Category: Surnames

June 4th, 2013

What’s in a Name? The Fatal Effects of Name Meshing

It’s the latest trend, among celebrities and laypersons alike! Rather than adopting a hyphenated name, many couples are combining their two surnames into one, a practice that has become known as meshing. When I first encountered a story ion this phenomena I was lightly amused. Just think of the fun you could have with the right two surnames! Moon Unit Zappa might be named Moon Unit Zappaman (a combination of Zappa, her father Frank Zappa’s surname, and her mother’s maiden name, Sloatman)!

Yes, this is the general process for meshing; for example, Mr. Gatts and Ms. Harley became Mr. and Mrs. Hatts, while Mr. Pugh and Ms. Griffin are now known as Mr. and Mrs. Puffin. This is all fine and dandy, and may well be in good fun, but what are the future implications for genealogists? When couples choose to mix their surnames, create a completely new identity, and in effect eradicate an entire family line! Many consider it to be romantic, and in a sense it is, but are those couples who choose to “mesh” thinking about their heritage?

Imagine the potential for dead ends as future genealogists trace an ancestor right up until a certain time period, then their family surname completely disappears! Sure it might be easy enough to find the marriage records and figure out what happened, but it could also prove very difficult and elusive for some. Perhaps a note should be made in marriage records and applications that a name change was requested by the couple, and record what the new surname is. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I don’t think so. I’m thinking completely from a genealogical perspective, and would definitely like to know what your thoughts on the subject are.

The Importance of Surnames

There is so much information attached to surnames that is important to genealogical researchers. Surnames tell us the story of our ancestors, often point to their geographic origins, and frequently allude to their occupation. It doesn’t take much to goes the occupation of an ancestor with the name Blacksmith, but Puffin? Surnames link us to our past, if we start to disassemble them and form them into completely different surnames; there is the chance that entire family histories could be lost. If losing entire family histories sounds a bit dramatic, losing the family identity might not be.

Some might argue that the meshing of surnames creates a completely new identity for a family, one that will carry them into their future and begin a new legacy. I actually agree with that to an extent, but I feel that some link to the original and newly formed surname must be kept in order to connect the two for future researchers. How that can be accomplished I’m not sure, perhaps you may have some ideas about that.

Exploring the history of your surname and its meaning is a fascinating part of genealogical research. With all of the information contained in the surname, it will often lead us down new paths of genealogical. Creating too many forks in the road by meshing surnames could make researching particular family lines or even complete surnames extremely frustrating ion the future. Will the genealogists of tomorrow have to for the fun we have today? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

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October 8th, 2012

Searching Irish Surnames from the 17th Century – Sir William Petty’s Census of 1659

There are over 30 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry; more than seven times the population ofIreland. It is no wonder that so much attention is given to finding Irish surnames. I have found an exceptionally useful source for pinpointing the original location of your ancestors to be Sir William Petty’s Irish Census of 1659. It is not a census form in the official sense as it gives only the names of those who held deeds to parcels of land and the number of people residing on each plot. It can help however to find out exactly where your family was centered in seventeenth centuryIreland.

Sir William was an English economist loyal to Oliver Cromwell. He conducted this particular survey in order to establish what land could be rewarded to those private individuals who had funded Cromwell’s campaign to re-occupyIrelandfollowing the Irish Rebellion in 1641. Its value lies in the fact that it records the concentration of every surname that existed inIrelandat the time by county. The surnames are recorded in their original spelling, and as such can also help you to track down spelling variations of your family name.

If you haven’t yet found your family name, it can direct you as to where inIreland you should begin your search. Besides Irish surnames, the 1659 census also includes those of English and Scottish settlers living inIreland at the time. Once you find the general location of your family name, you can begin a more refined search within that county, sourcing local records found in county clerks offices, parish registers, and local genealogical and heritage centers.

What You’ll Find in the 1659 Irish Census

The 1659 census provides clues as to where your family may have been during the 1600’s, and consequently provides a starting point to begin your research. Keep in mind though, that your surname may have been spelt differently in the seventeenth century, so you will need to factor in possible spelling variations. For example; the name Quinn is spelt in the survey as Quine,Clarkis spelt Cleark, and O’Reilly as O’Rely. There are also many lesser known Irish surnames such as Arberry, Hamptin (possibly Hampton), Freind, Keygin (possibly Keagan) and Sime.

The genealogical and historical of this census is self-evident, especially when it comes to finding rare spellings of more common names. It is not only a primary source for Irish surnames, but an asset that can help you get past a dead end if you’re having trouble finding your surname after the eighteenth century. Be aware that the census only recorded the surnames, there are no given or first names included, but because it narrows down your search, can save you measurable time and resources.

Bonus of English and Scottish Names

The 1659 census also documented the number of English and Scottish residents of |Ireland at the time along with their respective surnames. The majority of Scottish names can be found in Northern Ireland except for Counties Monaghan and Antrim. Though the differentiation between English and Scottish names is vague, a closer study will reveal subtle differences. Sometimes the name is designated as that of a person who only spoke English, and occasionally Scottish and English settlers who had resided inIreland for a time are referred to as Irish. There is indication of Scottish settlement inTipperary and Longford counties, while the English settlement is widespread with the exception ofCountySligo.

The Irish outnumbered the English in the south by ten to one, while in the north the ratio was fairly even. As such, you may wish to begin searching ancestors of English or Scottish ancestry in the north of Irelandbefore looking in the southern counties. Leinster, or the area around Dublin, had the highest concentration of Scottish and English settlers. Unfortunately the surviving census is not complete, as is the case with many Irish records. No returns survive for the counties of Cavan, Mayo, Galway, Tyrone, and Wicklow, and only partial reports are available fromCork and Meath.

Still a Valuable Resource

In spite of the fact that portions have not survived or are incomplete, the 1659 Irish Census is a valuable research tool for genealogists. It is very similar in function to the Birth Index of nineteenth century Ireland in that you can pinpoint the origin of your surname. Most families inhabited the same area for centuries, and it is possible that you can find your Irish ancestors in the same location that they lived in all those centuries ago. Many families were driven from their land however, but finding the original location of your family will help you to better track where they moved to. Once you find your family surname, you can consult more recent census reports to find later generations.

What to Do With the Information You Find

After you find your family members in census reports, you will want to record that data in a census extraction form. These are convenient for recording census data, enabling you to review the information you record at a glance. They are available for specific years, and you can download one of our Free Blank Census Forms to get you started.

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July 23rd, 2012

Analysing the Data of Your One Name Study

Constructing a family tree is the basic goal of analysing genealogical data – using vital records, census reports, and other documentation to compile individuals into a family. A one name study will include other analysis such as geographical patterns of names, spelling variations, and uncovering the connections between migration patterns and spelling variations, which can be very involving, but extremely interesting. Analysing the different forms of data you encounter will enable you to distinguish between genuine spelling variations, and those which are simply misspellings or “deviants”.

Distribution analysis is also very important in a one name study. Calculating the rate that a particular name occurs in various places over the course of time is its foundation, and can be crucial in determining the origin of a surname. It is also critical to identify the full names of any spouses you encounter during your research, as often only a first name might be given in a census report. You may have to dig deep to find that missing information, but that is what makes genealogy a challenge, and such a rewarding endeavour when that data is found.

Accurate and thorough analysis of the data you discover will help you to conclude:

  • The meaning of your surname
  • Its origin
  • Identify variants and where they originated
  • Migration patterns of your surname

These are just the basic things you can learn about your surname through a one name study. Depending on how far you want to take it, or how deep you want to go in your research, you can also find out things such as:

  • Social Conditions your family members may have experienced
  • Their average longevity
  • Number of births and pregnancies
  • Extended families
  • Distances between place born and place married

This type of research will lead you to be a bit of a social scientist in addition to being a genealogist. The most adept one name study experts never completely “finish” researching their surname. There is such depth to a one name study and so much information relevant to surnames that can be discovered, it can really turn into a life long journey, especially if you consider the DNA aspect.

DNA and Its Place in a One Name Study

DNA analysis is being used more and more to connect family groups and to establish connections between spelling variations of surnames. There are several ongoing projects dedicated to such analysis, a full alphabetical listing can be found at Cindi’s List. The benefit of a DNA project is that it can establish family connections when the paper trail goes cold, or dies completely. Direct male descendants from other family trees for your surname can be tested, and if their patterns match, you have established the DNA pattern for the originator of that family line. Of course, the more members that are tested and the more matches that are returned, the greater the connection established and the easier it is to reveal a common ancestor.

Distribution Analysis and Finding Your Ancestors Using Maps

The study and analysis of a surname’s geographical distribution over time is a main component of a one name study, and maps naturally are an invaluable tool in doing so. They can be used to:

  • Locate Ancestors in conjunction with gazetteers
  • Assist in research and data collection
  • Present your findings in publications or reports
  • Analyze the geographical distribution of surnames
  • Study migration patterns

Historical maps must be used in conjunction with modern or contemporary maps, as many boundary changes will have occurred over the years. Gazetteers and Trade Directories may also be especially helpful in locating ancestors, as understanding place names and how they may have changed or originated over the years is crucial to locating your ancestor.

If you are serious about your one name study you might wish to consider using a mapping program. These are programs that allow you to enter your data to create a distribution map specific to your research, or to enter your surname to produce existing distribution maps regarding it. There are downloadable shareware programs available at or you can purchase a software package from GenMap UK which includes a built in gazetteer to ease the importation of data. Another option from is the Map My Family Tree software. This software analyzes your ancestry files and automatically plots the life events of your ancestors on a customizable color map, allowing you to see at a glance where your relatives were born, got married, and died.

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July 16th, 2012

Data Collection During a One Name Study

Data collection is both the most tiresome part of a one name study, and the most important. You’ll need to amass as much information as you can find regarding your surname and keep an accurate record of its sources. You will use many of the same resources as you would for a family tree project, albeit you will apply it in different ways. The same principles apply; you are encouraged to verify any information before publishing it in your study, although because of the vastness of such a project that is not always possible. You may have to rely on secondary sources published by other researchers, but try as best you can to verify any original data that you can.

The best part of a one name study is that it can take you to places you wouldn’t otherwise go, by nature it is divergent, and one piece of information may open up a completely new area of research for you. As the study is global, the potential for the scope of your project is huge. In order to capture the extent of your study, you will want to explore as much indexed information as you can. Traditional sources such as BDM indexes and Census reports will play a role in your study, as will maps, but you may also find yourself consulting calendars, resumes, and obscure directories not otherwise employed in a genealogical search.

One benefit of a one name study is that there are no real dead-ends. In a traditional ancestor hunt, the trail goes cold when you can’t connect to the next generation, but a one name study follows the continued presence of a name regardless if references can’t be assembled into family groups.

Various Data Sources for a One Name Study

A one name study involves collecting a vast amount of data from a worldwide perspective, and thus various sources will need to be consulted. The major sources for collecting one name study data are:

  • Historical Sources – Maps, Biographies, Family Histories
  • Civil Registration Indexes (Births, Deaths and Marriages)
  • County Records
  • Census Records
  • Monumental and Tombstone Inscriptions

These records represent the core data you’ll initially consult in a one name study, and citing such sources within your study will give it credibility in the genealogical world. Almost every kind of genealogical source is relevant to a one name study however, and the following types of record will also prove useful:

  • Educational Data – school and university records and degree lists
  • Occupational Data – apprentice records, trade and professional directories, manorial records, pension lists, military records, trade union records
  • Place Data – Electoral rolls, street directories, property records, tithe records, telephone directories
  • Tax Records – Land tax, death duty records
  • Heraldic Records – Coats of Arms etc.
  • Photographs
  • Criminal and Court Records
  • Pedigrees

Some of these records you may be already familiar with, and initially you might want to concentrate your efforts on them. Births, Deaths and Marriages records are of particular interest to a one name study, as are baptismal records and census reports. A one stop shop from which you can begin your data collection is the International Genealogical Index.

The International Genealogical Index

The International Genealogical Index (IGF) is one of the world’s foremost collections of genealogical records in existence. Names contained in the collection date from as far back as 1500, and are sourced from original records from around the world. The data is contributed by individuals and volunteers who both submit their own material and extract data from international vital records. The collection was originally started by the LDS (Latter Day Saints or Mormons), and has grown to contain billions of individual records.

The most reliable records found in the IGF are those extracted by the LDS, and they are marked as such. Those supplied by individuals should be treated with caution and their data checked against original sources where possible. Both types of source are given a batch number which can be used to identify they type of record and the name of the location it covers. The batch numbers point to an LDS microfilm number which will contain all of the records of that surname extracted for that particular collection of records.

You can access the International Genealogical Index at You can use the IGI to search marriage and baptism registers etc for entries of your surname, and you can narrow down your search to country, county, parish, and town or village.

Recording Your Data

Naturally, after working so hard to recover all of the information you will find regarding your surname, you will want to ensure that you have an efficient, easy to access system of recording and storing that data. It is also important o record very specific criteria, such as:

  • The source of the data
  • Location of the source
  • The date that you found the information
  • What records you searched

If you are researching at a library or Family History Center, take your laptop or hand held wit you, many establishments allow the use of them, and it is an efficient, convenient way to keep and take your records wit you. At some places you may be able to photograph documents that you find, so make sure you have either a camera or mobile phone with picture taking capabilities, though if using a mobile phone please ensure that you have your ring tone set to silent mode.

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July 9th, 2012

How to Begin a One Name Study

There is no set way to commence a one name study, as there different variations one can employ. There are set methods that have proved effective over the years however, and the following is based on the best practices employed by a variety of ONS researchers.

The first thing you might want to do is determine how rare or common your surname is, and how it has been distributed throughout the country you live in. Later you can expand your search to worldwide distribution, but as with a family history it is best to begin in your immediate area. The first resource you’ll want to consult is readily available; your local telephone directory. This will give you a general idea of how common your name is in your town, county and eventually your country. The best resource however is national census reports which provide a comprehensive guide to both the historical distribution of your name, and its frequency.

Let’s take a look at how we can determine the frequency of our surname using census data. If you’re surname is of English or Welsh origin, or if you live in those countries for instance, you can visit the ONS List of Surnames of England and Wales. Here you’ll find an extract from the Office of National Statistics database which contains a listing of surnames in use in England, Wales and the Isle of Man as of September 2002. There are over a million surnames shared by more than 55 million people, though less common surnames (shared by fewer than five people) have been excluded from the list.

This database was established in 1998 and is continually updated as births occur, though deaths have not been removed from the database. A survey of one name researchers has suggested that to compensate for the non-removal of deaths, you can multiply the result of your search by .93 to give a fairly accurate idea of those living who share your surname. For example, I did a search for the name MORRIS and a result of 120,691 names was returned. I then multiply 120,691 by .93, getting a revised, and more realistic total of 112,242. Further research has shown that if you multiply the original total by 3.3, you will get an idea of the population possessing your surname since the initiation of parish registers in the 16th century.

For the United States, the website of the Federal Census Bureau website has a section on name frequency and a report based on a sample of the census from 1990. Analysing the distribution of your name will be greatly enhanced by locating contemporary maps and charting the distribution of your surname on them. This will give you an excellent overview of your surname’s distribution, and arm you with a very valuable genealogical resource to share with other researchers.

You may have already collected some information on your surname as part of your family tree research, and this will be useful. But a one name study requires a more comprehensive and systematic approach. You will need to access sources that are similar to the ones required to construct a family tree, but in this case you will be doing an intensive search from start to finish. This will require total commitment, but your workload may be lightened by working with others who are conducting a similar search.

Data collection during a one name study is, although time consuming, fairly straightforward, but you will be adventuring into new genealogical territory and learning new research methods. Though data collection is important, analyzing that data, forming hypothesis, working with other researchers, publishing your findings, and finally preserving your project in a professional manner complete the criteria of a one name study. Don’t worry, in a subsequent Blog I’ll discuss where to find and how to your record the data you’ll need to collect!

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July 2nd, 2012

Wondering About a One Name Study?

When I first began genealogical research I came across what was referred to as a “One Name Study.” (ONS) As a beginner I had no idea what it was or the potential value it could have to my own research. After looking into the subject I realized that it was both an interesting undertaking and a very valuable genealogy tool and resource. Though not for everyone, there are aspects of a one name study that can be of value to those tracing their family tree. Generally speaking, it is a full time endeavour, perhaps in some ways a bit more involved than compiling a family pedigree. It is well worth discussing however, and so I thought I would provide a brief summary of what a one name study is, what is involved in its pursuit, and how it can help family historians.

A one name study is actually a very unique genealogy project in that it is dedicated to researching all occurrences of a specific surname rather than a person’s lineage or pedigree. There may be variations to a ONS (one name study); some concentrate on the occurrences of a surname in a specific geographical area, while others focus on a complete worldwide analysis – a true one name study.

The ONS may concentrate on certain aspects such as the geographical distribution of the name and how the name has changed over the years (spelling variations), or it might attempt to reconstruct the genealogical lineage of the name – basically a pedigree chart showing the connections between all families bearing that name; denoting families rather than individuals. A common goal is to pinpoint a precise geographical origin of a name, especially if the surname looks to have been named after a place; such as Washington. Many names take their origin from an occupation or trade like Carpenter.

A one name study seeks to collect more than just data, but rather to determine the genealogy and family history of all people with that surname and its variants i.e. Smith, Smyth, and Smythe etc. To accomplish this, the following must be determined:

  • The Origin of the Name
  • The Meaning of the Name
  • Frequency of Occurrence
  • Geographical Distribution of the Name
  • Immigration and Emigration Patterns
  • Variants of the Name
  • Distribution of the Name throughout History

Assembling all of the people of that surname into a massive pedigree chart is not required of a ONS however, though some researchers do this with names that are relatively rare. This would be a huge undertaking, but many “one-namers do construct pedigree charts for their own branch of that name. The particular benefit of a one name study is that it can eliminate alternative spellings and such when tracing your own family history, and consulting one can be of great benefit to genealogical researchers.

There is also a good chance of discovering new relatives when undertaking a one name study, but it should always be kept in mind that any information you uncover should be treated with due care and diligence; respecting people’s privacy for both legal and ethical reasons. Let’s take a look at the main component of one name studies – surnames.

Surname Analysis and a One Name Study

The more rare a surname is the easier it is to research, but don’t be put off if you have a fairly common surname, as much research may have already been accomplished regarding it. The beauty of a surname is that each has its own story to tell, and as such, a one name study can be both a rewarding and entertaining endeavour. There are basically eight main classifications of surnames, they are:

  • Locative – Derived from the name of a place (Toponymic), or derived from a specific geographical feature of a location such as Hill (Topographic).
  • Occupational – Derived from the occupation of the bearer (Butcher, Carpenter, Blacksmith).
  • Position Holder – Taken from a political or community position that the bearer had (Judge, Mayor).
  • Patronymic – Derived from the forename of the Father (Dennis, Patrick, Williams)
  • Matronymic (rare) – Derived from Mother’s first name (Margetson, Beaton)
  • Diminutive – Derived from an altered forename. This was common in the Middle Ages when suffixes such as – lett, cock and kin were added to a first name (Bartlett, Tomkins, Hancock).
  • Genetive – A name implying ownership by someone, usually the owners name with an “s” added (Martins, Manners, James)
  • Nicknames – Sometimes derived from physical appearance or other characteristic (Fox, Cruickshank, Cripple)

Some surnames may have multiple origins, and therefore may have multiple meanings. Performing a one name study can take you on a wonderful ride through history and introduce you to aspects of your family you might not otherwise know. In subsequent blogs I’ll introduce you to additional aspects and benefits of a ONS, and how to go about beginning one should you be interested.

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June 15th, 2010

Are You As Irish as Barack Obama?

You might be one of the millions of American’s who are!

When Barack Obama became nominated as a presidential challenger, much interest arose in his background. Researchers discovered that Mr. Obama’s great, great, great grandfather was born in Eire. Much was already known of his Kenyan ancestry. However, the fact that an African American could have Irish descendants had a profound effect on many people.

It is well known that the Irish flocked to America in droves. Since President Obama’s Irish heritage has come to light, much effort has been made to find the source of his Irish blood.

What about you, might you be of Irish ancestry?


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January 28th, 2010

Does Your Last Name Define Who You Are?

If you are like me, you may at some point thought about your last name.

What does it mean?

Where did it come from?

Am I related to anyone famous?

Maybe my last name means nothing. It might simply be a made-up name without history.

Your last name is your ID.
The name you have serves to define and identify you to others. Consider the number of times every day someone asks for your last name.

“Can I see your driver’s license please?”

“Sign here please!”

“Could you please spell your last name?”


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