Features

Walloons landing at Albany

Belgian Migrations: Walloons Arrived Early in America

If your roots go back to the early settlements in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania or the Middle Atlantic States you may have Walloons—people from the southern parts of Belgium—for ancestors. The fact that the Walloons sailed from Holland has caused many to believe, erroneously, that they were Dutch.

Harriet MacGibbon

Beverly Hillbillies Actress Descended from Leader in Underground Railroad

Blue-blooded Mrs. Drysdale of “The Beverly Hillbillies” was played by Harriet E. MacGibbon, who—not unlike the character she portrayed—sported a noted New England pedigree, lived in Beverly Hills, and her family was profiled in the “Blue Book.” The actress’s great-grandfather played a role in bringing freedom to the enslaved more than a decade before the Emancipation Proclamation.

MONTGOMERY, Elizabeth 1959

The Bewitching Family Tree of Elizabeth Montgomery

Celebrity genealogies are not always easy to trace. Biographical data abounds, yet that’s no guarantee of accuracy. Like old family tales passed through generations, celebrity biographies often are a blend of fact and legend.

WALLING, Ruth

“Black Dutch” as 19th-Century Slur

By the 1880s, Black Dutch was a term of contempt, at least in the North and Midwest. 

background made from opened books

Book Reviews

Reviews of genealogy-related publications—including “how-to” guides, family histories, and historical record abstracts.

Lizzie Borden

Chopping a Branch Off Lizzie Borden’s Family Tree

After more over one hundred years after Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the murder of her parents, the mention of her name still generates debate as to her guilt or innocence. Did she or didn’t she? Perhaps the biggest question is about the Borden family.

Abandoned church

Church Records: Genealogical Clues

Knowing the Old World origins of your ancestors can help determine their religious preference. But remember that our ancestors frequently changed denominations in America. They often joined or attended the church nearest them.

colonial marriage

Colonial Love & Marriage

The free women of 17th-century America found their position enviable. Regardless of looks, wit, or wealth, they had no trouble finding husbands.

midwife

Confessions of a Colonial Midwife

Midwives assisting unwed mothers were often expected to testify in court and reveal the father’s name. Puritans believed that women endured so much anguish during childbirth that they would make a confession to the trusted midwife, thereby saving the community from the expense of raising a child.

Stella Stevens shutterstock

The Deep Southern Roots of Stella Stevens

Actress, screenwriter, and producer Stella Stevens is a descendant of Zachariah Flynn, an early-day Methodist minister in the Magnolia State. 

Signers of the Declaration of Independence

Did Your Ancestor Sign the Declaration of Independence?

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Many sources are available to aid family historians in tracing descent from delegates of the Continental Congress.

Kasia Bryc

DNA Does Not Lie: An Interview with Dr. Kasia Bryc of 23andMe

The senior scientist and population geneticist at 23andMe, the California-based personal genomics and biotechnology company, talks to us about the first of its kind “genetic portrait,” ancestry composition reports, and surprises revealed by DNA testing.

Joan Van Ark 3

The Dutch-American Roots of Joan Van Ark

Joan Van Ark descends from Gradus van Ark, a successful builder, who immigrated to America from the Netherlands in 1866.

Dutch House in Albany

The Dutch Touch upon America

Most Dutch came to America simply because they calculated that the future promised more prosperity for them and their children in America than in Holland.

Ebenezer Tinney's tombstone in Grafton, Vermont (Courtesy of James Bianco)

Ebeneezer Tinney’s Curious Tombstone Inscription

What’s carved in stone is baffling: “Virtue lies beyond the grave, My glass is rum.” Was it a stonecutter’s error, or was the Tinney tombstone toasting spirits to make light of a grave matter?

Katherine Helmond 1

The Family Tree of Katherine Helmond

Katherine Helmond’s paternal great-grandfather, James Helmond, was a sailor in the Confederate Army. However, her maternal great-grandfather—born to Union supporters—was named Ulysses Simpson Grant Walker. 

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The Family Tree of Roseanne Barr

According to family members, Roseanne Barr’s paternal grandfather left Russia to flee the Czar’s army and came to America where he had family. 

MORGAN FAIRCHILD

The Family Tree of Morgan Fairchild

Morgan Fairchild comes from a family of Texas educators. Her mother and both grandmothers were teachers, while her grandfather and a granduncle were school superintendents. 

Jim Wright

The Family Tree of U.S. Speaker Jim Wright

A third-generation Texan, Jim Wright descended from a distinguished Australian family; his grandfather arrived in the Lone Star State to join another member of the family—the former Surveyor-General of New Zealand and Victoria Australia.

Pilgrims

Finding Mayflower Families

“It has been estimated by Gary Boyd Roberts, of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, that there are some 30 million descendants of the Mayflower families. So even if you don’t carry the surname of one of the 23 progenitors that survived that first winter, it is still possible that you descend from one of them.”

John Adams

Finding a Potential Presidential Pedigree

The roots of 20 presidents, some entwined, can be found in Colonial New England, Roberts noted. That is why it is not unusual to find a presidential connection if you have New England ancestry predating the Revolutionary War. 

Finger Pointed 3

A Finger Pointed: Tennessean Denied 1815 Paternity Claim

Eve G’Fellows was unable to prove that William Gann was the father of her child. She made the mistake of revealing to others that this was a false accusation.

Frakturs

Frakturs

These illustrated manuscripts, which are drawn with pen and ink and embellished with vivid colors, are not just nice to look at—they can provide a wealth of genealogical information to researchers. Important historical details often documented in frakturs include family names, relationships, dates, and locations.

I’m My Own Grandpa: Where Did the Tale Begin?

Long before it became a famous song, “I’m My Own Grandpa” had popularity as an oft-repeated story. For more than a hundred years, newspapers across the U.S. published stories about men who claimed to be their own grandfather. 

Dan Bucatinksy 3

An Interview with Dan Bucatinsky of Who Do You Think You Are?

In an exclusive interview, the executive producer of the popular TV series reveals some of his favorite moments of the show, and what made him “fall in love” with Who Do You Think You Are?

Kenyatta Berry 3

An Interview with Kenyatta Berry of Genealogy Roadshow

In an exclusive interview, the TV show co-host tells GenealogyMagazine.com what sparked her obsession with family history, how she reluctantly auditioned for the show she loves, and the episode that made her cry.

William Frawley

The Irish-American Roots of William Frawley (“Fred Mertz”)

Best-known as Fred Mertz of I Love Lucy, William Frawley came from an Irish-American family. All four of the actor’s grandparents emigrated from the Emerald Isle.

PARRY, Mary 2

Is Your Family Tree Accurate?

Errors abound in genealogies usually because we don’t recognize them, and like the flu, we keep passing the germs along. The internet has aided and abetted the spread of family trees—but many of them must be put in the fiction section. A number belong in the fantasy area and others in Sci-Fi.

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A Look at Tori Spelling’s Family Tree

Actress Tori Spelling’s grandfather, a Polish-Jewish immigrant, changed last name from Spurling to Spelling after coming to America.

henry-viii-detail

Mary Boleyn’s Carey Children—Offspring of Henry VIII?

Circumstantial evidence indicates a high probability that Henry VIII fathered two children by Mary Boleyn, meaning that he has many descendants in both England and America.

Robert Reed

The Missouri Ancestry of Robert Reed (“The Brady Bunch”)

The Chicago-born actor descended from a Civil War veteran in Central Missouri.

Stephanie Adams Nicolai 4

Model Stephanie Adams’s Odyssey into Her Origins

In an exclusive interview, Playboy Playmate, activist and author Stephanie Adams—who is also an astrologer, CEO, and self-made millionaire—tells GenealogyMagazine.com what she’s learned about her family history and how it’s impacted her life.

GREER, Joe and Madison 1b

Reality TV Contestant Hopes DNA Test Reveals Father

“It has radically changed my life,” says Joe Greer about his appearance on Relative Race.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Tom Lea close up

Roots Rebooted: New Version Uses Real Names—to an Extent

The original miniseries changed the names of some of the characters in Alex Haley’s Roots, but the 2016 version sticks to the real names—at least in some cases.

quaker-preaching

Seventeenth Century Quaker Sought Redress by Undressing

Quakers seeking religious liberty in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were punished by the Puritans. Absence from local parish services resulted in a summons, the consequences of which included heavy fines, whippings, or banishment. Lydia Wardwell protested in response to her summons by appearing naked.

English village

Some English Surnames Reveal Ancestral Residence

Along with shires, parishes, and villages, last names developed from manors and estates as well. Medieval owners of manors and estates frequently adopted the name of their dwelling. 

duel

The Shott Heard Across America

“A duel was lately fought in Texas by Alexander Shott and John S. Nott,” the news item began. “Nott was shot, and Shott was not.” It was a newspaper story our 19th century ancestors enjoyed reading—but was it true?

ImageCollect/Globe Photos, Inc.

Strange Kinships Uncovered in American Family Trees

“Millions of Americans relate via either New England or Southern ancestors to probably dozens of notable historical figures,” according to Gary Boyd Roberts. Some family trees have wildly entangled branches. For example, Elvis Presley was related to former President Jimmy Carter.

How-Do-You-Pronouce-Your-Name

Surnames Sound a Challenge for Researchers

Retaining an original spelling and its “foreign” sounding pronunciation was difficult for most immigrants. To Americanize a surname, one of two things might happen. The pronunciation might be changed to match the spelling, or the reverse might be true. An entirely new spelling was sometimes adopted to keep from losing the preferred pronunciation. In some instances, both spelling and pronunciation were Americanized.

John Wahlstrom

Swedish Research: A Case Study

Research into the background of Swedish emigrant revealed his real name.

Joan Crawford magazine cover

The Tennessee Branches of Joan Crawford’s Family Tree

Joan Crawford, whose face graced countless magazine covers, was born Lucille Fay Le Sueur. She descended from London-born David Le Sueur, who immigrated to Virginia in the 1720s.

The coat-of-arms of Rev. John Greenwood, rector of Brampton, Norfolk County, England, from 1620 to 1663. According to English laws of heraldry, armorial bearings are the property of an individual, not everyone with the same last name.

The Use and Abuse of the Coat of Arms and Crest

According to English laws of heraldry, armorial bearings are the property of an individual, not everyone with the same last name.

True Crime Magazine

Vintage True-Crime Magazines are Useful to Genealogists

Detective magazines that first came into print more than 80 years ago are a unique, untapped goldmine for family history.

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Watch Out for Fake Family Trees

Many ancient, illustrious family trees are in need of pruning, if not chopping down. Fraudulent genealogies make their way into books which sit on library shelves, waiting to deceive a new, unsuspecting generation of genealogists.

(Shutterstock)

Weaselhead, Devil, and Drunkard: Surnames Originating as Insults

A conceited look or a spiteful glance sometimes led to an ancestor’s being saddled with an unflattering last name.

The Welsh: Surnames and Migrations

It has been estimated that about nine-tenths of the Welsh population answer to a total of a hundred names and that sometimes only a half-dozen names will be shared by 20 or 30 families.

Lucinda Barrow Hahn thumbnail

What’s My Wife’s Name?

Ohio farmer Abner Hahn made headlines in 1870 when he forgot his wife’s name.