Ancestry Blog http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:52:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 A History of Irish Surnames: Is Yours Here?http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/a-history-of-irish-surnames-is-yours-here/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/a-history-of-irish-surnames-is-yours-here/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 21:52:18 +0000 http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=294 The earliest known Irish surname is O’Clery (O Cleirigh); it’s the earliest known because it was written that the lord of Aidhne, Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh, died in County Galway back in the year 916 A.D. In fact, that Irish name may actually be the earliest surname recorded in all of Europe. Until about the 10th… Read more

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Irish Surnames

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The earliest known Irish surname is O’Clery (O Cleirigh); it’s the earliest known because it was written that the lord of Aidhne, Tigherneach Ua Cleirigh, died in County Galway back in the year 916 A.D.

In fact, that Irish name may actually be the earliest surname recorded in all of Europe.

Until about the 10th century in Ireland, surnames were not passed down from generation to generation. Instead, surnames were patronymic, or based on someone’s father’s name. A person was identified by his given name plus “mac,” meaning “son of,” followed by his father’s name.

    For instance, Brian mac Colum was Brian, son of Colum. Brian’s son might be Finnian mac Brian (Finnian, son of Brian).

    The female form of “mac” is “nic,” shortened from the Irish iníon mhic.

    Alternatively, the prefix “o” was sometimes used in place of “mac” and meant “grandson of” or “descended from.” If Colum was well known, his grandson might have gone by the name Finnian O Colum.

    There were no fixed surnames, so a surname changed every generation or two. That can make tracing your family tree a bit more complicated!

    But even without hereditary surnames, those names still hold clues. For example, that person named O’Clery or O Cleirigh (or Ua Cleirigh) was the grandson or descendant of someone named Cleirigh. (“Ua” was an earlier form of “O.”)

    It was around the 1100s, as the population was increasing, that people in the upper social classes started taking hereditary surnames (those that remain fixed over the generations); others didn’t need surnames, or even get around to them, until the 1500s.

    Another strong influence on Irish names came with the Norman invasion of 1169, when a lot of Anglo-French names came marching into Ireland (this, too, is when the Latin-derived prefix “Fitz,” meaning “son of,” first came into Irish names). It’s from this influence that some of the names we now consider Irish — Costello, Power, Burke, and others — first entered the scene.

    And in the 1500s, the influence of the English was beginning to make itself felt in Ireland. Ireland was experiencing religious persecution and invasions, and many changes came to the island — including the changing of Irish names, steadily but surely over the ensuing years, into ones that sounded more English.

    An example of this was the common Irish surname Mac Gabhann, which meant “son of a smith.” Some Mac Gabhanns, living in County Cavan, had their name translated to Smith and it remained that way. Others outside that area resisted, but the spelling became anglicized and they became Mac/McGowans. This was very common.

    Also, in many cases the prefixes Mac and O were done away with.

    Many surnames originated as occupational or descriptive names. That earliest known name, O Cleirigh (O’Clery), was someone descended from a clerk; Mac an Bhaird (Ward) was son of a bard; and Mac Labhrain (MacCloran) was son of a spokesman.

    Descriptive names were names that described the first person to take them. The first person with the name Dubh (Duff) (“black” or “dark”) was probably dark featured. Other descriptive surnames include Bane (“white”), Crone (“brown”), and Lawder (“strong”).

    Irish toponymic surnames, deriving from a place where the original name bearer once lived, are rare. They include Ardagh, Athy, Bray, Kelly, Sutton, and a few others.

    The most common Irish surnames in Ireland haven’t changed much for a century. Here are 10 of them:

    1. Murphy — The Anglicized version of the Irish surname Ó Murchadha and Mac Murchadha, meaning “sea warrior.”

    2. Kelly — The origin of this Irish name is uncertain. An Anglicized version of the Irish name Ó Ceallaigh, it can describe a warrior or mean “white-headed,” “frequenting churches,” or “descendant of Ceallach.

    3. O’Sullivan — (Ó Súileabháin or Ó Súilleabháin in Irish). In 1890, 90 percent of the O’Sullivans were estimated to be in Munster. Many people agree that the basic surname means “eye,” but they do not agree whether the rest of the name means “one-eyed,” “hawk-eyed,” “black-eyed,” or something else.

    4. Walsh — This name came to Ireland via British soldiers during the Norman invasion of Ireland and means “from Wales.” It’s derived from Breathnach or Brannagh.

    5. Smith — This surname does not necessarily suggest English ancestry, as some think; often the surname was derived from Gabhann (which means “smith”).

    6. O’Brien — This name came down from Brian Boru (941-1014) who was king of Munster; his descendants took the name Ó Briain.

    7. Byrne (also Byrnes; O’Byrne) — from the Irish name Ó Broin (“raven”; also, descendant of Bran); this dates to the ancient Celtic chieftain Bran mac Máelmórda, a King of Leinster in the 11th century.

    8. Ryan — This name has various possible origins: from the Gaelic Ó Riagháin (grandson or descendant of Rían) or Ó Maoilriain (grandson/descendant of Maoilriaghain) or Ó Ruaidhín (grandson/descendant of the little red one). Or it may be a simplification of the name Mulryan. It means “little king.”

    9. O’Connor — From Ó Conchobhair (grandson or descendant of Conchobhar; “lover of hounds”).

    10. O’Neill — Anglicized from the Gaelic Ua Néill (grandson or descendant of Niall). The name is connected with meanings including “vehement” and “champion.” The main O’Niall family is descended from the historic “Niall of the Nine Hostages.”

    — Leslie Lang

    Learn more about your own Irish ancestry and surnames at Ancestry.

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    Revealed: 1 in 3 WWI British Naval Heroes Were Underagehttp://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/revealed-1-in-3-wwi-british-naval-heroes-were-underage/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/revealed-1-in-3-wwi-british-naval-heroes-were-underage/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:08:44 +0000 http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=245 Analysis of over 380,000 digitised historic naval records reveals that nearly a third of the sailors who helped Britain achieve naval supremacy in World War I were ‘underage’ volunteers. The Royal Navy Registers of Seaman’s Services, 1900-1928 detail each sailor’s name, birthdate, birthplace, vessels served on, service number, and other service details. Additionally, the records include… Read more

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    World War I recruitment poster (public domain)

    World War I recruitment poster (public domain)

    Analysis of over 380,000 digitised historic naval records reveals that nearly a third of the sailors who helped Britain achieve naval supremacy in World War I were ‘underage’ volunteers.

    The Royal Navy Registers of Seaman’s Services, 1900-1928 detail each sailor’s name, birthdate, birthplace, vessels served on, service number, and other service details. Additionally, the records include more personal information such as remarks on appearance, conduct, promotions and reasons for discharge. Records like these–and many other family history and military records–are available on Ancestry.

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    Too Young to Vote, Old Enough to Fight

    The records reveal that a large percentage of new entrants to the navy were adolescent boys aged 14-17, despite a legal combat age of 18. Numbering over 100,000, these boy sailors rushed to enlist following the outbreak of war in 1914, many of them leaving home for the first time.

    At the same time, even more underage boys enlisted in the army and were sent to fight in the trenches. Because many people didn’t have birth certificates in the early 1900s, it was easier for boys to lie about their age, and military recruitment officers were paid for each new recruit, so they would often ignore concerns they might have had about an enlistee’s age.

    The service of these young soldiers is now recognised as a great tragedy of WWI, given they made up 1-in-10 of the total volunteers in the army. Proportionally, the boy sailors made up an even larger share of the navy, with nearly a third of all recruits joining before the age of 18.

    While these young volunteers were eager to serve, many lacked the experience and training afforded to their older colleagues. Analysis of the collection shows that “boy sailors” were 16 percent more likely to give their lives than adult servicemen.

    Names That Became History

    Often described as “fresh” in the records, examples of some of these youths include:

    • Jack Cornwell — Originally from Leyton, Cornwell lied about his age and enlisted in the Royal Navy at age 15. A year later, while fighting on the HMS Chester at Jutland, he died from a gunshot to the chest. His true age only became known when his body was repatriated, and he became a naval legend to the extent that King George personally presented his mother with a posthumous Victoria Cross on his behalf.

    • Claude Choules — Born and raised in Worcestershire, Choules enlisted on the battleship Revenge at the age of 16 and afterwards immigrated to Australia, where he transferred to the Royal Australian Navy and fought in WWII. He lived until the age of 110 and passed away in Perth, Australia in 2011. He was the last surviving combat veteran of WWI.

    • Henry Allingham — Like Choules, Allingham became a centenarian and died in 2009, aged 113. He was the last surviving participant in the Battle of Jutland and recounted tales of shells bouncing off the water near him. His Royal Navy Register entry describes him as being of a “fair complexion”, while having “hammer toes” on both feet and a scar on his right arm.

    Lost at Sea

    For young or old, the sea was a dangerous battleground during WWI, and the collection features thousands of records for men and boys who never returned home. These include the crew of the HMS Cressy, which was sunk by the German submarine U-9 on September 22, 1914. In total, 1,459 men were lost across three ships, and their records simply state “drowned in the North Sea” as “reason for discharge”.

    The attack on the HMS Cressy remains the biggest single loss of life at sea during WWI, and news reports of the attack struck a chord with the public back home. The Royal Navy considered the disaster a wake-up call, which led to significantly increased funding behind improvements to the British submarine fleet.

    The collection on Ancestry includes crews from a number of other famous ships that fought battles such as Heligoland Bight (1914), the Battle of Dogger Bank (1915) and the Battle of Jutland (1916), which saw the loss of 6,000 men and 14 ships as the Royal Navy came up against the German fleet off the coast of Denmark.

    One of those ships was the HMS Queen Mary. A modern battlecruiser, in May 1916 she saw action at Jutland and was hit twice by fire from the German battlecruiser Derfflinger. She sank to the bottom of the North Sea on May 31 with the loss of 1,266 men, 866 of whom are marked in the records as ‘killed in action’. Only 18 survivors were rescued from the water.

    Miriam Silverman, Senior UK Content Manager from Ancestry, comments: “It’s hard to comprehend that nearly a third of these records pertain to young adolescent boys who, despite not being old enough to vote, were prepared to risk their lives at sea to help Britain win the war.”

    You can search for your First World War ancestors in military records on Ancestry. Or start a free trial.

     

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    Do You Come From Royal Blood? Your Last Name May Tell You.http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/head-of-the-class-do-certain-surnames-indicate-nobility/ http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/head-of-the-class-do-certain-surnames-indicate-nobility/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 15:08:27 +0000 http://blogs.ancestry.co.uk/cm/?p=271 Do you think your family originated from the top 1 percent? According to a new study of unique last names from around the world, moving in or out of the upper class doesn’t take just a few generations — it takes centuries. Measuring not just income and wealth but also occupation, education, and longevity, researchers… Read more

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    Head of the Class: Do Certain Surnames Indicate Nobility?

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    Do you think your family originated from the top 1 percent?

    According to a new study of unique last names from around the world, moving in or out of the upper class doesn’t take just a few generations — it takes centuries.

    Measuring not just income and wealth but also occupation, education, and longevity, researchers found that upper-class families took 300 to 450 years before their scions fell back into the middle class. Throughout society, poor families, taken as a whole, took an equal amount of time — 10 to 15 generations — to work their way up into the middle class.

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    Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the London School of Economics conducted the study, which they published in the journal “Human Nature.” The researchers based their study on families with unique last names. Those unique last names made it possible to trace the families through genealogical and other public records. In England, those aristocratic names included Atthill, Bunduck, Balfour, Bramston, Cheslyn, and Conyngham.

    The social scientists looked for those and other unique, upper-class surnames among students who attended Oxford and Cambridge universities between 1170 and 2012, rich property owners between 1236 and 1299, as well as probate records since 1858 — which are available on Ancestry.co.uk.

    They found that social mobility in late medieval England wasn’t any worse than in modern England. Illiterate village artisans in 1300 took seven generations to incorporate fully into the educated elite of 1500. Conversely, if you died between 1999 and 2012 and had one of the 181 rare surnames of wealthy families in the mid-19th century, you were more than three times as wealthy as the average person.

    The glacial pace of overall social mobility appears to be a universal phenomenon, no matter the political forces at work. Researches found 13 unusual Chinese surnames among the educated elite in the 19th century. Today, despite the Chinese Communist revolution, social upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, and exile of many families to Taiwan and Hong Kong, holders of the 13 surnames are still disproportionately affluent and influential as professors and students at elite universities, government officials, and heads of corporate boards.

    Researchers aren’t sure why social mobility appears to move so slowly, despite outside political and social forces, and suspect genetics may play a role.

    The United States isn’t even old enough yet to test the researchers’ theory. But that hasn’t stopped many observers from identifying certain surnames that connote wealth in the United States.

    There are, for example, about 100 Mellons alive today sharing $12 billion, the fruit of a bank their forefather Andrew W. Mellon founded in the mid-1800s. The several hundred living members of the Rockefellers share $10 billion in wealth that started when John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil in 1870.

    With just $1 billion, the Kennedy family’s wealth is eclipsed by the assets of less romantic family dynasties (the wealthiest family in the world, the Waltons, trace their riches to the founding of Wal-Mart in 1962), but the 30 Kennedy heirs live with a name associated with America’s Camelot.

    Time will tell how long it takes those heirs to end up driving a cab. In the meantime, if you have a unique surname, or even if your last name is Smith, Ancestry can help you find out where your ancestors worked, how well they were educated, and how long they lived — all signs, according to researchers, of their place in the social hierarchy.

    — Sandie Angulo Chen

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    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 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

    [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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    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 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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    The AncestryDNA kit can help you discover your family history

    The AncestryDNA kit can help you discover your family history

    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.”

    Discover more about your story with DNA.

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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 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.”

    Get your Ancestry DNA test today!

    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 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.

    Discover your family story. Start a free trial today.

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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 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 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.co.uk

    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.

    Explore WWI on Ancestry.co.uk. 

    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 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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