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5 Fun Facts about Genealogy


The use of surnames, or last names, did not become widespread until the 11th century in Europe.

There are 4 main types of surnames:

  1. those based on occupation (such as Baker or Weaver, Miller),

  2. those based on place names or geographical features (like Goodland or Hill),

  3. those derived from nicknames or physical appearance (such as Brown or Little),

  4. and those that are patronymic, meaning they are based on the father's name (like McAndrew, meaning "son of Andrew," or my own surname, Perkins, which means "son of Peter" or "kin of Peter").


Going back 8 generations, most people will have more than 200 ancestors. However, Charles Habsburg, also known as Charles II of Spain (1661–1700), was so inbred that he had a mere 29 ancestors.


Ellis Island did not change the surnames of immigrants coming into the United States.

However, If your surname was altered from its original spelling, it was likely your ancestor who shortened it, translated it into English, or perhaps unintentionally misspelled it upon arrival to America.


Ship passenger lists for immigrants coming into the United States can provide valuable information about one's ancestors, including their height, hair color, occupation, general health, and how much money they had when they arrived in the U.S.

These records may also reveal the name of their nearest living relative in their home country, as well as the town from which they traveled to set sail for America.


While it may be exciting to claim descent from William the Conqueror or Charlemagne, the reality is that many people of English or European heritage can likely trace their ancestry back to these rulers. In fact, it is not an uncommon feat to be able to claim descent from both of them.


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