Ancestry Blog http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm Tue, 21 Oct 2014 20:13:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Smith: A Short History of America’s Most Popular Surnamehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/20/smith-a-short-history-of-americas-most-popular-surname/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/20/smith-a-short-history-of-americas-most-popular-surname/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 23:31:48 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=6133 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

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Most popular surname

[Photo credit: Anthony via Flickr]

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 is far from generic and has a rich and complicated history.

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Surnames began to come about in the Middle Ages, when people were often identified by their trade. Just about every village in Britain had a smith, usually a blacksmith, who made horseshoes, plows, swords, armor, and other needed items. These workers were skilled and had status in the community, which contributed to the name’s wide usage. Some names were once more specific, with people called Combsmith or Smithson, and were later shortened to Smith.

The name was used across the British Isles, though the 1891 census shows a higher concentration in areas like Lanarkshire, Scotland, and Yorkshire, England, and fewer in southern counties like Cornwall and Devon. The Welsh had a different naming system, calling people after their fathers’ first names, so trade names like Smith are less common there.

American Smiths do not share anything close to a common lineage. They are black and white, with ties to German Schmidts, Irish O’Gowans, or former slaves. The name is sometimes even the result of translations by clerks or immigration officers. For instance, according to the authors of Surnames, DNA, and Family History the Gaelic name MacGowan means “son of the smith” and so was sometimes translated as “Smith.”

Census data show that there have been Smiths all over the United States from the beginning, especially more populous states like New York and Pennsylvania. So like the industrious ancestors you’re searching for, you Smiths will have some work to do.

—Rebecca Dalzell

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7 Real Patent Medicines the FDA Would Never Approvehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/14/7-real-patent-medicines-the-fda-would-never-approve/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/14/7-real-patent-medicines-the-fda-would-never-approve/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:28:06 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5859 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

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Patent medicines

[Photo credit: Sears catalog]

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 their high levels of ingredients like alcohol, arsenic, and cocaine. As pioneering muckraking journalist Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote in his exposé of the industry, the most prominent ingredient was “undiluted fraud.”

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What didn’t cure you might in fact kill you — or create an addiction requiring another patent medicine.

One of the best historical sources for mind-boggling patent medicines is the Sears Roebuck catalog, which devoted entire sections to quack cures. On Ancestry.com, we flipped through the pages of the fall 1898 edition and found the following products, whose legacy lives on in dubious infomercial health claims.

1. Dr. Barker’s Blood Builder

“It is universally conceded that seventy-five per cent of the diseases with which the human family suffer today are produced by some poisonous germs in the blood or some derangement of that life giving and sustaining fluid,” this “simple vegetable remedy” claimed. A dose would cure users of illnesses ranging from cancer to syphilis.

2. Dr. Worden’s Female Pills for Weak Women

“Female weakness” was code for menstruation, whose side effects were treated as a ghastly abhorrence. Dr. Worden (probably not a real doctor) promised that his tonic restored beauty where his competitors and legitimate physicians failed. While its claims address most symptoms of the menstrual cycle, these pills were also recommended for ailments like “green sickness,” “hunchbacks,” “acquired deformities,” and, most terrifying of all, “early decay.”

3. Stop Drinking German Liquor Cure

Cures for alcoholism were popular amid the temperance fervor during the golden age of patent medicine. This product promised to destroy all desire for liquor: “You will have a desire for food instead of rot gut.” It also declared that medical claims that alcoholism could only be cured through hypodermic injections were absurd and that anyone could go cold turkey at home. The irony is that many patent medicines were loaded with alcohol — a product like Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters was 44 percent booze. During Prohibition, some tonics offered a legal fix when prescribed by a doctor.

4. Tobacco to the Dogs

Before nicotine patches and other smoking-cessation aids, this product reputedly “rejuvenates the weak and unstrung nerves caused by overindulgence in this poisonous weed.” Not only would this patent medicine replace nicotine cravings with the munchies, but it was “one of the best tonics for sexual weakness ever made.”

5. Dr. Rose’s Obesity Powders

It’s conceivable that if the previous two products worked as claimed, their powers might have overstimulated the user’s appetite for food. Enter Dr. Rose to help shed those extra pounds. “All people who have obesity are troubled with sluggish circulation and labored action of the heart,” the good doctor claimed. “The patient feels lazy and burdensome. There is a sluggish condition of the whole system: they are not exactly sickly, there is a feeling that all is not right.”

6. Dr. Rose’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers

Besides helping customers lose weight, Dr. Rose wanted to fix their complexions, even if that meant using a poisonous substance like arsenic. Have no fear — the catalog assured customers that an experienced chemist had discovered a way to distill all of the benefits of arsenic to battle blackheads and freckles with none of its dangers. These complexion wafers possessed “the ‘wizard’s touch’ in producing, preserving and enhancing beauty of form and person in male and female by surely developing a transparency and pellucid clearness of complexion, shapely contour of form, brilliant eyes, soft and smooth skin, where by nature the reverse exists.”

7. Peruvian Wine of Coca

Cocaine-enriched beverages were touted for their medicinal benefits during the late 19th century. Queen Victoria and Pope Leo XIII were among those who enjoyed nips of Vin Mariani, while Georgia pharmacist John Pemberton’s cocaine-laced syrup evolved into Coca-Cola. Sears’ version was touted as a digestive aid, fatigue fighter, and treatment for asthma, malaria, and “loss of forces and weakness caused by excesses.” It was highly recommended “if you wish to accomplish double the amount of work or have to undergo an unusual amount of hardship.”

What kind of tonics, powders, and natural remedies did your ancestors purchase?

— Jamie Bradburn

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Designer Impostors: 8 People Who Faked Membership in Famous Familieshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/14/designer-impostors-8-people-who-faked-membership-in-famous-families/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/14/designer-impostors-8-people-who-faked-membership-in-famous-families/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:48:56 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5855 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

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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 their well-known “family” name to get loans and pass bad checks, and still others just enjoyed the fame for a while. Even in the era of Internet background checks and DNA testing, there are impostors who manage to get their kicks. Who knows — there might be fakes in your own family tree!

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Here are some of our favorite tales of fantastic family fakes:

Perkin Warbeck, alias Richard of York

Born in Flanders around the late 15th century, Warbeck was a young servant in Ireland when people began commenting that he looked like the illegitimate son of a duke or a king. A number of powerful enemies of King Henry VII (including the kings of France and Scotland) took the notion and ran with it, eventually helping him take on the identity of Richard of York, one of Edward IV’s sons who had been murdered in the Tower of London. Some declared him the rightful king of England, and he made a few attempts to march to London with his supporters but was thwarted every time. In 1497, he confessed to avoid being hanged for treason. After trying to escape the Tower in 1499, he was hanged after all.

Grigory Bogdanovich Otrepyev, alias Dmitry I

Ivan the Terrible’s son Dmitry died as a child in 1591, and somehow not one, but three impostors were tempted to take on his identity during a tumultuous time in Russian history. The first, thought to be noble-born monk Grigory Bogdanovich Otrepyev, gathered supporters while living in Lithuania and stormed Russia with a Cossack army in 1604. Though they were initially defeated, when Tsar Boris died in 1605, the army decided to support the so-called Prince Dmitry as the new tsar. Too bad his support of the Poles and an attempt to drive the Turks out of Europe made him unpopular, and he was murdered in a coup d’état in 1606.

Betsy Bigley, alias Cassie Chadwick

This farmer’s daughter from Ontario, Canada, knew how to take advantage of gullible businesspeople from a very young age: Even as a teenager, she passed bad checks by brandishing a card declaring her an heiress to $15,000. She moved to Ohio, where she conned men into marrying her and cashing more checks, served four years in prison for it, possibly ran a brothel, and married once more. In 1902, she ran into her husband’s friend, a lawyer, and had him drive to Andrew Carnegie’s mansion, where she stepped inside for a few minutes and returned brandishing an envelope with promissory notes worth about $750,000 and millions of dollars of securities, supposedly signed by her “father,” Carnegie. The lawyer let the info leak, thereby allowing Chadwick to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. She was finally convicted of fraud in 1905, and Carnegie himself attended the trial out of curiosity. She died in prison while serving her 10-year sentence.

Franziska Schanzkowska, alias Anna Anderson, alias Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia

The 1918 murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family during the Bolshevik revolution ignited all sorts of speculation that his youngest daughter, Anastasia, had somehow survived. In 1922, a young woman who had been committed to an asylum in Berlin declared she was Anastasia and managed to convince several Russian emigres, including the son of the murdered family doctor. Under the name Anna Anderson, she traveled the world, building her fame and eventually settling in the United States. An investigator uncovered that she was actually a Polish-German factory worker, but some still believed Anastasia had survived. In 2009, DNA analysis finally identified the true princess’ remains — she had, after all, been killed in 1918.

David Hampton, aka Sidney Poitier’s Illegitimate Son

In 1983, Hampton would hang around Columbia University, where he’d strike up conversations with rich New Yorkers and convince them he was the Oscar-winning actor’s hard-luck son and a classmate of their children. Everyone from Melanie Griffith to the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism wound up inviting him into their homes, feeding him and sometimes giving him money. He was eventually discovered and sentenced to 21 months in prison. If this story sounds familiar, yes, it is the basis of Six Degrees of Separation, the play and eventual movie starring Will Smith. Hampton died of AIDS in 2003.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, alias Clark Rockefeller

This German carpenter’s son was well practiced in creating new identities for himself by the time he moved to New York in 1992 and posed as Clark Rockefeller — even daringly attending Saint Thomas Church in Manhattan, where real Rockefeller heirs might be encountered. There, he married Sandy Boss, a successful business consultant, and fooled many a high-class friend, including his biographer, Walter Kirn. It wasn’t until Boss divorced him and he abducted his daughter during a scheduled visit that his true identity was revealed. In 2013, he was convicted of the 1985 murder of John Sohus, the son of his landlady at the time. Kirn’s account of Gerhartsreiter, Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, was published this year.

Anoushirvan D. Fakhran, alias Jonathan Taylor Spielberg

Of all possible motivations for taking on a famous fake identity, Iranian immigrant Fakhran may have had the best: He wanted to attend an American high school. In his late 20s, he legally changed his name to Jonathan Taylor Spielberg and passed as Steven Spielberg’s 14-year-old nephew in order to enter a private Catholic high school in Virginia. The ruse was up when the school called Steven Spielberg to complain about his nephew’s frequent absences and discovered the director only had nieces. Fakhran was sentenced to 11 months in prison in 1997.

Josef Meyer, alias Prince Josef von Habsburg-Lothringen of Austria

Like many fakes before him, Josef Meyer took advantage of Americans’ fascination with fallen European royalty when he began posing as a descendant of the assassinated Austrian emperor. The craziest part of this story, though, is that he had help from the FBI to do so. Meyer, a former mental patient and convicted forger and drug dealer, convinced the Feds to hire him as an informant for decades. He married and raised a family of three in Manhattan, parading the kids around in lederhosen, before one of the targets of an FBI investigation hired a detective of his own and uncovered the prince’s true past. In 2010, he was arrested for owing more than $200,000 in child support to his first wife back in Michigan.

The more we read about these cases, the more we can actually picture how easily we’d be duped too. After all, it would be fascinating to be BFFs with an exiled prince or the lovechild of Hollywood royalty. Hmm, maybe we should be researching our friends’ families on Ancestry, too.

— Sabrina Rojas  Weiss

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A Trip to the Past: America’s 8 Best Living History Farms & Museumshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/14/8-best-living-history-farms-museums/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/14/8-best-living-history-farms-museums/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 19:41:40 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5848 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

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Farms & Museums

[Photo credit: Cliff on Flickr]

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 costumed interpreters and demonstrations to bring these time periods to life in ways that just reading about them can’t.

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Sure there’s the famous Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, which re-creates the Colonial era, but there are plenty of other places that will give you a slice of historical day-to-day life. It’s about as close as you can get to time traveling without a DeLorean.

Living History Farms (Urbandale, Iowa): If your family settled in Iowa or the Midwest, this 500-acre outdoor museum is a must see. It doesn’t focus on taking you back just to one era but has three completely separate farm sites highlighting different times: 1700 Ioway Indian Farm; 1850 Pioneer Farm; and 1900 Horse-Powered Farm. You can also visit 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, which features a blacksmith, general store, and print shop. While you’re there, you can see how farming techniques changed over the course of 200 years with demos on how oxen and horses were used to revolutionize agriculture.

Old Sturbridge Village (Sturbridge, Mass.): If you’ve got New England blood running through your veins, take a visit to the largest outdoor history museum in the northeast (at about 200 acres). It boasts 40 original buildings — including meeting houses, a school, country store, water-powered mills, and trade shops — that take visitors back to a rural New England town in the 1830s. Interactive exhibits feature period-costumed staffers doing everything from food preparation in a typical 19th-century kitchen to milking cows or creating goods in a blacksmith or pottery shop.

Mission San Luis (Tallahassee, Fla.): Whether you have Apalachee roots or you just want to learn more about their heritage, this Florida museum will transport you to 1703 when the Native Americans and the newly arrived Spanish settlers lived together at this mission. They have special events that recreate a traditional Thanksgiving and a Winter Solstice Celebration, as well as daily exhibits with staffers cooking traditional foods and teaching visitors about a soldier’s life at the fort.

Genesee Country Village and Museum (Mumford, N.Y.): In upstate New York, this 19th-century country village focuses on small homes and farms as well as grand estates and inns, all of which have been reconstructed to give an accurate look at their era. This museum progresses through three time periods: The Pioneer Settlement (1795-1830), The Village Center (1930-1870), and Turn-of-the-Century Main Street (1880-1920). There’s even a re-creation of a Civil War-era helium balloon, the Intrepid, that visitors can ride in. But one of the most unique aspects is the vintage baseball (or base ball as it was known in the 19th century) reenactments that take place throughout the summer.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm (Kona District, Hawaii): Coffee and Hawaii? Even if your own ancestors have no direct correlation to either, this place might be worth a visit, as the 5.5-acre spot is the only living history museum that features a coffee farm. The setting is 1920-1945 and brings to life the daily grind of Japanese immigrants. Visitors experience the hardships of farming life, see traditional crafts being created, and tour the coffee and macadamia nut orchards.

Conner Prairie (Fishers, Ind.): What challenges did pioneers face in 1836? This Indiana museum (located at the historic William Conner homestead) depicts day-to-day life to demonstrate the struggles the residents would have faced. There is also an 1863 Civil War Journey, where visitors can become completely immersed in the war, and a Lenape Indian Camp, where you can learn how to strike a deal with fur traders. And for the adventuresome, there’s an “1859 helium balloon voyage” visitors can take.

Stuhr Museum (Grand Island, Neb.): This living history village focuses on pioneer life from the late 19th century and has been used as a location for movies like My Antonia and Sarah, Plain and Tall. Some of the highlights are the 1894 railroad town; 1830s Pawnee earth lodge; a 1960s log cabin settlement; and the historic Taylor Ranch, which originally belonged to “Sheep King” Robert Taylor and was visited by President Theodore Roosevelt. And if any of your ancestors were mechanically inclined, there’s an antique farm machinery collection and trains from the Union Pacific.

This Is the Place Heritage Park (Salt Lake City, Utah): Located near the monument of Brigham Young (where he declared that his group of Mormon pioneers had found their home), this Heritage Park blends a little bit of amusement with their living history. In addition to a full village of buildings from Utah’s earliest settlements, authentic Native American teepees, and pioneer chores, there are also mini-trains, petting zoos, train robberies, salt-water-taffy cannons and a splash pad. But who says you can’t learn about how your relatives lived and still enjoy some modern day fun?

If these are too far to trek to, or your ancestors settled somewhere else, there are a host of other of local living history museums, heritage farms and other historic spots that create an immersive and interactive experience, scattered all around the country. And if you are looking for more information on where your ancestors lived and worked without leaving home, check out Ancestry today for a free trial.

— Angel Cohn

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There Are Four Common Types of German Surnames. Which One Is Yours?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/09/there-are-four-common-types-of-german-surnames-which-one-is-yours/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/09/there-are-four-common-types-of-german-surnames-which-one-is-yours/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 22:56:56 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5821 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

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German surnames

[Photo credit: Shutterstock]

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 tree on Ancestry.

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The first Germans to use surnames were the nobility and wealthy land owners. After that, merchants and general townspeople started using surnames, with rural people adopting the practice last. It was two or three hundred years before it was commonplace to use last names, though most people were using them by the late Middle Ages.

German surnames generally started out as one of four different types.

1. Occupational. This is the most common form of German family name and can often be identified by its ending, such as -er (as in Geiger, one who played the violin), -hauer (hewer or cutter, such as Baumhauer, a tree cutter), -macher (one who makes, as in Fenstermacher — one who makes windows), and -man/-mann (as in Kaufman, one who sells, or a merchant).

Some other examples of family names from occupations include:

  • Bauer (farmer)
  • Becker (baker)
  • Fleischer or Metzger (butcher)
  • Klingemann (weapons smith)
  • Maurer (mason)
  • Meier (farm administrator)
  • Muller (miller)
  • Schmidt (smith)
  • Schneider (tailor)
  • Schulze (constable)
  • Topfer/Toepfer (potter)
  • Wagner (carter/cartwright)
  • Weber (weaver)

2. Patronymic. Often, a person was distinguished by a reference to his or her father, which eventually turned into what we now know as a last name. A man named Simon whose father was named Ahrend might have become Simon Ahrends (Simon, son of Ahrend). Johann Petersohn was Johann, son of Peter. Patronymics most often come from the northern areas of Germany.

Because some early German records were written in Latin, last names were sometimes written with the Latin ending “-i” (sometimes spelled “-y”), as in Martin Berendi, who would have been Martin, son of a man named Berend.

At first, patronymic names would change with each generation, as they were just describing one person by that person’s father’s name. This continued until laws required adopting a permanent surname that passed down hereditarily. People were sometimes reluctant to comply with these laws, and sometimes several decrees were passed. In the Schleswig-Holstein area of northern Germany, for instance, such laws were passed in 1771, 1820, and 1822.

3. Descriptive. Many German surnames are descriptive names based on a physical characteristic, such as Brun/Braun (brown hair or a swarthy complexion), Krause (curly-haired), Klein (small), Gross (big), Schwarzkopf (black headed), and Hertz (big-hearted). Older, non-Christian names are often of this type.

4. Geographical. These names derive from where a person lived or came from. They may stem from the name of a city or village or the location of someone’s home, such as Kissinger from Kissingen and Schwarzenegger from Schwarzenegg. Someone named Berger may have who lived on a mountain.

Since about 1600, only aristocratic families were allowed to use the “von” prefix in Germany. So if someone was baron of a village, his family name would be “von” and the village name. In older names, though, “von” sometimes merely indicated that a person was from an area: Lukas von Albrecht may have been Lukas from Albrecht. German immigrants to North America who used the “von” prefix almost never had used it previously in their native country.

A geographical name could also be one that derives from a landmark (Busch was named after a certain bush, or Springborn after a spring or well), or a family might have been named after an inn or farm.

Some German surnames had local dialectical characteristics. For instance, in south German, Austrian and Swiss, diminutive endings included -l, -el, -erl, -le, and -li. Some examples are Kleibel, Schauble and Nageli.

—Leslie Lang

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Hate going to the dentist? So did your ancestors.http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/09/hate-going-to-the-dentist-so-did-your-ancestors/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/09/hate-going-to-the-dentist-so-did-your-ancestors/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:07:07 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5809 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

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DentistNeolithic-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.

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During the early Middle Ages in Europe, monks practiced dentistry, but in the 1100s, it was no longer allowed. That was when barbers — who had in their tool kits sharp knives and razors that were also useful for operations — began performing simple surgeries, cleaning and pulling teeth, and were first called “barber-surgeons.”

From ancient times, diverse cultures (some all the way into the 1900s) used to attribute toothaches to a “tooth worm” that gnawed at the tooth. The English thought it looked like a tiny eel, and in northern Germany it was thought to be a worm that was red, gray, and blue. Many cultures depicted it looking like a maggot.

So dental hygiene is nothing new, but it’s come a long way since the days of your great-grandparents and long-ago ancestors. Check out how some of them dealt with their dental issues:

Toothbrushes. We know from ancient excavations that the Egyptians and Babylonians brushed their teeth with toothbrushes of a sort, or more accurately “chewing sticks.” As far back as 3500 B.C., they chewed down one end of a twig so it had loose fibers and then brushed those against their teeth to clean them. They were similar to the herbal chewing sticks, or miswak toothbrushes, still used in India, Pakistan, and some Arab and African countries and which the World Health Organization recommends for oral hygiene.

In China, people made bristle brushes by attaching hog bristles to bamboo sticks or animal bones and used those as early toothbrushes.

Early Europeans cleaned their teeth with a cloth dipped in oils and salt.

But then in 1780 came a turning point: Englishman William Addis, who was in jail for having caused a riot, used his time productively to create a toothbrush more like one we would recognize today. Eventually, it was mass-produced, and the family toothbrush business he started operated until 1996.

Another huge turning point in dental care coincided with, surprisingly, World War II. Before the 1940s, it was not part of the American daily routine to brush one’s teeth. Soldiers at war were required to brush their teeth daily. When they returned home, they took their new dental care habit with them, which is when regular brushing became the norm in the United States.

Toothpastes have their own story. Some ancient people created primitive toothpastes that often included ingredients we would not expect to find in our minty squeeze tubes today. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, they sometimes included rabbit heads, mice, lizard livers, and even urine. Some of these early toothpastes included powdered fruit and honey, and you may have also found burnt or ground shell, dried flowers, and talc. No surprise, some of these were hard on tooth enamel.

Toothpaste more along the lines of what we might recognize came about in the 1800s, though some common ingredients included soap and chalk.

And then there were early dental prostheses. Most of us know Paul Revere as a Revolutionary War patriot, but he was also a silversmith and amateur dentist who made dentures of walrus ivory or animal teeth and fastened them into a patient’s mouth with gold wire. (He made some of George Washington’s dentures.)

Revere made an ivory and gold-wire dental prosthetic for General Joseph Warren, the man who sent Revere on his famous “midnight ride.” Years later, Revere became the first forensic dentist when he identified Warren, killed in battle at Bunker Hill, by the prosthetic he’d created for him. It was the first time dental remains had been used to identify a military service member in this country.

Pain control during dental surgery is nothing new, either. There is evidence that the Chinese used acupuncture to treat the pain of tooth decay as early as 2700 B.C. More recently, a Viennese ophthalmologist named Carl Koller was the first to experiment with cocaine as anesthesia for eye surgery. That was in 1884; soon after it was used as a local anesthetic in dental surgery. Later, as addictive nature of cocaine became clear, Novocaine was substituted.

— Leslie Lang

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The Killer Flu: How Did the 1918 Pandemic Affect Your Family?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/09/the-killer-flu-how-did-the-1918-pandemic-affect-your-family/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/09/the-killer-flu-how-did-the-1918-pandemic-affect-your-family/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 02:13:27 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5808 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

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flu pandemicNormally, 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.

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“The 1918 flu epidemic puts every other epidemic of this century to shame,” observed Gina Kolata in her book Flu. “It was a plague so deadly that if a similar virus were to strike today, it would kill more people in a single year than heart disease, cancers, strokes, chronic pulmonary disease, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease combined.”

It killed more Americans in one year than the country lost in battle in its major 20th-century military conflicts.

Official estimates put the global death toll at 20 million, with over 500,000 of those fatalities recorded in the United States. Subsequent research suggests anywhere from 40 to 100 million died around the world. (Factors for this discrepancy include lack of mandatory record-keeping and revolutions in countries like Russia.)

In some American families, it was embarrassing to fall ill at a time when the public was urged to support the war effort. It was worse to be perceived as a slacker for skipping a local Liberty Bond rally than convalescing at home. This shame prevented some victims from reporting their illnesses until it was too late. Families kept quiet about who was stricken by the flu, creating holes for future generations to fill in. One way of finding out if your family was affected is to compare the 1910 and 1920 census records, as well as death certificates.

Here are a few facts about the flu epidemic of 1918:

No one can pinpoint where it originated: While no particular source has been verified, research suggests China as a strong possibility. The illness gained the nickname “Spanish Flu” due to an early outbreak in the Spanish resort of San Sebastián in February 1918. The name stuck partly due to neutral Spain’s unpopularity with everyone during the war.

The flu had many nicknames: Depending on where you were, the epidemic was known as “Flanders Grippe,” “Wrestler’s Fever,” “Naples Soldier,” “Blitz Katarrh,” “La Coquette,” “Bolshevik Fever,” and “Bombay Fever.”

The epidemic hit in three waves: The first, and mildest, wave hit during the late winter and spring of early 1918. Though it caused few fatalities, its effects were obvious. In Detroit, over 1,000 Ford Motor Company workers called in sick during March 1918, while one-quarter of the 2,000 prisoners in San Quentin fell ill. The second wave, which debuted in America courtesy of sailors docked in Boston in August 1918, was the killing strain. A third, whose strength fell in between, hit in early 1919.

Death could be swift. While some victims lingered for weeks before succumbing, others barely had time to contemplate their mortality. In an extreme case, a healthy-appearing woman boarded a New York subway train for her ride home. When the train arrived at her station 45 minutes later, she was dead.

Symptoms were out of a horror movie: In its most lethal form, the flu produced symptoms worthy of an FX makeup wizard. Following the usual flu symptoms, victims developed “heliotrope cyanosis,” where oxygen-deprivation turned lips and ears a purplish shade of blue. Their feet turned black. Bloody saliva was coughed up. Finally, the lungs filled up with fluid, effectively drowning the victim. “When a doctor does an autopsy,” Kolata noted, “he will observe your lungs lying heavy and sodden in your chest, engorged with a thin bloody liquid, useless, like slabs of liver.”

Youth worked against you: Young adults were among the demographics with the highest fatality rates. It has been suggested that being young, strong, and healthy provoked severe inflammatory responses, sending the body’s defense mechanisms into overdrive.

Life expectancy figures temporarily collapsed: While researching the epidemic, historian Alfred Crosby consulted world almanacs from the period. He noticed that the average life expectancy of an American was listed as 51 in 1917, then dropped dramatically to 39 in 1918 — a figure unseen since the beginning of Reconstruction.

World leaders were not immune: Among those hit by the flu epidemic were President Woodrow Wilson (who caught the flu while attending the Paris Peace Conference in 1919), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, King George V of England, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, and America’s movie sweetheart, Mary Pickford. The flu was fatal for Cyrano de Bergerac author Edmond Rostand and South African Prime Minister Louis Botha.

Medical services were overwhelmed: The United States was already suffering a doctor shortage due to the thousands who signed up for the war effort. Cities found themselves unprepared to provide adequate treatment and handle rapidly rising death counts. Philadelphia was one of the worst affected — bodies piled up at its lone morgue, which couldn’t cope with over 700 fatalities a day at the epidemic’s peak in October 1918. Many buildings were pressed into temporary medical use, including New York’s Sing Sing prison.

—Jamie Bradburn

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‘Finding Your Roots’: Derek Jeter Digs Into His Mixed-Race Originshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/08/finding-your-roots-derek-jeter-digs-into-his-mixed-race-origins/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/08/finding-your-roots-derek-jeter-digs-into-his-mixed-race-origins/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 15:36:08 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5798 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

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Derek JeterNew 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 the “Born Champions” episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, Jeter — who openly talks about stares he got when people realized his parents were a mixed-race couple (Jeter’s father African-American and his mother is of Irish descent) — dug deep into his family tree and found some interesting surprises.

Jeter was most curious about an African-American great-great-grandfather on his father’s side of the family: Green W. Jeter. Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his team of genealogists were able to discover quite a bit of information on Grandpa Green. He was a minister who established the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Coosa County, Alabama. Upon seeing a photograph of Green, Derek dubbed his relative “smooth.”

Gates and his team were impressed that Green was able to found a church, but they were curious about how he rose to such a high position after the Civil War. They learned that the Jeter surname actually belonged to slave owner James W. Jeter. Slaves in the pre-Civil War era were considered property, so they weren’t given surnames and sometimes took the name of their owners. Derek Jeter’s family name actually comes from the Southern slave owner who held Green (as well as Green’s mother, Charity, and his other siblings) as his property.

When the team dug a little further into Green’s history, they checked the 1870 census (the first to record former slaves by name) and made the shocking discovery that Green’s race was listed as “M” for mulatto, suggesting that Green was a mixed-race child. Jeter looked absolutely gobsmacked to find out that his ancestor was also born to a mixed couple.

There is additional evidence, in the form of large amounts of money and the fact that Green’s church was on Jeter family land, that suggests that James W. Jeter was actually the father of Charity’s children. While Gates admitted it is impossible to know the circumstances of this encounter, Derek grudgingly sighed that it was “not consensual, I would guess.” But Gates noted that James did seem to take care of Charity’s children, and Derek admitted that he’d like to think it was a good relationship, “or as good as it could be.”

To obtain concrete proof that Green was James’s son, and that Derek’s Jeter family line is related to the plantation owner’s family line, they turned to DNA testing. The team found descendants of James Jeter to take a DNA test and compared their DNA with Derek’s. The results were 100 percent conclusive that Derek’s great-great-great- grandfather was indeed the James W. Jeter. With this established, the research team was able to uncover relatives on this branch of the family that trace back to 17th-century England.

The family historians also looked into Derek’s Irish lineage and learned that his 3x great-grandfather was born in Manchester, England, moved to America, and settled in the tenements of lower Manhattan. Old newspaper clippings show that oyster saloon keeper William C. Pierce was once charged for keeping a disorderly house. Apparently, he had quite the rowdy bar back in the day, before moving to Jersey City and starting a furniture business.

After digesting all of this information on his lineage, Derek coolly summed up the information by saying, “To know where the Jeter name came from, it’s important. It’s important to know.”

You can watch the full episode at PBS.org. To learn more about your own roots go to Ancestry, where you can test your DNA to find out more about your genetic past.

—Angel Cohn


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Famous Two-Timers: Bigamists, Polygamists, and Secret Families Throughout Historyhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/07/famous-two-timers-bigamists-polygamists-and-secret-families-throughout-history/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/07/famous-two-timers-bigamists-polygamists-and-secret-families-throughout-history/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 23:20:10 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5776 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

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famous two timersNot 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 miles away from them … without divorcing his first wife.

Whether due to tricky divorce laws, misled romantic (sociopathic?) notions, or a real belief that monogamy is overrated, men and women have been committing bigamy and/or hiding secret families since the days of Abraham and Hagar. You might even have an ancestor with a second (or third or fourth) family! Here are some other notable folks in history who were, let’s say, overcommitted:

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Henry VIII

If he hadn’t gone with the full split from the Catholic church, the six-times-married king of England would have been one of the most notorious of bigamists (though a couple of beheadings and post-childbirth deaths got some of those wives out of the way for good). He also had at least one, maybe two, children with mistress Bessie Blount before marrying Anne Boleyn. Bessie’s son Henry was recognized and given a title, but recently one historian claimed her daughter Elizabeth was his and should have been the real Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth Chudleigh

Chudleigh was a maid of honor for Princess Augusta (George III’s mother) when she married Augustus John Hervey in 1744. She was unfaithful, and they split in 1749. When she took up with Evelyn Pierrepont, the second Duke of Kingston, 20 years later, she got her first marriage annulled and married him. Unfortunately, upon the duke’s death in 1776, his nephew accused her of bigamy. The trial that followed was a huge sensation at the time, and she left England for good when she was found guilty.

Rachel Jackson

Another shady confusion over the timing of an annulment/divorce nearly cost Andrew Jackson the presidency. Rachel Donelson married Lewis Robards when she was 18 years old in 1785. Years later, Robards claimed she got cozy with Jackson, a lawyer at the time who was boarding with her family, and eloped with him in Natchez, Mississippi, while still married. Jackson and Rachel’s family, however, said she fled her abusive husband and went to Natchez because she feared for her life. Jackson said Robards had been boasting that he’d divorced Rachel, leading them to think they could marry legally. The whole scandal came to light decades later, during Jackson’s presidential campaign, but he won anyway. The tragic twist to this story: Rachel Jackson died of heart failure before the inauguration in 1828.

Anaïs Nin

The legendary Diary writer was married to New York banker Hugh Guiler when she met actor-turned-forest-ranger Rupert Pole in 1947, but she let him believe she was divorced and married him in Arizona in 1955 — while still not splitting from Hugh. For 11 years, she managed to maintain both marriages, spending six weeks in New York, then six weeks in California. She confessed to Rupert in 1966 and had her marriage to him annulled, but continued to live with him. She didn’t confess to Hugh until just before her death, from cancer, in 1977.

Brigham Young

The name of Brigham Young has become synonymous with polygamy in 19th-century America. Though there is some room for debate, scholars figure the early Mormon leader had about 55 wives, 16 of whom bore him children (he had 56 or 57 of those). He didn’t live with all of the women he married—some were older women he married simply to help support—and he divorced several as well. According to a contemporary account, some who did live with him got their own little apartment in one of his houses, complete with “parlor, bedroom, and a front door, the key of which she keeps in her pocket.” Privacy in such a situation sounds like quite a luxury.

Charles Lindbergh

Now that divorces are easy to come by, bigamy isn’t as much of a problem. Still, there are some (men in particular) who manage to support entire second families without their spouse’s knowledge. With five children and a wife back in the U.S., Lindbergh met Brigitte and Marietta Hesshaimer, two sisters in Germany, in 1957 and went on to have three children with one and two with the other. A secretary in Germany also bore him two children. The aviator supported and visited all of them.

Charles Kuralt

Fans of the late CBS Sunday Morning host may have been shocked to learn that Kuralt maintained a second family for 29 years with a woman he met as CBS’s “On the Road” correspondent. He bought an estate in Montana for Patricia Elizabeth Shannon and her three children from a previous marriage while still living with his wife in New York City. The long-running affair didn’t come to light until after his death in 1997, when Shannon sued to get the retreat he’d promised her.

Francois Mitterand

On the other hand, it should come as no surprise to believers in stereotypes that the late French President Mitterand had a daughter with his mistress, Anne Pingeot. Mazarine Pingeot was a secret until she was about 20, when a tabloid got wind of her existence and raised outrage over the fact that mother and daughter were sometimes housed at the expense of the government.

— Sabrina Rojas Weiss

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Is That a Famous Person in Your Family Tree?http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/07/is-that-a-famous-person-in-your-family-tree/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/10/07/is-that-a-famous-person-in-your-family-tree/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:59:10 +0000 Ancestry.com http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/?p=5775 A name is one of the first gifts we receive from our families, and often it reflects the values and experiences of our parents. It’s considered an honor for a parent to name a child after someone else. Most often, the namesake is a member of the family or a close friend. Other common namesakes… Read more

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Famous person in your treeA name is one of the first gifts we receive from our families, and often it reflects the values and experiences of our parents. It’s considered an honor for a parent to name a child after someone else. Most often, the namesake is a member of the family or a close friend. Other common namesakes derive from a parent’s favorite book, film, artist, or even vacation spot. As you research your own family tree, you may find a famous name among your relatives — but that doesn’t necessarily mean you were related to a famous person.

In the 19th century, it was common for parents to name a child after an unrelated but prominent person. During the Civil War, parents often named their children after a military officer. This custom is perhaps best known from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone With the Wind, in which the widowed Scarlett O’Hara names her eldest son Wade Hampton Hamilton, after late husband Charles’ commanding officer. Another of Mitchell’s characters, Melanie Wilkes, names her son Beauregard, after P. G. T. Beauregard, a Confederate general.

Occasionally, one of these “exact namesake” children would himself become famous. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, better known as The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald, was named for the lyricist behind America’s national anthem. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was named for Martin Luther, the German religious reformer (as was his father). Industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick was named for politician Henry Clay.

Perhaps the most common inspirations for exact namesakes were U.S. Presidents. Though unusual today, many parents patriotically named their children for the Commander in Chief. Two famous examples are inventor George Washington Carver and baseball Hall of Fame legend Grover Cleveland Alexander.

With the high incidence of political scandals today, it’s hard to imagine parents being eager to give a child the full name of a sitting president. And the use of a famous person’s full name is decidedly out of fashion for baby naming. But movie characters, sports stars and the shelves of the local library will continue to provide first names of future generations. Just ask the next generation of Hermiones, Bellas and Dereks!

—Melanie Linn Gutowski

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