Seven Fun Genealogy Facts

Join S.C. Perkins, author of Murder Once Removed—the first in a new cozy mystery series starring Lucy Lancaster, a Texas genealogist who uses her skills to solve murders in both the past and present—as she shares a list of genealogical facts guaranteed to impress at your next dinner party!

Somewhere, years ago, I heard the term “UBIs” for trivia factoids, with UBI standing for Useless Bits of Information. I’ve called these little pieces of brain catnip UBIs ever since—though sometimes I take exception to the Useless bit. More often than not, they’re darn useful!

Anyway, I digress. If you want some fun facts, look no further than genealogy and family history, which—UBI alert (of the useful kind)!—is specifically the study of the lives our ancestors led. Here are seven good ones I’ve found while researching Lucy’s job as a professional genealogist.

1) Surnames—i.e., last names—did not come into use until around the 11th Century in Europe. There are four general groups of surnames: those based on occupation (like Baker or Weaver), those based on place names or geographical features (such as Goodland or Hill), names coming from nicknames or appearance (like Brown or Little), and those that are patronymic, meaning based upon the father’s name (such as McAndrew, meaning “son of Andrew” or my last name, Perkins, which means “son of Peter” or “kin of Peter”).

2) Going back eight generations, most people will have a whopping 256 ancestors. This is called an “outbred” family tree. Charles Habsburg, however, known as Charles II of Spain (1661–1700), was so inbred he had only 29 ancestors, and he suffered from great physical disabilities as a result.

3) Ellis Island didn’t change the names of immigrants coming into the United States. If your surname was changed from its original spelling, it was your ancestor who shortened it, dropped a few letters, translated it into English, or maybe even unintentionally misspelled it once they came to America.

4) All those symbols you see on headstones in cemeteries? They have meanings and can sometimes indicate information about a family member you might not have yet found. One particularly interesting symbol is the depiction of a rose or rosebud. While it can, of course, mean love, hope, beauty, and/or purity, a rose on a headstone—specifically its stage of bloom—can also indicate the general age of the person at their death. Here is a guide to the various versions you might see:

Rosebud: the person was under the age of 12


Rosebud with a Broken Stem: a young person’s life was cut short


Partial Bloom: the person was in their teens


Full Bloom: they passed away in the prime of their lives, usually meaning their twenties


Intertwined or Joined Rosebuds: a mother and child who both died during childbirth, or around the same time. Can also indicate two family members with a strong bond who passed away at the same time.


(For a comprehensive list of headstone symbols, go to

5) Though it’s pretty cool to be able to claim you’re a descendant of William the Conqueror or Charlemagne, the fact is, for most with English or European heritage, there’s a strong chance they, too, can trace back to Will or Charlie. I trace to both rulers myself, and I still think it’s super cool, even if it’s not such a family-tree feat!

6) When taking a DNA test, you and your siblings can have differing amounts of certain ethnicities, even if you’re full siblings. This is because of genetic inheritance and its naturally random way of dishing out the gene percentages. So, if you and your brother are partly of Scandinavian heritage, you could be twenty percent Scandinavian while your brother could be forty-five percent (or vice versa).

7) Ship passenger lists for immigrants coming into America can give you a wealth of information about your ancestors, including their height, hair color, occupation, general health, and how much money they had on them when they came to the U.S. But the records can sometimes give your research an extra kick by telling you the name of their nearest living relative in their home country, as well as the town from which your relative traveled to sail to the United States.

So, if you think your genealogical research has hit a dead end at your great-great-great-grandmother, but you know she came over from Ireland, check the passenger lists. She may have left you a little gift by naming one of her relatives, giving you a big jump across the pond to continue adding leaves to your family tree—and that’s no useless bit of information.

Read an excerpt of Murder Once Removed!

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins

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  1. Emell

    This sounds like an interesting series. I can’t wait.

  2. John Smith

    DNA tests marketed by DNA companies that say they demonstrate different ethnicities or national backgrounds are scientifically worthless. The results will show connections, some of them pretty vague, but the results will not say nearly as much or anything as definite as the companies claim. People are being sold a bill of goods, and they should be aware of that. The DNA databases remain of limited value because the pool of subjects is limited. And I don’t know that a lot of results could be definite even if every human being were in the database.

    • Ann Flynt

      I find genealogy a fascinating subject. This looks like a great read. Thanks for including some genealogy facts I didn’t know.

  3. Susan T.

    Genealogy is always fun to get into with your family and the home DNA kits make it so much easier. I’m also excited at how it is being used to solve cold case crimes.

  4. Joye

    Very interesting facts. Wonder if twins have the same percentage of ethniciites?

  5. Pam

    Genealogy and a mystery sounds great!

  6. Shirley Flaherty

    I’m just starting my genealogy search and your fun facts sound great. I’m amazed at how helpful genealogy is for cold case crimes.

  7. Kathleen Kendler

    This book has an interesting premise. For the AncestryDNA and other DNA to work as a basis for finding family members , Your relatives or potential relatives must submit there DNA. Until that happens, there is little chance for a match. I was greatly disappointed. MY husband was able to reconnect with family.

  8. Jackie Wisherd

    I found it most interesting about siblings perhaps having different ethnicity.

  9. Jerrie Adkins

    I hadn’t known that about siblings. Thanks!

  10. Karen Richtman

    Sounds like a great new series.

  11. Elizabeth

    I worry about the privacy implications of DNA kits, even though the research itself sounds fun!

  12. Ivy

    Have done a bit of tracing my dad’s family from the French speaking part of Belgium, the DeBaere’s. Got side tracked by life, but should really get back to it. Will try the ship lists. Sounds like an interesting series. Appreciate the chance.

  13. Carol Kubala

    I just included this debut title in a list of genealogy mysteries for our genealogy group. Sounds like one for the books.

  14. Julie

    Hope to find some good tips for genealogical research.

  15. Tammy Mitchell

    Okay, so you’ve peaked my interest.

  16. GARY

    Look forward to genealogy mystery mix. Always enjoy Steve Berry and Deanna Raybourn, so this sounds good also!

  17. Dianna Young

    It does sound very interesting – love cozy mysteries!

  18. Joan Salinger

    Sounds like someting that I would love to read! The genealogy facts are fascinating. I have been told that I was related to a person who went to England with William the Conqeror.

  19. Tina

    This sounds like a great new series! I love mysteries and genealogy so this is perfect for me.

  20. Ali Danko

    Love the draw Genealogy has! It’s fun exploring that rabbit hole…

  21. Judy

    This sounds like a terrific concept for a series!

  22. Michael Carter

    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  23. Robi Malone

    I do family genealogy and find the history of our ancestors very interesting. I’ve also done DNA tests and the results have been surprising. I love the idea of a mystery through history, especially a crime drama. I can’t wait to read this book.

  24. Jana

    I had no idea about the headstone symbols. Very interesting.

  25. Shelly Garnett

    That is all very interesting

  26. Teresa Miller

    Having just discovered a half brother I never knew about through, and being a cozy fan, I would love to win this! Two of my favorite things blended together 😊📚🐛

  27. Theresa C.

    Genealogy and DNA are such hot topics right now! We did ours, and the results are absolutely fascinating! 🙂

  28. DebP

    I find this quite interesting. My husband and I gave it a whirl one year and,no surprises.


    I really loved the book – for the mystery, of course – but also for all I learned about tracing ancestry! I reviewed it on my blog –

  30. Judy Whichard

    Love the concept of the series, there are so many mysteries to be solved in genealogy!!! Looking forward to the read!

  31. Shanna

    I can’t wait read this series!

  32. Janet Gould

    Very interesting article.

  33. MP Smith

    Great fun facts. This new series looks interesting!

  34. Sherry Moran

    I have worked on family history for over 50 years. I am a 6th generation Texan. I love mysteries. Sounds like my kind of series!

  35. Donna Sanzone

    Sounds like the start to a good series. I’m a genealogist too.

  36. Lisa Sabatini

    Ancestry has always fascinated me, probably because my maternal grandfather “disappeared” before my father was born. He arrived in my grandmother’s coal town to paint the company houses, married her, and then moved on to paint in the next coal town where he promptly married someone else. Then another town, another wife, etc! I want to use DNA to search for “cousins” , but I am somewhat afraid.
    Looking forward to reading this series for fun and perhaps some encouragement!

  37. Marisa Young

    Interesting article. Would like to read the book.

  38. Kate Baxter

    Genealogy with a twist of mystery – how very delicious. Looking forward getting my hands on a copy one way or another.

  39. Angie Middleton

    This book sounds so fun, and different! And, being a fifth generation Texan, it really appeals to me.

  40. Susan Morris

    Wow! This sounds like such a great read. I’ve always been interested in genealogy and to have a mystery added is super enticing.

  41. bawonderly

    Great mix of mystery and history

  42. bawonderly

    Great mix of history and mystery

  43. paul klumbach is operated by the Mormans. Good luck with that one.

  44. Rhonda Barkhouse

    Gotta love a good cozy!

  45. Elaine Roberson

    Sounds like a great new series.

  46. Astrid Johnson

    This sounds super interesting and I very much look forward to reading it. Adding it to my Goodreads!

  47. Sharon Ruda

    Our mystery book discussion group will love this.

  48. Tammy

    looking forward to this book ! I love mysteries and genealogy!! My maiden name is Camp and it’s of course a “place location” surname 🙂

  49. CarolynV

    looking forward to this new series

  50. Lori Lowery

    Two of my favorite things – a mystery and genealogy!

  51. S.C. Perkins

    Thank you so much, everyone! I’m so glad you liked my post! I had such fun writing it and doing all the genealogy research in my book. I hope you’ll enjoy Murder Once Removed!

  52. Jill Arnold
  53. Margie Haynes

    I love doing genealogical research and reading murder mysteries.

  54. Barbara Philipps

    As an amateur genealogist, this combines two of my favorite activities. I will certainly give ths series a try!

  55. Daniel M

    sounds interesting

  56. Saundra K. Warren

    another new to me author!!

  57. Kelly Watson

    Great tips. Sounds like an interesting series. Looking forward to reading the first book.

  58. Tyson Coolidge

    It’s cool that after eight generations you’ll have found around 256 ancestors. My wife has been telling me about how she wants to learn more about where her family came from. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for learning more about her family tree.

  59. Darlene Harbick

    I was so glad to see #3. You’d be amazed how many people think that their family name was changed at Ellis Island. First of all, most of us had ancestors that didn’t come through Ellis Island – it’s only relatively recent immigrants who were processed there. Secondly, the officials at Castle Garden, or Baltimore, or a handful of other places, plus those at Ellis Island, used the records supplied by the shipping companies (usually created by their fellow countrymen) to work from, so they would not be making anything up at all. Second, the idea of there being a “right” way to spell anything, including names, is incredibly recent. There likely were a lot of different ways that your ancestors names were spelled, depending on time, place, fashion, who was writing it down, etc. Once you accept that, and always look for your ancestor under a range of spellings, you’ll find it’s much easier to find them. I’m a long-time genealogist, been working on my families (off and on) for about 40 years.

    I’m looking forward to the book. Sounds like a great read.

  60. Diane Eaton Hacker

    Love the notes about researching your family, after 45 years of research, I still learn new things every time I sign into the web site. The genealogy book sounds amazing! Can’t wait to read it!

  61. McKean Welwood

    I am into the genealogy and have my DNA recorded, so far so good.

  62. Charles Muschamp jr

    my Ansesters are from France they were merchants. Surname:《Muschamp》

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