Ancestry.co.uk Blog » wexon http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk The official Ancestry.co.uk blog Wed, 15 Oct 2014 22:56:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 What Can Your Surname Tell You?http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/2014/06/09/what-can-your-surname-tell-you/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/2014/06/09/what-can-your-surname-tell-you/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 22:35:30 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/?p=4724 At least for purposes of research, just about every genealogist rues the ancestor whose last name is common, and therefore hard to trace, and rejoices in their ancestors with more unusual names. While an unusual surname undeniably can make genealogical research easier, it doesn’t corner the market on interesting and informative origins. In Western Europe,… Read more

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At least for purposes of research, just about every genealogist rues the ancestor whose last name is common, and therefore hard to trace, and rejoices in their ancestors with more unusual names. While an unusual surname undeniably can make genealogical research easier, it doesn’t corner the market on interesting and informative origins.

In Western Europe, surnames first came about in Medieval times as civilizations grew larger and it became necessary to distinguish between people.

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Sometimes, names were based on occupation: a blacksmith may have been “John le Smith” (John the Smith) which became, over the generations, “Smith,” and a person named Appleby lived by or tended the apple orchard. Celebrity Robin Leach’s ancestor was probably a physician (because in medieval times, physicians used leeches to bleed people). Actor Christopher Reeve’s ancestor, the one to first take the surname, was most likely a sheriff, and Sarah Jessica Parker’s early medieval ancestor probably tended a park.

Other surnames were based on location: an Acker, which comes from “acre,” lived near a field, and a Hall lived in or worked in a hall of a Medieval nobleman’s house. And it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what a forebear named Young or Strong or Gray looked like.

Higher social status surnames are more rare today — how many Rothschilds (from the German “red shield”) did you go to school with? — and lower status ones fairly common. Lower social status people were also sometimes given unfortunate names by others, such as “Tew” (Welsh for “fat”) or “Dullard,” which means a hard or conceited man.

And in many parts of the world surnames derived from men’s names. A person named Robertson is descended from someone who was the “son of Robert,” and a MacDonald is from a Scottish “son of Donald.” Armenian names of this sort generally end in “-ian,” Polish ones in “-ski,” and Irish ones are put together a little differently, starting with the prefix “Fitz-.”

In Spanish-speaking parts of the world, people often take both their mother and father’s surnames. And some families still use family or “house” names that are not surnames at all, like the royal Windsors or Plantagenets.

Asian surnames have different stories. Most of the approximately 100,000 Japanese surnames in use today only date from 1868 and the Meiji Restoration, when surnames were mandated for the first time. There are just a few hundred common Chinese surnames, and 20 of them (which reflect an entire clan or were adopted by nobles) are shared by half the population. There are about 250 Korean surnames, three of them comprising almost half the Korean population, and just about 100 Vietnamese ones, with three making up 60 percent of all names in that country.

More than 2,600 members at the UK-based Guild of One-Name Studies devote their genealogical research to about 8,400 “one-name studies,” meaning they study everything known about a particular surname, whether the people they research are related biologically or linked to other family trees they are studying. Focusing in on a family surname can be a useful way to break through a genealogical brick wall, and most guild members are easy to reach and willing to share information (generally they ask, in return, for you to share your data on a name).

Name distribution of Duffield families. (Ancestry.com)

Name distribution of Duffield families. (Ancestry.com)

Plugging your surname of interest into the Ancestry.com Last Names Meanings And Origins widget gives an interesting and useful overview, too. Plug in the surname “Duffield” and you see it’s English, a “habitational name from places in Derbyshire and East Yorkshire, so named from Old English Dufe ‘dove’ + feld ‘open country.’” The results page shows what records Ancestry.com holds for the name Duffield and a “name distribution” of Duffield families through the years, as automatically generated by Census records.

Slide a bar and a map shows how families with that surname moved through space (in this case, England, Wales, and the U.S.) and time (from 1840 to 1880 and 1920). In addition, there’s an overview of occupations the family has held, immigration and Civil War service records, and links to pertinent threads from message boards.

Discover the surnames and stories in your family. Start free trial.

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Titanic Mystery Solved with DNA Testinghttp://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/2014/03/20/titanic-mystery-solved-with-dna-testing/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/2014/03/20/titanic-mystery-solved-with-dna-testing/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 18:24:07 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.com/uk/?p=4643 DNA solved a 70-year-old question of whether Loraine Allison survived the Titanic crash. Many have wondered what happened to the two-year-old little girl who disappeared from the crash more than 100 years ago. The story begins with Hudson and Bess taking their two kids, Trevor, seven months, and Loraine, two years of age, across the… Read more

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DNA solved a 70-year-old question of whether Loraine Allison survived the Titanic crash. Many have wondered what happened to the two-year-old little girl who disappeared from the crash more than 100 years ago.

The story begins with Hudson and Bess taking their two kids, Trevor, seven months, and Loraine, two years of age, across the Atlantic on the Titanic. At the time of the sinking, it is said that Trevor was rushed to a lifeboat by their maid and that the other three died on the boat. However, only Hudson’s body was found, leaving the mystery of what happened to Loraine and her mother.

    The New York City Herald covered the sinking tragedy on April 16, 1912. (Credit: Library of Congress)

    The New York City Herald covered the sinking tragedy on April 16, 1912. (Credit: Library of Congress)

    The unknown remained until 28 years later when Helen Kramer came forward on a radio show called “We the People”, and said that she was the two-year-old missing girl. Only a few of the distant relatives believed her story, but immediate family members denied the claims and kept her out of the inheritance.

    When Helen died in 1992 the claims seemed to have died with her. However, in 2012 the granddaughter of Helen, Debrina Woods, resurfaced the claims by saying she had inherited more evidence from her grandmother and that the truth should be told.

    With all of this evidence, and with a desire to solve this case, a group of Titanic researchers put together a project to help unlock the mystery.

    They did just that, by convincing descendants from each family to have a DNA test done.

    The results from the tests show that there is not a relationship between the two families, suggesting that this was a hoax or a complete misunderstanding.

    We don’t want to downplay the tragedy of this story to those involved but rather highlight that we have a tool that will help us unlock the mysteries of our past with DNA testing.

    This isn’t the first time DNA has helped provide evidence to disprove a connection to a historical claim. DNA testing disproved Anna Anderson’s claims that she was Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. Similar to the Kramer story, researchers found multiple people from both sides of the family in question and had them take a DNA test. No DNA was shared, disproving a relationship.

    What questions have you always wondered about in your family?

    Discover your family story. Start free trial.

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