When you think of genealogy, your mind may automatically produce memories of countless family reunions where your elderly relatives would pass around tattered documents and worn-out scrapbooks and reminisce on the lives of familial ancestors. Now, with the popularization of technology, genealogical discoveries could be only a click away. New inventions such as mail order DNA tests and virtual family trees make it easier than ever to find out more about previous generations, so it should come as no surprise that genealogy is quickly becoming a very trendy hobby. In a typically developing family tree, most individuals will have a grand total of 256 ancestors from eight generations back. The challenge of locating and identifying all 256 ancestors draws many curious minds to the study of genealogy.

Unsurprisingly, last names are a crucial element to any family tree. However, surnames were not commonly used until the 1000s in Europe. Some of the earliest last names were derived from a person’s occupation, such as Miller and Smith. Other surnames, like Hill or Woods, described where a person lived, and last names such as Peterson (meaning son of Peter) were formed by using the names of an individual’s relatives. Perhaps some of the most interesting surnames were given based on a person’s personality. Last names like Moody, Wise, Sharp, and Wilde all originally described the temperament of an individual.

Some aspiring genealogists like to visit cemeteries to collect bits of family history. While its common knowledge that headstones display vital information such as the person’s name and lifespan, other details about the individual’s life may be represented by discreet symbols engraved in the marker. For example, a rose is often used to convey a variety of messages about how an individual lived and died. A rosebud etched into a headstone indicates that the person passed away before the age of 12. Likewise, a rosebud with a broken stem represents a life cut short. A partial bloom often suggests that the person was a teenager when they passed away, and a full bloom indicates the person was a young adult at the time of their death.

When scouring the internet for pieces of your own family tree, experts recommend checking passenger lists of ships that brought immigrants to the United States. These passenger lists typically contain a boatload (no pun intended) of helpful information about ancestors. A ship’s passenger records often include passengers’ names, occupations, country of origin, and destination. Even such details as passengers’ height, hair color, and health status sometimes are found in passenger lists, giving you an accurate depiction of your family’s story.

Websites such as Ancestry.com are a great way to jump-start the process of constructing a family tree. This link will allow you to search for family records by last name. Happy digging!


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