Ancestry Blog http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm Tue, 03 Mar 2015 05:59:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 There Are Four Common Types of German Surnames. Which One Is Yours?http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/there-are-four-common-types-of-german-surnames-which-one-is-yours/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/there-are-four-common-types-of-german-surnames-which-one-is-yours/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:57:21 +0000 sdalton http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=233 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

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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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Oprah Winfrey’s Surprising DNA Testhttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/oprah-winfreys-surprising-dna-test/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/oprah-winfreys-surprising-dna-test/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:48:12 +0000 sdalton http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=229 When billionaire media producer Oprah Winfrey took a DNA test for the PBS show African American Lives a few years back, she learned that her DNA had three exact matches—with the Kpelle people, who lived in western Africa in what’s now Liberia; the Bamileke people in Cameroon; and a Bantu-speaking tribe in Zambia. Like many… Read more

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When billionaire media producer Oprah Winfrey took a DNA test for the PBS show African American Lives a few years back, she learned that her DNA had three exact matches—with the Kpelle people, who lived in western Africa in what’s now Liberia; the Bamileke people in Cameroon; and a Bantu-speaking tribe in Zambia.

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Like many African Americans whose genealogy is difficult to trace beyond slavery, Oprah knew little about her ancestry. She was born in Mississippi and on a previous African American Lives program, had learned that an ancestor started a school for black children after the Civil War (hearing this brought her to tears).

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Harvard professor and current host of Finding Your Roots, has written about why Oprah’s DNA shows such diversity within Africa. In his book Finding Oprah’s Roots: Finding Yours, he points out that over the millennia of Africa’s history, tribes migrated across the continent or were taken captive in wars; in other words, there was a lot of movement, as happens with all peoples.

Oprah’s links to Zambia are most likely part of the Bantu migrations, he says, when a group of Bantu-speaking Africans long ago migrated out of southern Cameroon and peopled huge sections of central and southern Africa.

Combining information from Oprah’s DNA matches (both in Liberia and among the Gullah people off the coast of South Carolina) with what’s known about the history of American slavery suggests that the first slave in her ancestry was likely a woman from West Africa. Between 1801 and 1810, about 41,000 slaves came into the U.S. through the port at Charleston, South Carolina, many of them from West Africa.

Before taking the DNA test, Oprah said she didn’t believe she had any European or Native American ancestors. Her test results showed her to be correct about the European ancestry (she had 0 percent), but wrong about the Native American part (8 percent). She also learned she was 3 percent East Asian.

“I’ve got to say, when it happened to me, it was absolutely empowering to know the journey of my entire family,” Oprah said.

DNA testing has taken some amazing leaps forward since Oprah took her test. Now, the most popular tests for family history are autosomal tests, like AncestryDNA, which are tools both women and men can use to compare their DNA with others around the world and uncover tantalizing clues about the journeys of those who came before them. This information, together with historical data found at Ancestry, can be a powerful tool to help break through difficult genealogical “brick walls.”

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Using DNA to Trace Michelle Obama’s Pasthttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/using-dna-to-trace-michelle-obamas-past/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/using-dna-to-trace-michelle-obamas-past/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:07:03 +0000 sdalton http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=225 First Lady Michelle Obama always suspected that she had white ancestors. But she had no idea who they were. With DNA testing and research, I was able to solve that mystery and finally identify the white forbears who had remained hidden in her family tree for more than a century. All across the country, growing… Read more

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First Lady Michelle Obama always suspected that she had white ancestors. But she had no idea who they were. With DNA testing and research, I was able to solve that mystery and finally identify the white forbears who had remained hidden in her family tree for more than a century.

All across the country, growing numbers of people are turning to DNA testing as a tool to help unlock the secrets of their roots, using companies such as Ancestry, among others. When I started researching my new book, “American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama,’’ I pored over historical documents that I found in local archives, courthouses and libraries as well as records that I found online on Ancestry and other state and local databases. But I knew that DNA testing would be the only way to unearth the truth.

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I suspected that Mrs. Obama’s white ancestors belonged to the white Shields family that had owned her great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields. So I persuaded several descendants of the black and white Shields to do DNA testing.

The results showed that the two families were related. The DNA testing indicated that Melvinia’s owner’s son was the likely father of Melvinia’s biracial child, Dolphus Shields. (Dolphus Shields is the first lady’s great-great-grandfather.)

But last month, members of both sides of the family — black and white — put aside the pain of the past. They got together for the very first time in Rex, Georgia, at a ceremony to commemorate Melvinia’s life. They swapped family stories, posed for photographs, exchanged phone numbers and had a meal together.

It was something to see.

David Applin, who is Melvinia’s great-grandson, said the reunion was “wonderful.” And Jarrod Shields, who is the great-great-great-grandson of Melvinia’s owner, described it as a day “my family will never forget.”

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This story was contributed by guest blog author Rachel L. Swarns

Rachel L. Swarns has been a reporter for the New York Times since 1995. She has written about domestic policy and national politics, reporting on immigration, the presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008, and First Lady Michelle Obama and her role in the Obama White House. She has also worked overseas for the New York Times, reporting from Russia, Cuba, and southern Africa, where she served as the Johannesburg bureau chief. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and two children.

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Vanessa Williams Explains Her Family Treehttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/vanessa-williams-explains-her-family-tree/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/vanessa-williams-explains-her-family-tree/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:56:24 +0000 sdalton http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=221 The following appeared in the Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2013. Written by Jessica P. Ogilvie. 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… Read more

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Vanessa Williams

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

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.

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

I’ve always been interested, but I was introduced to Ancestry [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.

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Decoding History: Ancestry of Benedict Cumberbatch Revealedhttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/decoding-history-ancestry-of-benedict-cumberbatch-revealed/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/decoding-history-ancestry-of-benedict-cumberbatch-revealed/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 01:00:27 +0000 Paul Rawlins http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=193 New research reveals that actor Benedict Cumberbatch is related to revolutionary code breaker Alan Turing, whom he portrays in the newly released biographical thriller, The Imitation Game. Researchers from Ancestry were able to crack Cumberbatch’s ancestral cipher and identify that both men share a common ancestor in John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset, making them 17x… Read more

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By Joseph Birr-Pixton from en.wikipedia (en.wikipedia) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Joseph Birr-Pixton from en.wikipedia (en.wikipedia) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

New research reveals that actor Benedict Cumberbatch is related to revolutionary code breaker Alan Turing, whom he portrays in the newly released biographical thriller, The Imitation Game.

Researchers from Ancestry were able to crack Cumberbatch’s ancestral cipher and identify that both men share a common ancestor in John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset, making them 17x cousins on Cumberbatch’s paternal side.

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Turing played a crucial role in World War II, when he devised a number of revolutionary techniques for breaking German codes and was credited by then-Prime Minister Winston Churchill as “making the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war.”

Turing was not the only Cumberbatch relative who helped Britain win the war; his third cousin twice removed has been identified as WWII soldier Noel Carlisle Rees. Military records reveal that Rees was stationed in Greece with British Military Intelligence and was responsible for smuggling thousands of Allied soldiers out of the country during the conflict.

Along with these war heroes, the records also revealed some rather unusual occupations in the Cumberbatch family tree. These include links to John Paul Ferguson, Benedict’s paternal 2nd great-grandfather, who was a tea planter in India, as well as a connection to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, identified as his sixth cousin.

A Kingly Ancestor 

Cumberbatch’s relatives haven’t always come out on the winning side, however. He recently finished filming his role as Richard III on The Hollow Crown. Around the same time, Professor Kevin Schurer of the University of Leicester announced that Cumberbatch and Richard are third cousins 16 times removed. While Cumberbatch has acknowledged the honor it is to be related to Turing, he joked with another reporter that his distant connection to Richard was ‘close enough for me’.

What’s next? Learning that Benedict Cumberbatch is the great-great-grandson of Sherlock Holmes? OK, Holmes is a fictional character, but at this rate, someone’s bound to find a way.

Search for your own family connections for free on Ancestry.com today.

 

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Seven British “Firsts” from World War Ihttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/seven-british-firsts-from-the-first-world-war/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/seven-british-firsts-from-the-first-world-war/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 00:53:38 +0000 Paul Rawlins http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=174 War has a tendency to hasten progress and inspire invention. After all, necessity is said to be the mother of invention, and wartime is a period of prolonged, urgent necessity. Radar, the computer, duct tape, and Twinkies all owe their invention or improvement to world wars. Here’s a list of more innovations you probably never knew… Read more

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Image: John Warwick Brooke, Battle of the Somme, July-November 1916. (Public domain, via Wikimedia commons)

John Warwick Brooke, Battle of the Somme, July-November 1916. (Public domain, via Wikimedia commons)

War has a tendency to hasten progress and inspire invention. After all, necessity is said to be the mother of invention, and wartime is a period of prolonged, urgent necessity. Radar, the computer, duct tape, and Twinkies all owe their invention or improvement to world wars.

Here’s a list of more innovations you probably never knew emerged from Britain as a direct result of World War I.

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Plastic surgery

We often associate plastic surgery with Hollywood actors chasing eternal youth and beauty, but the origins of modern plastic surgery were far more practical (and, perhaps, noble). Horrified by returning soldiers’ disfiguring shrapnel wounds, British doctor Harold Gillies developed methods of facial reconstruction to ease veterans’ transition back into normal civilian life. He pioneered techniques like skin grafts to repair cheeks, noses, and chins. His pedicle tube graft to supply blood to newly reconstructed areas is still used today.

Gas masks

When German troops initiated the first chemical warfare by releasing chlorine gas on opposing troops, it didn’t take long to realize that urine-soaked socks were not the most effective (or sanitary) protection. Thankfully, British officer Edward Harrison stepped up to the challenge and invented the very first gas mask, using himself as a guinea pig to test its effectiveness. He died days before the end of the war, reportedly working himself to death improving the masks.

Tanks

While nowadays a tank is considered the pinnacle of military strength, the very first tank was a relatively slight vehicle known as “Little Willie.” It was developed from farm vehicle technology, could carry only three men, and reached a maximum speed of a whopping three miles per hour. The British pioneered the invention of tanks as a way to navigate the trenches and gain the upper hand in World War I, and their development was so secret that even the factory workers building them didn’t know what they were.

Female soldiers

A century ago, women were forbidden from serving in the British military on account of their purportedly weaker dispositions. English reporter Dorothy Lawrence also encountered this prejudice when she tried to make her name in journalism, getting turned down by editor after editor for a post as a war correspondent. Undeterred, Lawrence took extreme measures to prove her capacity. She chopped off her hair, bound herself in a corset, disguised herself as a man, and headed to the front lines. She became the first and only English woman to fight in the trenches of the First World War. British officials were so embarrassed by her successful disguise that they detained her in a French convent until she swore not to tell her story. Search for family military records free on Ancestry

Metal helmets

It may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: for the first year of conflict, British soldiers fought with only cloth caps protecting their heads. Within a year, the British developed the iconic Brodie steel helmet, an invention the Imperial War Museum heralds as a “masterpiece of simple design.”

Sanitary napkins

For centuries, women improvised with fur, cotton, wool, or even grass inserts to manage their monthly periods. But when Cellucotton was used for soldiers’ bandages during the First World War, nurses recognized new potential for these absorbent, disposable cloths, and their use as sanitary napkins spread in popularity. Commercial companies latched onto the idea, and mass-market sanitary napkins became available in the following years.

Blood banks

When World War I began, the British Army was conducting direct blood transfusions from donor to patient, the only way they knew to prevent the blood from coagulating. Along came British-born American, Captain Oswald Robertson, who demonstrated that with the addition of sodium citrate, donated blood could be stored on ice for up to 28 days. This led to the very first blood banks, which increased the availability of blood to wounded soldiers needing immediate transfusions and saved countless lives. Robertson’s work also led to the first blood donor station in London in 1922, where donors agreed to be on call 24-hours a day.

Find your family war heroes. Search WWI military records today. 

Connie Ray

 

 

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Eight Celebs With Royal Ancestryhttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/eight-celebs-with-royal-ancestry/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/eight-celebs-with-royal-ancestry/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 19:51:23 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=163 After years entrancing audiences and thrilling moviegoers, a few talented actors reach such heights of fame that we consider them Hollywood royalty: George Clooney. Leonardo DiCaprio. Julia Roberts. Before them, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant. But some actors are lucky enough to rank as royalty the first time they ever stepped onto a set.… Read more

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Eight celebs with royal ancestry

[Photo credit: Dennis Jarvis on Flickr]

After years entrancing audiences and thrilling moviegoers, a few talented actors reach such heights of fame that we consider them Hollywood royalty: George Clooney. Leonardo DiCaprio. Julia Roberts. Before them, Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant. But some actors are lucky enough to rank as royalty the first time they ever stepped onto a set. These actors are literally Hollywood royalty, descended from kings, queens, chieftains, and nobles from around the world:

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Rose Leslie: Long before Rose Leslie stormed the fictional Castle Black on HBO’s fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” she marauded another castle — her own. Leslie was born and raised in Lickleyhead Castle, which has been her family’s home in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, since the 15th century. Leslie’s father is the chieftain of Aberdeenshire clan Leslie, and her mother is a descendant of King Charles II, who restored the English throne in 1660 after the English Civil War and the execution of his father, King Charles I, in 1649. Last year, Leslie’s parents put Lickleyhead Castle on the market for 1.3 million pounds. But don’t fear that Leslie, who got her big break as a maid in the first season of “Downton Abbey,” faces homelessness. Her family just moved a few miles away into their other home, the 12th-century Warthill Castle.

Kit Harrington: Rose Leslie isn’t the only cast member of “Game of Thrones” with a ancestral link to an actual throne. Kit Harrington, who stars as Jon Snow on the HBO series (and falls in love with Leslie’s character, Ygritte), is also related to King Charles II. Harrington claims the royal connection through his grandmother Lavender Cecilia Denny. She was married to Richard Harington, the 12th Baronet Harington, a title that has existed since the 1400s. Despite the posh lineage, Harrington insists his childhood wasn’t too far from normal. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up,” Harrington told the London Evening Standard newspaper. “We were comfortable, but I didn’t go to Oxbridge, and yet every American interviewer I get says to me, ‘You’re related to Charles II! Your grandfather was a baronet!’”

Tilda Swinton: The Academy Award-winning British actress known for her roles in everything from commercial franchises (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and high-concept sci-fi adventures (“Snowpiercer”) to critically acclaimed independent films (“Only Lovers Left Alive”) and prestige fare (“Michael Clayton”) is related to Scottish nobility on both sides of her family. Swinton is 19 generations removed from legendary Scottish king Robert the Bruce, who freed Scotland from English rule in the 14th century. Both her father and mother trace their ancestry to Robert II, Bruce’s grandson. Swinton’s father is descended from the Duke of Albany, Robert II’s illegitimate son. Swinton’s mother is descended from Robert II’s mistress, Mariotta Cardney.

Yaphet Kotto: Veteran character actor Yaphet Kotto, costar of the classic 1979 sci-fi horror film “Alien” and the popular cop drama “Homicide: Life on the Street,” claimed in a 1997 autobiography that he was African royalty. According to Kotto, he is the great-great-grandson of King Alexander Bell, who ruled the Douala region of Cameroon in the late 19th century, before the West African nation became colonized by Germany, France, and Britain. According to Kotto, his father, who had converted to Judaism in Cameroon, emigrated to Harlem in the 1920s and changed his name to Abraham Kotto, adopting a relative’s surname. And while Kotto may be descended from West African royalty, he claims his family has a touch of English nobility as well. He alleges King Bell’s daughter had an affair with Britain’s Edward VII while he was the Prince of Wales in the late 19th century. Unfortunately for Kotto, however, the British royal family has denied that claim and stated, “We can confirm that Edward VII never visited Cameroon, nor do we have any record of an alleged relationship between Edward VII and Princess Nakande.”

Catherine Oxenberg: Model and actress Catherine Oxenberg, who famously played Amanda Carrington on “Dynasty” in the 1980s, is direct European royalty, albeit of the deposed kind. Her mother, who lives in England, is Princess Elisabeth of Yugoslavia. Princess Elisabeth’s father was Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Prince Paul served as regent to the king of Yugoslavia, his first cousin once-removed, who was deposed in 1945. Catherine’s good looks won her roles — twice — as Princess Diana, the wife of Catherine’s second cousin once-removed. She played Diana in 1982, the year of the royal wedding, and again in 1992, the year Diana and Charles announced their separation.

Dakota and Elle Fanning: Elle Fanning, who played Princess Aurora earlier this year in Disney’s Cinderella retelling “Maleficent,” is descended from an actual princess, as is her older sister, actress Dakota Fanning. The Fannings are the 22nd great-granddaughters of King Edward III, who ruled England from 1330 to 1376. That ever-so-faint bloodline runs through the Fanning girls’ mother, Heather Joy Arrington (who also happens to be the daughter of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Rick Arrington). Genealogists at Ancestry have also determined that the actresses are the 21st cousins of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge and wife of Englands’s Prince William. Middleton’s mother, Carole Goldsmith, is also a distant granddaughter of King Edward III.

Akosua Busia: Although Akosua Busia hasn’t appeared much on screen recently, this multi-faceted talent made a big impact with acting and writing roles in the 1980s and ’90s. In 1988, she co-starred in “The Color Purple” as Nettie, the sister of main character Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg. A decade later, she wrote the original script for “Beloved,” the film adapted from Toni Morrison’s novel starring Oprah Winfrey (Busia’s sister, an English professor, had given her an early copy of the book). She also co-wrote the song “Moon Blue” with Stevie Wonder for his album “A Time 2 Love” and has also written novels. Busia is not only a thespian and a writer, she’s also a princess in the Royal House of Wenchi in Ghana. Her father, Kofi Abrefa Busia, was Prime Minister of Ghana from 1969 to 1972.

—Sandie Angulo Chen

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4 British WWII Heroes You’ve Never Heard Ofhttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/4-british-wwii-heroes-youve-never-heard-of/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/4-british-wwii-heroes-youve-never-heard-of/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 18:32:45 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=160 Anyone can spout off Winston Churchill and King George VI as prominent Englishmen in the Second World War, but they certainly weren’t the only Brits of wartime significance. Here’s a look at four, fascinating English men and women whose stories of heroism in WWII went relatively untold for decades. Eileen Nearne Topping the list is… Read more

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Anyone can spout off Winston Churchill and King George VI as prominent Englishmen in the Second World War, but they certainly weren’t the only Brits of wartime significance. Here’s a look at four, fascinating English men and women whose stories of heroism in WWII went relatively untold for decades.

Eileen Nearne
Topping the list is a story of an inspiring female, an unsung British heroine, Eileen Nearne. Eileen grew up in France but escaped to Britain during the Nazi invasion. Once safely in Britain, her French upbringing proved invaluable when she became a spy for the Special Operations Executive (known informally as “Churchill’s Secret Army”) and parachuted into France to go deep undercover—all before her twenty-third birthday.

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In France, she lived in constant peril, operating a secret radio line between London and Paris that arranged weapons drops to the French Resistance. Eventually captured by the Gestapo and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, Eileen was brutally tortured, but she never revealed her true identity or mission. She was then shuttled from death camp to death camp until she finally escaped (twice!) and reached safety. If that isn’t a Hollywood-worthy hero’s tale, I don’t know what is!

Sir Thomas Peirson Frank
When contemplating wartime heroes, we often think of brave soldiers fighting on the front lines, but Sir Thomas Peirson Frank was a British war-time hero of a different breed—he was a civil engineer. Although his unique mission was kept top secret at the time, his protective role to the people of London during the Battle of Britain was immense.

Peirson Frank was the mastermind behind a flood protection system to protect low-lying London from drowning during constant air raids. He identified at-risk areas and led a secret unit to implement and maintain secondary flood defenses. His efforts were kept secret so the enemy wouldn’t target vulnerable areas and to prevent general panic and alarm.

It was not until recent years that historians have discovered Peirson Frank’s contribution to London’s wartime defenses. In total, he is credited with saving London from flooding no less than 121 times. How’s that for putting some brains to good use?

Bill Tutte
Speaking of brainiacs serving king and country, Bill Tutte is another worthy British World War II hero of little celebrity. As a child, Bill was always a math whiz, earning himself a scholarship to the University of Cambridge. While at university, Bill was recruited along with some other classmates to work at Bletchley Park, decoding messages sent from Hitler’s high command by means of a machine called the Enigma.

However, Bletchley Park received word that Hitler was using a more complicated machine—the Lorenz system—to send some top-secret messages to his inner circle. After six months of work, Bill was able to successfully decode the Lorenz system (without ever seeing the actual machine), granting the Allies access to some of Hitler’s most important communications. His work was directly instrumental in the success of the D-Day invasions.

Major Douglas Lidderdale
Major Douglas Lidderdale is another unknown figure who can claim some part in D-Day’s success. Working under direct orders from Winston Churchill, he led one of the most dangerous, covert operations of World War II.

Three days after his wedding, Major Lidderdale and his team travelled to Tunisia with direct instructions from Churchill to bring back a Tiger tank. The Tiger tank was an infamous Nazi death machine, capable of destroying hundreds of Allied tanks in mere hours and inspiring fear in the Allied troops—a condition known as “Tigerphobia.”

Tiger tanks were virtually unstoppable and severely threatened troop morale. Churchill set about to solve this problem by sending Major Lidderdale to capture one; if Allied engineers could get their hands on a Tiger tank, they could learn how to destroy them. After several unsuccessful, life-threatening attempts to fulfill his mission, Lidderdale was finally able to capture and deliver a Tiger tank to Churchill. The new technology resulting from this important mission was used to develop war machines for D-Day.

—Connie Ray

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The House on Mulberry Street and Clues to Irish Rootshttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/the-house-on-mulberry-street-and-clues-to-irish-roots/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/the-house-on-mulberry-street-and-clues-to-irish-roots/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 19:46:49 +0000 slau http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=136 I’ve located my maternal great-grandparents, John and Margaret Ellen (Cunningham) Haffey in Wayne County, Ohio in the 1880 census. I’m trying to locate their births in Ireland. I have their death records, but they didn’t list a specific Irish birthplace. I have found a record in the New York Emigrant Savings Bank for a John… Read more

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I’ve located my maternal great-grandparents, John and Margaret Ellen (Cunningham) Haffey in Wayne County, Ohio in the 1880 census. I’m trying to locate their births in Ireland. I have their death records, but they didn’t list a specific Irish birthplace. I have found a record in the New York Emigrant Savings Bank for a John Haffey and James Cunningham; either could access the account. ~ Sandra H.

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Dear Sandra,

We’ve found that one of the strongest motivations for a person’s desire to reconstruct their family’s tree is the desire to discover where their ancestors once lived, especially before they migrated to the United States, whether that be in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia. Finding the names of our ancestors, of course, is the necessary first step; but then finding where those ancestors hailed from can be just as exciting.

Why? Because there’s something deeply reassuring about being able to point to a map and say, “This is where my people came from.” Geography “roots” or centers us in the world, just as surely as identifying the names of “our people” does. But finding where our ancestors once lived can be quite a challenge, even when we know their names and birth or death dates. And this is especially difficult with our Irish ancestors. We both have some personal experience with this since we both are descended from Irish ancestors.

Discovering an ancestor’s elusive Irish birthplace really is a big deal for genealogists. On what we might think of as “the scale of genealogical difficulty,” tracing Irish roots is right there near the top of the list. The search can be extraordinarily challenging, but the payoff can be so very exhilarating! One key to solving this mystery is keeping people you are searching for in context. What does that mean? Well, who were your ancestor’s neighbors, and who–according to records–did they keep associating with? Whose names keep popping up near theirs? Taking account of the names of your ancestor’s neighbors and friends can yield amazing results.

In 1880, John, Margaret, and their family were living in Pike Station, Wayne County, Ohio. The census shows that their daughter, Ella, was born in Ireland around 1860 and their son, Edward, was born in Ireland around 1862. Daughter Maggie was born in New York around 1866, and children William, Mary A., John Jr., and Catherine were all born in Ohio. Keeping the whole family in mind will be important as we move through the family’s paper trail.

Emigrant Savings Bank

The Emigrant Savings Bank was founded in 1850 by the Irish Emigrant Society and became a safe place for Irish immigrants to save their money. They invented an ingenious system of using biographical information to tell the difference between people with the same names, such as the various James Cunninghams or John Haffeys, who kept accounts at the bank. (We would cringe because of privacy issues if anyone did this today, but it sure makes it handy for researching Irish ancestors!)

You were definitely on the right track exploring the records of the Emigrant Savings Bank, which can be a gold mine of data for tracing Irish ancestry. And in your case, we are pleased to say, you’ve struck gold! It turns out that the bank had four accounts that stood out for John Haffey, each of which offered us more clues about your family’s origins.

In 1862, a man named James Cunningham, “for John Haffey,” opened account number 32881. The bank’s record for this account says that John was born in 1828 in County Donegal and was married to Margaret Cunningham, with two children Ella and Edward. (We should note that this birth year is off from the one recorded in the 1880 census, but it is consistent with that listed in the 1870 census. This often happens, so no worries about that!) Having John’s wife’s name and the name of their two children gives us confidence that this is the correct John Haffey; account 32881 was definitely opened by the John Haffey we’re looking for.

What else can we learn from this bank record? Well, the person named James Cunningham, who opened the account on behalf of John Haffey, was living at 233 Mulberry Street. This turns out to be a key piece of information. (Mulberry Street is located in the section of Manhattan known as “Little Italy” today.)

Back in 1855, James Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street had opened account number 8691 “in trust for John Haffey.” Incredibly, this record is a treasure trove of information about John! It states that John was from Minnarock [sic], in the parish of Killaghtee, County Donegal; he arrived in the United States in September 1852 on a ship named [either?] “George Green” or “James Nesbith” from Liverpool; his father, Ned Haffey, is dead; his mother, Ellen Carr, is living in Ireland; and he’s single.

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A detail from the Emigrant Savings Bank Test Books at Ancestry.com showing biographical information about John Haffey.
James Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street also opened account 10040 in 1855; it is noted that it is the same as account 8691. In 1857, John Haffey and P. Cunningham of 233 Mulberry Street opened account 15009; it, too, is the same as account 8691. So now we know that accounts 8691, 10040, and 15009 all pertain to the same people.

(Unfortunately, the record for account 32881 (the one where we’re sure it’s our John) doesn’t state that it is the same as account 8691 (the one where we learn John’s hometown and parents.) There’s just an incomplete note “Is same as.” (Would it have killed them to list the account number?!) But the fact that James Cunningham and/or John Haffey was living at 233 Mulberry Street in these four accounts is a strong indication that we are talking about the same people.)

Other Places to Explore

Okay, now that you have this information, where do you search next? It’s tempting to explore church records in “Minnarock” (probably Meenabrock) and grab onto any mention of John Haffey. You’ll definitely want to explore those records, but you should get a fuller idea of your John Haffey’s identify first, so you’ll know if you have found the information about the right person. Remember, just because a name is the same doesn’t necessarily mean that the person whose records you’re examining is the person you are searching for!

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There are several other places that should be checked before crossing the pond to Ireland. Who are the Haffeys and Cunninghams living in the area around 233 Mulberry Street? City directories would give this information. Ancestry has severalNew York city directories for this time period. Search by surname, but also do a keyword search for “Mulberry,” to find people living on Mulberry Street to recreate the neighborhood. You will want to do this for the 1850s through the late 1860s, when John and Margaret moved to Ohio.

You should also keep an eye out for the other passengers who arrived in this country on the same ship with John. We didn’t find him in 1852, but we did find him in 1854 on the “James Nesmith” (not Nesbitt, as listed in the bank record), with an approximate birth year of 1829 (consistent with the bank record and the 1870 census).

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Detail of the passenger list of the James Nesbit, arriving in New York 28 August 1854, showing John Haffy, age 25, a laborer from Ireland.
 

It’s a good idea to focus on the areas where you know your ancestors were living, but also where they died. In this case, we know John and Margaret ended up in Ohio. According to Find A Grave, John, Margaret, and their daughter Catherine (Kathryn) are buried in St. Vincents Catholic Cemetery in Akron, Summit County, Ohio. The cemetery records could hold clues about John and Margaret’s origins. Further, you should explore the records of St. Vincent Catholic Church. You should search for your ancestor’s obituaries, both in “regular” newspapers and religious newspapers.

Baptismal records can be another source of useful information. People usually name relatives or close friends as their childrens’ godparents. The baptism records for John and Margaret’s children could hold clues. St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Wooster as well as St. Vincent in Akron would be good places to start looking.

It might come as a surprise to us today, but people “back in the day” typically didn’t move all by themselves. Neighbors often turn out to be related. Who are the Irish neighbors around John and Margaret in 1870 and 1880? Who else lived on Mulberry Street in New York when John lived there?

Learning as much as you can about John and Margaret in Ohio and New York will help you to establish a better context for them when looking at possible records back in Ireland. Whether you’re looking at records in Meenabrock or elsewhere in County Donegal, you will want to keep in mind the other people who you’ve identified as being associated with John and Margaret in the United States. Good luck!

Do you have a mystery in your own family tree? Or have you wondered what family history discoveries you could make with a DNA test? Send Henry Louis Gates, Jr and his team of Ancestry experts your question at ask@ancestry.com.

Henry GatesBy Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University

Anne Gillespie Mitchell By Anne Gillespie Mitchell
Genealogist and senior product manager at Ancestry.com


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Titanic Captain Is One of a Million Historic Liverpool Sailors on Newly Digitized Crew Listshttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/titanic-captain-is-one-of-a-million-historic-liverpool-sailors-on-newly-digitized-crew-lists/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/titanic-captain-is-one-of-a-million-historic-liverpool-sailors-on-newly-digitized-crew-lists/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 00:09:55 +0000 wexon http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=129 We are all familiar with the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. On the night of the 14th of April 1912, 1,500 people lost their lives after the liner hit an iceberg and sank to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The captain on that tragic voyage was Edward Smith. Smith joined the White Star… Read more

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We are all familiar with the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. On the night of the 14th of April 1912, 1,500 people lost their lives after the liner hit an iceberg and sank to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The captain on that tragic voyage was Edward Smith. Smith joined the White Star Line shipping company in 1880 and quickly became one of its most respected captains. He was regularly trusted to guide the largest new vessels in the fleet.
Titanic

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Edward Smith can be found in The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection on Ancestry. The collection features the names of crew members who worked on vessels registered to the Port of Liverpool. In the crew lists, Edward Smith is mentioned in 1901 as captain of the SS Majestic, when he and his crew were called upon to transport troops to Cape Colony to fight in the Boer War. Following this, he was awarded a special Transport Medal for his service.

However warning signs of the later tragedy soon surfaced. In 1911, Smith was captaining the RMS Olympic when he collided with the British warship HMS Hawke. The vessel had to be returned to port with a badly damaged propeller.

The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection has been published from original records held by the Liverpool Record Office. The records were a form of employment contract between the shipping company and crew, and needed to be completed before any vessel set sail. The collection, which refers to a total of 912 ships and spans nearly 50 years, lists each crew member’s name, age, birthplace, residence and past maritime experience, and even remarks on their general behaviour. There are also details regarding whether crew members were discharges, deserted or died at sea.

The history of Liverpool is intrinsically linked to the development of its port throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with its natural harbour helping the city become a powerhouse of the industrial revolution and a key transport hub for travel to the promising shores of America and Australia. The port also contributed greatly to the diversity found within the city, with Liverpool rapidly developing a uniquely Irish character. Around 300,000 migrants arrived in the city from Ireland in 1847 alone and within five years a quarter of the city’s population were Irish-born.

Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry comments, “From ship captains to their crew, this collection sheds light on a period in which the port of Liverpool was a global transport hub. With more than a million maritime records now available online at Ancestry, it will also be of huge significance for anybody looking to trace their seafaring ancestors back to Liverpool at this time.”

Search The Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919 collection today and find your seafaring ancestors on Ancestry.

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