body was found in the woods, four miles away from his New Jersey home. But the man eventually convicted of this botched kidnapping, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, could have been connected to one of the fake kidnappers instead, so many consider the crime unsolved. Some even suspect Lindbergh himself of accidentally killing his child and staging the kidnapping as a cover-up.

8. The Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short, the 22-year-old unemployed waitress whose body was found in a residential Los Angeles neighborhood, severed in half and drained of blood, was never actually nicknamed the Black Dahlia during her lifetime. But the media covering the 1947 murder used the name, and everything else about her life, to sell papers. The Los Angeles Examiner even called her mother and said Short had won a beauty contest to pump her for information before finally revealing that her daughter had been murdered. Complicating matters was the fact that Short seemed to have many men in her life, some of whom she’d picked up in bars, widening the scope of possible suspects. The case became so famous that 30 men came forward to confess (falsely) of killing Short. A James Ellroy novel, the 2006 Brian de Palma movie based on it, and several books featuring new theories have kept the mystery fresh in our minds to this day.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s safer to stick to investigating your own family’s past. You’ll definitely sleep more soundly!

—Sabrina Rojas Weiss

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Tall Tales: Were Your Ancestors Above Average in Height?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/tall-tales-were-your-ancestors-above-average-in-height/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/tall-tales-were-your-ancestors-above-average-in-height/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 18:33:20 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5745 According to Center for Disease Control figures released in 2010, the average size of an American male is 69.3 inches (nearly 5’9-1/2”) and 195 pounds, with females at 63.8 inches (nearly 5’4”) and 166 pounds. How do we compare to our ancestors? Evidence suggests our average height has seen minor changes since the American Revolution.… Read more

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Tall Tales

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According to Center for Disease Control figures released in 2010, the average size of an American male is 69.3 inches (nearly 5’9-1/2”) and 195 pounds, with females at 63.8 inches (nearly 5’4”) and 166 pounds.

How do we compare to our ancestors?

Evidence suggests our average height has seen minor changes since the American Revolution. Research by Colonial Williamsburg chief historian Harold Gill in the early 1980s showed that soldiers during the Revolutionary War were only 2/3 of an inch shorter than those who served in the Army during the 1950s.

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However, recruits during the 1770s were two inches taller than their European counterparts, which Gill attributed to a healthier lifestyle. His work was later supported by Munich University researcher John Komlos, who pointed to the abundance of wild game, plenty of land to clear, and sparse settlement patterns that allowed the United States to better avoid the epidemics that hit crowded European cities.

People long believed the myth that people in the 18th century were significantly shorter because of their tiny beds. The myth endured because of an optical illusion perpetuated by museums: The combination of canopies, high bed posts, and other touches make the beds appear shorter than they actually are. During the early 1980s, curators at Colonial Williamsburg measured the beds on display and discovered their lengths equalled or were longer than those found in modern furniture stores.

During the Civil War, the average soldier stood around 5’7” or 5’8” and weighed 143 pounds. Two contributing factors to their lower weight were likely their regular exercise in and out of the army — America was still primarily a rural nation — and rarely receiving their official daily ration of up to 22 ounces of bread and either 12 ounces of pork (sometimes in the form of bacon) or 20 ounces of beef.

By the time of the World War I (a conflict for which Ancestry.com has posted over 24 million draft registration cards that typically include height), the average American male’s height remained around 5’8”, while women stood about 5’3”. At this time, a draftee’s height averaged two inches taller than his European counterparts. Our citizens’ strong health physically, nutritionally, and economically pointed to a long future for our claim as the tallest nation in the world.

But then, as Komlos noted, “The U.S. just went flat.” From the 1950s onward, European heights have increased to the point that by 2004, the average Dutch male stood just over 6′ and counting.

“We’ve pretty well maxed out in terms of stature,” Northwestern University anthropologist William Leonard observed earlier this year. “There’s been little change in adult height over the last generation.”

He notes that modern Americans rarely suffer from diseases or developmental nutritional deficiencies to prevent them from reaching their potential genetically determined height. On the plus side, our stagnant height levels mean we have dodged problems faced elsewhere — such as ambulances that aren’t long enough to transport their tall patients.

Leonard also observed that there are areas of the American population where small increases still occur, namely in successive generations of immigrants. As far back as the 1950s, researchers noted that children of European migrants born in the United States stood taller than family members born across the Atlantic. One of the keys is proper childhood nutrition, where global improvements have allowed other countries to catch up to us.

Other factors that have affected our measurements include the overall quality of health care, personal environment, economic disparity, levels of exercise, and radical changes in food preparation.

So, as you’re researching generations of your family, look to see whether they were just Average Joes — or stuck out in the crowd.

— Jamie Bradburn

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What’s the Most Common Birthday?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/whats-the-most-common-birthday/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/whats-the-most-common-birthday/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 17:58:32 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5744 Do you have a fall birthday? Is your birthday in September? Is your birthday, by any chance, September 16? If so, congratulations! You have the most common birthday in the U.S., based on data on American births from 1973 and 1999 analyzed at Harvard University. Least common? That’s an easy one: February 29. But on… Read more

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Do you have a fall birthday?

Is your birthday in September?

Is your birthday, by any chance, September 16?

If so, congratulations! You have the most common birthday in the U.S., based on data on American births from 1973 and 1999 analyzed at Harvard University.

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Least common? That’s an easy one: February 29.

But on the non-leap-year calendar, the least common date is December 25, Christmas Day, followed closely by January 1, New Year’s Day, and December 24, Christmas Eve. Apparently it’s pretty rare to be a Baby New Year.

So, perhaps while you were researching your family tree, you noticed a trend of birthdays clustered together at certain times.

Not only does September have the most popular birthday, but it is by far the most popular birth month, with 15 of the top 20 dates. January and November are the least popular months.

These numbers are based on data that was collected largely before the rise of scheduled inductions and elective C-sections, so it seems the likely cause of this distribution is what’s going on nine months prior. The holidays may not be a popular time for birthdays month, but they sure are a popular time for conception!

Some data sets point to location as having some effect on birth month trends, with northern states experiencing earlier peak months than the southern states. Researchers from MIT suggest that the popularity of early autumn and summertime births are the result of planned, rather than unplanned, pregnancies.

Whatever drives the trend, the fact remains that there are far more “Septembers” than “Januaries” among us.

—Melanie Linn Gutowski

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Vanessa Williams Explains Her Family Treehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/vanessa-williams-explains-her-family-tree/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/26/vanessa-williams-explains-her-family-tree/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 15:00:29 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5737 The following appeared in the Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2013. Written by Jessica P. Ogilvie. The world within Vanessa Williams 5 QUESTIONS Most of us are curious about our family lineage. For Vanessa Williams, who recently took part in the show “Who Do You Think You Are” and explored her family’s history, the task… Read more

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Vanessa Williams

The following appeared in the Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2013. Written by Jessica P. Ogilvie.

The world within Vanessa Williams
5 QUESTIONS

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Most of us are curious about our family lineage. For Vanessa Williams, who recently took part in the show “Who Do You Think You Are” and explored her family’s history, the task was both surprising and informative. Here, she talks about what she learned and how she plans to use that information.

How did you become interested in finding out about your lineage?

I’ve always been interested, but I was introduced to Ancestry.com [one of the websites that help people research their family backgrounds] before I even did a show called “Who Do You Think You Are,” so I signed up as a member to document my own family tree, and my DNA analysis was done as a part of doing the show.

We ended up doing two stories on my father’s side. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a soldier in the Civil War, and the other was born a slave but ended up being an educator and principal, and one of the first black legislators in Tennessee back in 1885. The stories are rich and informative and intriguing, but also as an African American, you don’t always have the luxury to know exactly where your ancestors are from.

What did you find out about your DNA?

My DNA breaks down as follows: I’m 23% from Ghana, 17% from the British Isles, 15% from Cameroon, 12% Finnish, 11% Southern European, 7% Togo, 6% Benin, 5% Senegal and 4% Portuguese.

Now, I can’t wait to go to Ghana and Cameroon and Togo and Senegal — it’s a great opportunity to see why the customs resonate with you. I love to travel and I love to explore, and I have to admit that I was always jealous of people who knew their cultural background. Both my family and myself came out with light eyes, so obviously there is a recessive gene here. Not knowing what that was just made me very curious.

How did it feel to find out about all these different parts of your lineage?

It’s fascinating! The first person I called was my mother, and I sent her my results and copied all my kids so they know where half of their genetic makeup is from. I wish that my father was still alive, because he was a huge history buff and interested in genealogy as well. It allows a greater sense of history for the family and a bit of pride as well.

Why do you think this information is important? Is it just for your own knowledge or to do plan to use it for health purposes as well?

I remember my mother told me that when my brother was a baby, they identified some blood issue with him, and they asked her if she had any relatives from Italy because this particular blood characteristic was consistent with someone from Italy. My mother said, “No, no, nothing like that.” Well, now come to find out 45 years later and obviously we have the same genetic makeup that Southern European is 11% of our makeup.

How did your family react to all this information?

They loved it. They really can’t wait to go on our world tour of where we’re from. The biggest surprise was Finland. How did that happen? Who is Finnish? That is definitely going to be one of my trips coming up. It’s all surprising, really interesting and it’s really incredible.

Discover your family story. Start a free trial today. 

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9 Things They Don’t Teach in College Anymorehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/19/9-things-they-dont-teach-in-college-anymore/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/19/9-things-they-dont-teach-in-college-anymore/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 18:07:15 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5709 Laugh all you want at the courses colleges offer these days on Lady Gaga and zombies — is that really so much less practical than the ancient Greek and Roman would-be scholars had to study in centuries past? Ancestry has a whole collection of school catalogs from the 19th and early 20th centuries that are… Read more

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CollegeLaugh all you want at the courses colleges offer these days on Lady Gaga and zombies — is that really so much less practical than the ancient Greek and Roman would-be scholars had to study in centuries past? Ancestry has a whole collection of school catalogs from the 19th and early 20th centuries that are not only great for your family history research but also offer a fascinating peek into the educational standards of the past. The amount of classics required boggles the mind. We also found quite a few courses that we aren’t likely to see in a modern-day institution of higher learning:

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Elocution

According to Smith College’s 1880 catalog, elocution was a required course for the first two years and an elective for every semester after that. And the women’s college wasn’t alone: a look at many of the top schools of the time offered the class, too. Were we a nation of mumblers back then? Nope. Elocution wasn’t just about proper pronunciation; it included principles and techniques of public speaking.

Penmanship

If you weren’t into all that Cicero and Herodotus in the 19th century, you could instead enroll in one of the few business schools of the era. At Warner’s Polytechnic Business College of Rhode Island in 1877, there was an entire department of penmanship, where you could take Plain and Ornamental Penmanship, Old English and German texts, Off-hand flourishing, or Visiting and Wedding Card writing.

Telegraphing

We mention this mostly because the 1876 catalog for Eastman National Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York, is such a fun study in persuasive advertising techniques. We’re basically ready to enroll right now. In just 8 to 12 weeks, you could be on your way to a career in telegraph operation. There’s also a useful class on “The Art of Detecting Counterfeit Money,” if you have spare time.

Map Drawing

Speaking of studies made completely obsolete by technology, the women of the Young Ladies’ Seminary of Benicia, California (incidentally, the first college for women west of the Rockies), all learned how to draw maps by hand in 1870. Take that, Google.

Blowpipe Analysis

For centuries, scientists and metallurgists used these instruments to direct heat at various metals and chemical compounds, so it’s no surprise to find an entire course on it for chemistry majors at the University of Kansas in 1891. If you offered a class with this title today, however, you might get an entirely different type of student. Dude.

Household Equipment Maintenance

Here’s one we found outside of the catalog collection: Mary Washington College in Virginia took home economics to a new level in the 1950s, offering a class that taught women how to maintain and repair electric and gas appliances and how to manage the wiring plan of their home.

Mental Arithmetic

Every time the bill comes at a restaurant, we wish we’d taken this class, which was a requirement at the Beaver Female Seminary in Pennsylvania in 1860. Ornamental needlework, meanwhile, was just an elective.

Wood Carving

The University of Minnesota used to have an entire School of Design, Freehand and Wood Carving, which offered a two-year program in the latter back in 1890. Guess our waning taste for ornate banisters killed that one.

Taste and Criticism

OK, so the course required of Columbia University students in 1854 titled “Principles of Taste and Criticism, Theoretically Examined and Practically Applied” was probably about rhetoric and literary theory or something and not what we’re imagining, which is Heidi Klum telling the class, “One day you’re in, and the next day you’re OUT.”

—Sabrina Rojas Weiss

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4 Types of Spanish Surnames: Which One Is Yours?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/17/4-types-of-spanish-surnames-which-one-is-yours/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/17/4-types-of-spanish-surnames-which-one-is-yours/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 19:31:21 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5706 Ever wonder about Spanish surnames (“apellido” in Spanish) and how they came to be? Spanish surnames started being used in medieval times, when populations were growing and it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same given name. The 10 most common Spanish surnames today cover about 20 percent of the population in Spain.… Read more

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Spanish surnamesEver wonder about Spanish surnames (“apellido” in Spanish) and how they came to be? Spanish surnames started being used in medieval times, when populations were growing and it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same given name.

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The 10 most common Spanish surnames today cover about 20 percent of the population in Spain. Some originated from Germanic first names that were introduced in the country by the Visigoths during the 5th to 7th centuries, while others have Latin roots.

The 10 most common first surnames in Spain in 2013, according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, are:

  1. García—1,459,677 (3.51%), Pre-Roman, Basque
  2. Fernández—914,169 (2.2%), Germanic
  3. González—912,511 (2.19%), from Germanic
  4. Rodríguez—906,746 (2.18%), Germanic
  5. López—858,736 (2.07%), Latin
  6. Martínez—822,848 (1.98%), Latin
  7. Sánchez—805,889 (1.94%), Latin
  8. Pérez—767,962 (1.85%), Latin
  9. Martín—489,357 (1.18%), Latin
  10. Gómez—482,781 (1.16%), Germanic

People in countries with Hispanic surnames generally have two surnames today, a system that dates back to the upper classes in Castile in the 16th century.

For the most part, people now take the first of their father’s two surnames and the first of the mother’s two surnames as their own last name. Women sometimes add their husband’s surname to the end of theirs or in place of their mother’s surname, sometimes with a “de” between the two names. Therefore, a husband and wife generally have different sets of double surnames, as do their children.

In the past, however, Hispanic naming patterns were not as consistent. Sometimes, sons took the surname of their father, while daughters took that of their mother. The Castilian double surname naming system of the 16th century didn’t become common throughout Spain until the 1800s.

When researching your pre-19th-century Spanish ancestors, therefore, remember that naming patterns then differed from naming patterns today.

Historically, Spanish surnames can typically be traced back to one of four types:

1. Patronymic & Matronymic. This type of surname started out as a way of distinguishing between two men with the same name by using a father’s first name (patronymic) or a mother’s given name (matronymic). Sometimes the parent’s name was unchanged (as in Alonso, Vicente, and Garcia), but frequently it was used with an added suffix that meant “son of.” These include -ez, -az, -is, -oz at the end of a Castilian or Spanish surname and -es, -as, -is, or -os with Portuguese names. Patronymic or matronymic names are some of the most common Hispanic surnames; some examples include Fernandez, “son of Fernando,” or Gonzales, “son of Gonzalo.”

These were not, at first, surnames that were passed down. In one generation, an individual might be Martin Perez (Martin, son of Pedro). His son would be Juan Martinez (Juan, son of Martin). Eventually, these patronymic names became fixed surnames that passed down in the family through the generations.

Some other names of this sort include:

  • Dominguez—son of Domingo
  • Hernandez—son of Hernando
  • Lopez—son of Lope
  • Ramirez—son of Ramiro
  • Ruiz—son of Ruy or Roy
  • Suarez—son of Suero
  • Velazquez—son of Velasco
  • Velez—son of Vela

2. Geographic. This type of Hispanic last name tells you something about where the first person to take the name came from, or where their homestead was. Someone named Aguilar may have originally lived near an eagle’s nest; the name refers to a “haunt for eagles.” Other common geographic surnames of this type include Medina and Oyarzun (both place names), Navarro (“from Navarre”), Serrano (meaning “highlander”), and still other geographic surnames refer to features of the landscape where a family lived, such as Vega (“meadow”), Mendoza (“cold mountain”), Morales (“blackberry groves”), Torres (“towers”), and Iglesias (“churches”). Some include the suffix “de” to indicate “of” or “from” a place, such as Del Olmo (“from the elm tree”) and Davila (from “d’Avila,” meaning “from the town of Avila”).

3. Occupational. Sometimes a surname that denoted a person’s job or trade was tacked on to a person’s given name. Felipe Vicario, for instance, was Felipe the vicar. Some other common occupational surnames:

  • Alcaldo—mayor
  • Barbero—barber
  • Cabrero—goatherder
  • Cantor—singer
  • Cavallero—horseman, knight
  • Corredor—runner
  • Herrera/Herrero—ironworker, smith
  • Hidalgo—nobelman
  • Marin—from the Latin “Marinus,” meaning sailor
  • Marques—marquis
  • Molinero—miller
  • Romero—pilgrim
  • Torrero—bullkeeper, fighter
  • Zapatero—shoemaker

4. Descriptive. This type of surname was based on a quality or physical feature of the person.

  • Bravo—brave
  • Cano—grey
  • Cola—tall
  • Cortes—courteous
  • Delgado—thin
  • Garza (heron)—long legged
  • Grand—large
  • Moreno—brown haired, tan
  • Orejon—big ear
  • Rubio—blonde

—Leslie Lang

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It’s a Boy … and a Boy … and Another Boy: Does Child Gender Run in Families?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/16/its-a-boy-and-a-boy-and-another-boy-does-child-gender-run-in-families/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/16/its-a-boy-and-a-boy-and-another-boy-does-child-gender-run-in-families/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 22:22:56 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5698 Genealogy isn’t just a great way to learn about your personal history; it may also hold the key to longstanding mysteries in biological science. For decades, scientists and philosophers around the world have wondered what causes the “returning soldier effect” — a boom in baby boys born after a society’s soldiers return from war. Theories… Read more

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Gender namesGenealogy isn’t just a great way to learn about your personal history; it may also hold the key to longstanding mysteries in biological science.

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For decades, scientists and philosophers around the world have wondered what causes the “returning soldier effect” — a boom in baby boys born after a society’s soldiers return from war. Theories ranged from the divine (a heaven-sent replenishment of lost sons) to hormonal (surviving soldiers were more ardent and likely to fertilize their wives when sons were most likely).

But a biologist says he’s found the real answer by combing through 973 family trees, containing information on 556,387 people going back to 1600. If a man produced more sons than daughters, those sons were more likely to have more sons as well. Newcastle University’s Corry Gellatly, who conducted the research, believes a gene that’s expressed in men may be the cause.

Gellatly’s research leads him to believe that the gene causes some men’s sperm to produce X chromosomes, while the same gene in other men causes them to produce more Y chromosomes. Chromosomes from one lucky sperm combine with an egg to produce a baby: XY chromosomal pairs produce boys and XX pairs produce girls.

The way this phenomenon plays out over a few generations helps explain how the population may stay fairly balanced between males and females after a war. Let’s say two patriarchs, Harry and Sam, live in a post-war nation where women outnumber men due to war casualties. Before the war, Henry had three boys and one girl, and Sam had one boy and three girls. With three boys, Henry stands a better chance than Sam of having a son return from war to start his own family. And when Henry’s sons do start having kids, Henry’s grandchildren are more likely to be boys, thereby helping to replenish the stock of available men in a subsequent generation.

“The family tree study showed that whether you’re likely to have a boy or a girl is inherited,” Gellatly told Popular Science. “We now know that men are more likely to have sons if they have more brothers but are more likely to have daughters if they have more sisters.” Women, however, did not have the same tendency.”

For now, Gellatly’s theory remains just that; no one’s identified the gene that makes men more likely to send forth X versus Y emissaries. But luckily, anyone can replicate Gellatly’s research — if on a smaller scale — by investigating their own family tree and tallying the number of Jacks versus Jills and from generation to generation.
—Sandie Angulo Chen
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10 Weird but True Facts About DNAhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/16/10-weird-but-true-facts-about-dna/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/16/10-weird-but-true-facts-about-dna/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 01:15:50 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5683 AncestryDNA does amazing things. With just a few drops of saliva, it can trace your genes to Senegal or Scandinavia. It can reveal hidden branches of your family tree and connect you to previously unknown third cousins. But these revelations are just the beginning of your complex genetic map. Here are some stunning but true… Read more

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facts about DNAAncestryDNA does amazing things. With just a few drops of saliva, it can trace your genes to Senegal or Scandinavia. It can reveal hidden branches of your family tree and connect you to previously unknown third cousins. But these revelations are just the beginning of your complex genetic map. Here are some stunning but true facts about the code that all living organisms have inside them:

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1. Your DNA could stretch from the earth to the sun 600 times.

If unwound and linked together, the strands of DNA in each cell would be 6 feet long. With 100 trillion cells in your body, this means that the total DNA in your body could make hundreds of round trips to the sun and back.

2. We’re all 99.9 percent alike.

Not to diminish your unique genealogical tree, but it’s basically the same as everyone else’s. But those similarities are important: They’re what make you human.

3. We’re over 98 percent identical to chimps.

We’re only 1.2 percent genetically different from chimpanzees. Our last common ancestor lived about 6 million years ago. We’re almost as close to gorillas, but 7 percent different from rhesus monkeys. After billions of years of evolution, we share genes with all living things on earth.

4. Genes make up only 3 percent of your DNA.

The other 97 percent was thought to be “junk” DNA until recently. Scientists have found that this noncoding DNA controls the activity of your genes. It contains switches that turn genes on or off and program other compounds.

5. You can sequence the DNA of a fetus with blood and spit.

With only blood from the mother and saliva from the father, scientists have recently constructed the DNA of an unborn child. That sample alone could help detect genetic diseases in their offspring — with no invasive procedures required.

6. The human genome contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA.

Each cell has 3 billion base pairs, or chemical letters. If those letters were typed out, it would take nearly 30 years of typing nonstop. That’s enough text to fill 200 phone books.

7. Your genome contains ancient viruses.

Eight percent of our genome is made up of retrovirus DNA. These are viruses that have been passed down for so long that most have mutated and are held powerless in your system. But some retroviruses can take on new life, such as in people with HIV and several viruses that trigger cancer. When scientists isolated the DNA of both HIV patients and healthy people, they found a virus they called K111, sometimes intact and sometimes not. It is also found in the genome of chimpanzees, so the virus would have infected our ancestors before humans split off over 6 million years ago. When people are infected with HIV, the ancient K111 virus becomes activated.

8. DNA has been traced back over 300,000 years.

In 2013, scientists reported that they had found an ancient Y chromosome in an African-American man in South Carolina. It had been passed down intact for 338,000 years, predating the earliest known fossils of the modern human. The chromosome carried a mutation that scientists matched with one found in people of the Mbo tribe in Cameroon. That means that an ancestor of the Mbo interbred with an archaic African human.

9. A whopping 20 percent of Neanderthal DNA lives on in humans.

People living outside of Africa today have genomes composed of 1 to 4 percent of Neanderthal DNA. Combined, these different scraps make up about one-fifth of Neanderthal DNA. It’s especially found in the genes that make keratin, which affects our hair and skin. The Neanderthal skin color gene is still found in 70 percent of Europeans. Scientists have even sequenced the DNA of a Neanderthal dead for 5,300 years and found he has living relatives.

10. Your boyfriend can smell your DNA.

Studies of kissing have shown that women are more attracted to the scent of a man with a different genetic code than her own. A difference in DNA increases the chance for healthy children. So, what you perceive as chemistry may in fact be DNA!

—Rebecca Dalzell

Find out who’s in your genetic code. Try AncestryDNA today.

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Born on the Wrong Side of the Blanket? 8 Illegitimate Offspring Who Made Historyhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/15/born-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-blanket-8-illegitimate-offspring-who-made-history/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/15/born-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-blanket-8-illegitimate-offspring-who-made-history/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 20:51:34 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5680 If you think there’s reason to be ashamed of any illegitimate ancestors you find stashed in your family’s closet, then, in the words of Game of Thrones‘ Ygritte, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” (a bastard himself). Even Prince William, the future King of England, can trace his roots (on Diana’s side) back to two of… Read more

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Born on the wrong side

[Photo credit: Library of Congress]

If you think there’s reason to be ashamed of any illegitimate ancestors you find stashed in your family’s closet, then, in the words of Game of ThronesYgritte, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” (a bastard himself).

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Even Prince William, the future King of England, can trace his roots (on Diana’s side) back to two of Charles II’s more than a dozen illegitimate children. Throughout history, children born out of wedlock or as the result of adulterous affairs have gone on to do huge things. That’s no small feat, considering the stigma society often attached to their birth. Here are just a few men and women who should make us think twice about using the word “bastard” as an insult:

1. Caesarion, aka Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar

The son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar (who recognized him as his own) was named co-ruler of Egypt, with his mother, when he was just 3 years old. After the suicides of his mother and Marc Antony, new Roman Emperor Augustus (aka Octavian), ordered the young pharaoh killed in 30 B.C. He was just 17.

2. William the Conqueror

The son of Robert I, Duke of Normandy, and mistress Herleva (a tanner’s daughter), William “the Bastard” unified Normandy in 1060 and then led an army to take over England in 1066. Now he’s known as William the Conqueror. That’s one way to get rid of an unsavory nickname.

3. Leonardo da Vinci

A peasant named Caterina, who may have even been a slave from the Middle East, gave birth to this future artist and scientist. He grew up in the home of his father, notary Messer Piero Fruosino di Antonio da Vinci, and was raised by his stepmothers.

4. Bernardo O’Higgins

Spanish colonial law required government officials to get permission to marry South American-born women of Spanish descent, and for some reason, Irish-born Ambrosio O’Higgins didn’t bother with such formalities before getting young Isabel Riquelme pregnant. Ambrosio went on to become the Viceroy of Peru before finally recognizing his only son on his deathbed. The younger O’Higgins led the Chileans to independence from Spain in 1818.

5. Jenny Lind

Other than, say Elizabeth I, female bastards have generally had a harder time of it than their male counterparts. But “Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind managed to make the most of her poor beginnings as the daughter of a bookkeeper and a teacher — who didn’t believe in divorce and finally married Jenny’s father only after her first husband died when Jenny was 14. By then, the girl had already made her stage debut and was on her way to becoming one of the most celebrated opera singers of her time.

6. Billie Holiday

Clarence Holiday and Sadie Fagan where teenagers in Baltimore when Billie was born in 1915. Clarence left when she was just a baby, becoming a professional jazz guitarist that his very famous daughter went out of her way not to hire.

7. Marilyn Monroe

So little did Norma Jeane Mortenson/Baker know about her birth father, that she once pretended he was actually Clark Gable. When her mother, Gladys, was institutionalized, Norma spent her childhood moving between orphanages and foster homes.

8. Steve Jobs

The late Apple founder’s birth parents, Joanne Carole Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, were students in San Francisco when Schieble’s father forced her to give her son up for adoption after his birth in 1955. The couple actually married later and had a daughter before divorcing. Would he still have invented the Apple computer had he grown up working in an entirely different garage?

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Oh, Ethel! 10 Baby Girl Names That Used Be Popularhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/09/oh-ethel-10-baby-girl-names-that-used-be-popular/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/09/09/oh-ethel-10-baby-girl-names-that-used-be-popular/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 21:53:05 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5646 Much like fashion, baby names follow trends. These days, classic-sounding names like Olivia, Sophia, and Ava are in vogue, but some more traditional names that were once on top have completely fallen to the wayside. Now, a name like Minnie (which you may come across frequently if you are digging around your Ancestry.com family tree… Read more

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Much like fashion, baby names follow trends. These days, classic-sounding names like Olivia, Sophia, and Ava are in vogue, but some more traditional names that were once on top have completely fallen to the wayside.

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Name ChangesNow, a name like Minnie (which you may come across frequently if you are digging around your Ancestry.com family tree in the late 1800s) is probably only associated with young people wearing T-shirts at Disney World. That said, female names seem to vary wildly in popularity, while many of the most popular male names over the years stand the test of time. There are some monikers like Ernest, Norman, or Bernard that sound retro but all still managed to rank within the top 1,000 names in 2013 according to the Social Security Administration.

So if you are looking through your family history hoping to come across a name that will make your little girl stand out, here are a few formerly popular names that are practically nonexistent now.

Betty: Throughout the 1930s, Betty was second only to Mary among girl names, but has been on a steady decline since 1940.

Ethel: Strong showing during the 1890s, hitting 8th place, slipped to 12th in the 1900s, then dropped to 80th the following decade and never recovered.

Tammy: This female moniker skyrocketed out of nowhere in the 1960s and landed in the 13th spot. But by the 1990s, it was no longer in the top 200 and has all but disappeared since then.

Dorothy: In the 1920s Dorothy was all the rage (way before The Wizard of Oz) and peaked in the No. 2 spot, but since then, this name has slipped significantly. While it still merits a place in the top 1,000, it was most recently ranked at 808. The similar Doris (13th in the 1930s) has also been ignored over the past 15 years, not even making the top 1,000.

Ida: This classic name was the 7th-most-popular female name during the 1880s, but then slipped into disuse in subsequent decades.

Mildred: The name peaked at 6th place during the 1910s and held strong through the 1920s, but then went on a rapid decline.

Edna: It never quite reached top 10 popularity, but it was a strong contender from the 1880s all the way through the 1920s before it started sounding old-fashioned.

Gladys: Managed to crack the top 20 at the turn of the century, but dropped off by the 1910s.

Florence: For almost five decades, Florence managed to stay in (or very close to the top 20), but by the 1930s, the name was losing favor.

Bertha: In the 1880s, this name was the 8th-most-popular female name for the entire decade and then took a slow downturn. Now we think of Bertha — and Bessie, which followed a similar popularity arc — as a name more regularly associated with farm animals!

—Angel Cohn

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