The genome often holds surprising answers for historical questions that involve lineages. Consider the matter of English surnames. Commoners acquired surnames between AD 1250 and 1350, apparently for the convenience of feudal record keepers who needed to differentiate between tenant farmers with the same first names. The surnames were not highly original. They tended to be a person's profession (Smith, Butcher), or a patronymic (Johnson, Peterson), or derived from some landscape feature (Hill, Bush). Historians assumed that the same name had been invented many times over, so there would be no reason to assume that people with the same surname had a common ancestor in the thirteenth century. George Redmonds, however, a historian of British surnames and place names, came to feel that many English surnames had single progenitors. "But it was never possible to prove it genealogically because we
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