Archive for the ‘Names, Given’ Category

Surnames (Last Names) and Given Names (First and Middles Names)

Genealogy Books -- surnames --  closeup horizontalNames can present difficulties for two reasons:

1. The spelling of names was not standardized until relatively recently. Example: There are six surviving signatures written by William Shakespeare. Each one is spelled differently.

2. Transcribers. When you are using the search box of an online database like Ancestry or FamilySearch, there is always at least one person between you and the information you are seeking, the transcriber. This is the person who creates a printed name from an original handwritten record. It is easy to mistake individual letters. Try it sometime. Example: In colonial handwriting, the s can be written differently depending on where it appears. Another example is census records. Census takers were seldom, if ever, hired for their legible handwriting.

What do you do when you are having a problem finding an ancestor?

1. Find different spellings of the name. Check out surname societies online. Google your name of interest with the word “surname”. Surname societies may already have a list of various spellings (and misspellings) of the name.

2. Besides using a surname society, you can also ask friends how they would spell a name. You would be surprised at how many spellings you collect.

3. Keep a list. When you find a misspelling in a record, take note of it. Add it to your list.

4. You can use the Soundex system for a number of United States federal censuses.  Soundex was created in 1935 for use with the 1880 census in conjunction with the new Social Security system. It looks like federal employees had as much trouble reading the handwriting on census records as genealogists do.  Soundex takes vowels out of names and substitutes numbers for consonants. It pulls together names that sound alike and was created to help find people that the handwriting can make names difficult to pinpoint. It is far from foolproof, as are any of the subsequent systems developed to do the same thing. You can use it. But don’t rely on it. Find as many variants of a name as you can think of and then use them in your search box.

5. Use whole family reconstruction. This is especially true if you get too many hits with a common name. Add the names of parents, siblings, a spouse or children’s names if you have them, rather than just the name of the ancestor you are looking for. You can approach adding names in two ways.  You can add everyone at once and delete members until you get a hit. Or you can add family members one at a time until you find what you are looking for.  Remember, sometimes less is more.

6. Sometimes you can find a family using one member with an uncommon name.  Once you find it, you can see if the rest of the family matches up.  Example: One of my ancestors was named George Smith. Luckily he married a woman named Philomene who had a daughter also named Philomene. With other corroborating evidence, I had enough information to realize I had my grandmother’s family.

7. Remember, just because you have a very uncommon name, do not assume that only one person had that name in the time and location you are researching. It is possible that it is a family name passed down through different branches of a family.  That is why checking for other family members or corroborating evidence is so important.

8. You may have the right person, but the wrong location.  They may have moved and you will have to broaden your search.


Surname Research

Kennett,  Debbie. The Surnames Handbook:  A Guide to Family Name Research in the 21st Century. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2012.  929.42 K39S

Various Aspects of Surname Research

 Clark, Gregory.  The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014.  In Processing 17 March 2014.

Lieberson, Stanley.  A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture ChangeNew Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000. 929.4 LIEBERSON

Redmonds, George.  Surnames and Genealogy: A New ApproachBoston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1997.  929.4 R24S

Redmonds, George, Turi King, and David Hey.  Surnames, DNA, and Family History. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.  929.1 R24S

Kaplin, Justin and Anne Bernays.  The Language of NamesNY: Simon and Schuster, 1997. 929.401 K14L

Jasper, Margaret C. How to Change your NameDobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana  Publications, 2005. 346.73 J31H    This is just a reminder that on very rare occasions, ancestors do change their names.  Usually when you can’t find someone, it is because they simply are not where you expect them to be or there has been a mistake in the transcription of a name.

Bockstruck, Lloyd DeWitt.  The Name is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2013.  On Order March 2014.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges.  Special Consultant for Jewish Names, David L. Gold. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1988. R 929.42 H19D 

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges.  A Dictionary of First NamesOxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.  R 929.4 H19D

Surname Research for Various Locations


Dictionary of American Family Names. Edited by Patrick Hanks. 3 vols. Oxford; New York: Oxford Univeristy Press,  2003. 929.4 DICTIONARY

Encyclopedia of American Family Names. Compiled by H. Amanda Robb and Andrew Chesler.  NY: Harper Collins, 1995.  R 929.42 R53E

America: For a Specific Time and Place

 Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan NomenclatureLondon, England: Chatto and Windus, 1880.  929.4 B23C

Directory of the Ancestral Heads of New England Families: 1620 – 1700.  Compiled by Frank R. Holmes.  Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1964.  R 929.1 H68D

A Surname Guide to Massachusetts Town Histories.  Compiled by Phyllis O. Longver. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1993.  MASS 929.374 L86S


Barber, Henry.  British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning, with Lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman Names.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1968. Reprinted from Second Enlarged Edition. London: E. Stock, 1903.  R 929.4 B23B

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan NomenclatureLondon, England: Chatto and Windus, 1880.  929.4 B23C                                                                                           

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell.  A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, with Special American InstancesNY: H. Frowde, 1901.  R929.4 BA

Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell.  English Surnames: Their Sources and SignificationsRutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1968.  929.4 B23E 



 Asante, Molefi Kete. The Book of African Names. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1991. 929.44 ASANTE

Stewart, Julia.  1,001 African Names: First and Last Names from the African Continent.  NY: Carol Publishing, 1996.  929.408 S840


Chao, Sheau-yueh J.  In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2000. 929.107 C36I


 Jones, George Fenwick.  German-American Names.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2006.  929.4 J71G


 Platt, Lyman De. Hispanic Surnames and Family History.Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1996.  929.42 P69H


 MacLysaght, Edward.  Irish Families: Their Names, Arms, and Origins.  4th rev. ed. Dublin, Ireland: Irish Academic Press, 1985.  R 929.1 M22I

 Matheson, Robert Edwin, Sir. Special Report on Surnames in Ireland: [Together with] Varieties and Synonymes of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland.  Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2003.  929.4 M432S


 Fucilla, Joseph Guerin.  Our Italian SurnamesBaltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1949, rpt. 1987.  R 929.4 F95O  Also circ.


Shea, Jonathan D., A.G.  Going Home: A Guide to Polish American Family History ResearchNew Britain, CT: Language and Lineage Press, 2008. Chapter 8. “Our Names in Europe and America.” pp. 311-343.


Beider, Alexander.  A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian EmpireTeaneck, NJ: Avotaynu, 1993.  R929.4 B39D

 Ganzhina, I.M. Slovarʹ Sovremennykh Russkikh Familiĭ.Moskva:  AST: Astrelʹ, 2001. RUS 929.9 S754S

 Gil, Pinkhas. Kratkii slovar’ evreiskikh Imen: Okolo 350 Imen. [A Dictionary of Contemporary Russian Surnames. In both Russian and Hebrew.] Jerusalim: 1985.  RUS 929.4 G37K

 Zima, Dmitrii. Taina imeni.  [Mystery of the Name]. Moskva: Ripol Klassik, 2002. RUS 929.4 Z35T


 Black, George Fraser.  The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and HistoryNY: New York Public Library, 1946.  R 929.4 BL


 Platt, Lyman De. Hispanic Surnames and Family History. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 1996.  929.42 P69H


 Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell.  A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames, with Special American InstancesNY: H. Frowde, 1901.  R929.4 BA


 Guild of One Name Studies (Great Britain/now includes surnames worldwide)  http://www.one-name.org

 Federation of Family History Societies (Great Britain)  http://www.ffhs.org.uk

 Cyndi’s List [of Genealogy Sites on the Internet]  Surnames, Family Associations, and Family Newsletters    http://www.cyndislist.com/surnames

vea/26 March 2014
Newton Free Library
Newton, Mass
Library website:  http://www.newtonfreelibrary.net
Genealogy blog:  https://thecuriousgenealogist.wordpress.com
Genealogy LibGuide:  http://guides.newtonfreelibrary.net/genealogy

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