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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English - Understanding Names in Genealogy by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
The following published British works are available at most principal libraries and in microform from your FamilySearch Centre.
- The Genealogists Guide by Marshall 1902. An alphabetical list of pedigrees in print.
- A Genealogical Guide by Whitmore 1953. A continuation of Marshall’s work to 1950.
The following two works update Whitmore:
- A Catalogue of British Family Histories. Thomsen. 1976
- Genealogist’s Guide by Barrow 1977. Covers 1950-1975
- Irish Families by Maclysaght. 1966
- More Irish Families by Maclysaght. 1968
- Supplement To Irish Families by Maclysaght. 1970
- Scottish Family History by Stuart and Balfour. 1930
- Scottish Family Histories Held in Scottish Libraries by Ferguson. 1960
- Genealogies in the Library of Congress: A Bibliography by Kaminkow. 1987; two vols and 2 supplements list 52,000 printed genealogies
- The Family History Library Catalogue, Surname Section is a gold mine for locating published histories. 250,000 surname entries have so far been indexed from their collection of over 75,000 printed family histories; view them at your local Family History Centre
- Smith’s Inventory of Genealogical Sources is at the Family History Library, Salt Lake City and on fiches at your local FSC and which contain references to thousands of pedigrees at Salt Lake but not in their catalogue:
- England – FHL fiche 6110526 (96 fiches)
- Ireland – FHL fiche 6110527 (18 fiches)
- Scotland – FHL fiche 6110528 (18 fiches)
- Wales – FHL fiche 6110529 (14 fiches)
- Society of Genealogists in London has a large collection of published family histories
- Raymond’s British Genealogical Library Guides (formerly British Genealogical Bibliographies Series). Modern, ongoing county-by-county listings of family histories, pedigrees, lists of names, and information sources.
- The various compilations of peerages, baronetages, knights and landed families can be found in any decent public library, although these probably only have the current edition. For older ones consult an older university library, interlibrary loan, or the FHLC. Many of them should come with a warning not to believe everything written by the families encompassed therein, as aggrandizement as well as pruning of socially unacceptable branches and twigs of the trees is common! Nonetheless, many present-day ‘ordinary’ families have sprung from the younger sons of younger sons within these pages, so it is worth checking for clues. The most reliable are probably Cockayne’s Complete Peerage and Complete Baronetage, and a decent list of others can be found in Herber
- The Dictionary of National Biography, particularly the 1906 index (Lee) is a wonderful source, as the original volumes (Stephen and Lee) give parentages and birthplaces of many relatively obscure religious personages who could be relatives of yours.
- Biography and Genealogy Master Index, edited by Herbert and McNeil; a consolidated annual index to millions of published biographies available at public libraries.
The compilers of ongoing research can be found in the following:
- Genealogical Research Directory by Johnson and Sainty. Lists surnames of worldwide families currently being researched, with names and addresses of their searchers, many with Australian connections, and fairly expensive.
- National Genealogical Directory by Burchall. Annually from 1979 but now ceased publication. Similar to above but mainly British families.
- The BIG-R (British Isles Genealogical Register.) A project of The Federation of Family History Societies. Available as British and as county lists of interests on fiche at any member society. Inexpensive to enter your own interests.
- LDS Family Registry Index. Worldwide ancestors and families being researched, on microfiche at most FSCs. Includes many One-Name studies having huge data bases. No longer accepting names as superceded by the LDS Ancestral File.
- Genealogical and Family History Society Lists called Members Interests Directories and queries in journals.
- The Society of Genealogists in London has a large collection of birth briefs (pedigree charts) and lists of members interests in their journal, The Genealogists Magazine.
- Federation of FHSs biannual magazine, Family History News and Digest contains synopses of articles in all worldwide member societies journals, and a list of current FHS secretary’s addresses on back cover. The Society of Genealogists in London, England has an ongoing card index of all of these digest extracts and an index to early volumes is available.
- PERSI – The Periodical Source Index. There is free access at any FamilySearch Center. Index of all articles in English- and French-language genealogical periodicals from 1847 to present day. This index is available on the web. A wonderful and under-used resource.
GOONS (Guild of One-Name Studies) Register for those collecting all references to a certain surname, mainly British-based families. These people are keen to share information, and usually have vast data banks! Access through Box G, 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London, England EC1M 7BA or at the webwsite.
- The monthly Family Tree Magazine and Practical Family History (England) list readers’ interests and enquiries.
- Many new web sites accessible through standard gateways such as GENUKI, Cyndi’sList, Rootsweb and FamilySearch.org
Experience shows that submitting your pedigree to large, widely available databases pays dividends in finding cousins. Far more people look than actually get around to submitting! Recognize this and make sure they are looking at your ancestors and queries! The volume of mail generated by an article written for an FHS journal can be astounding. Even small articles are welcome, but do make sure that you put the surname in the title so that it will be picked up by indexing and search machines.
Comprehensive surname dictionaries will indicate variants that have arisen from the basic surname form. These are of many kinds:
- Variants. These are simply other forms and spellings. Example:Down, Downe, Downer, Downman, Dunman.
- Cognitives. Cognitives are direct translations into other languages and come from the same root word. Example:Carpenter (English), Charpentier (French), Carpentieri (Italian),Carpintero (Spanish).
- Equivalents are direct translations of another language not based on the same root word. Example: Carpenter (English),Boissier (French), Zimmermann (German), Plotnik (Russian).
- Patronymics. Forms that a child would take from its father using this name as a base. Examples: Peterson from Peter, Symmons fromSimon, Wilson from Will.
- Metronymics. Forms that a child would take from its mother using this name as a base. Example: Alison from Alice, Ellings from Ellen.
- Diminutives. Forms derived from one of:
The surname with a hypocoristic (pet) suffix. Examples: Jenkin from John,Rawling fromRalph.
- A pet form of the given name or nickname, both meaning ‘little’. Examples:Jess from Joseph, Russell from Rouse (‘red-head’).
- Augmentatives are rare and have a suffix added which means ‘big.’ Example: Marconi fromMark.
- Pejoratives are formed from given names or words plus an ending that was originally derogatory or insulting. Example: Trenchard from Tranchant, Punchard from Points.
- Compounds are surnames derived from two or more words. Example:Sandberg fromSand and Berg (‘hill’).
- ‘Servant of the’ using the suffix –man. Examples: Kingman, Masterman, Priestman.
The following books are worth knowing about.
The first major reference work was Guppy’s Homes of Family Names in Great Britain (1890 but reprinted 1998 and also available on FHL film 0990488). This was an exhaustive survey of farmers’ surnames in Victorian county directories from which he calculated the frequency per 10,000 of the population. He chose the names of farmers as they seem to be the most tied to the land by reason of inheritance or tenure, and thus more likely to be representative of a county. Knowing in which counties your surname is more common is a most useful statistic to have at the beginning of any new surname search.
Then followed C.W. Bardsley’s Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames with Special American Instances (1901 also available in 1988 reprint and on FHL film 0856106). Here will be found plenty of early references and the work is strong on location names. There are frequently figures given for surnames appearing in the 1870s ‘Owners of Land’ volumes, which can be a guide for further exploration of surname distribution.
Reaney was an erudite and prolific writer about surnames. His works include The Origin of English Surnames (first published in 1967), which discusses each category of names in some detail, and A Dictionary of British Surnames (first published in 1958), which is an alphabetical listing giving extensive mediaeval examples with references as well as surviving forms. These are still regarded as standard texts although caution is advised with many of the name derivations, and Francis Leeson (Surname Studies and Family History Annual) feels that he is weaker on location names.
Other texts that can be useful with difficult names, although each is indicative of the state of the science at the time of writing, include Henry Barber’s British Family Names: Their Origin and Meaning (1894), C. L’Estrange Ewen’s A History of Surnames of the British Isles and A Guide to the Origin of British Surnames (1931, 1938) for early examples; Basil Cottle’s The Penguin Dictionary of Surnames as a quick reference within everyone’s budget; Julius N. Hook’s Family Names. How Our Surnames Came to America on non-English names; J. R. Dolan’s English Ancestral Names. The Evolution of the Surname from Mediaeval Occupations on occupational names, but his history is weak; Francis Leeson recommends Ernest Weekley’s The Romance of Surnames and C. M. Matthews’ English Surnames, whilst Mark D. Herber considers the more recent book by R. A. McKinley’s A History of British Surnames to be an excellent summary, and also recommends George Redmonds’ Surnames and Genealogy: A New Approach with its very pragmatic approach. The modern standard, to which all genealogists should have access is Hanks and Hodges’ A Dictionary of Surnames (1988) covering 70,000 surnames in Judaeo-Christian Britain and Europe. Their detailed introduction is a highly recommended summary of current knowledge on most surnames likely to be encountered in the English-speaking world.
Nineteenth and 20th century trade directories as well as modern telephone directories, now widely available on the Internet offer further sources for study of surnames.
Surnames in Latin or Abbreviated?
It is extremely rare to find either abbreviations or Latin forms of surnames until you get back to the Middle Ages. When you get that far help can be found in Martin who lists not only hundreds of abbreviations but also given names, surnames, British place names and bishoprics in Latin with English translations.
A researcher may embark upon a One-Name Study for any number of reasons, amongst which are:
- Desire to establish the origin of an unusual surname.
- Linkage of all known bearers of the surname through meticulous research.
- Sharing of family information, stories and memorabilia.
- Establish and maintain contact with living surname bearers by means of a newsletter, regular meetings or occasional reunions at sites relevant to the family.
- Establish a society for surname bearers and to publish research findings.
- The choice of name to study as well as the type of study is entirely personal, although co-ordinating bodies such as the Guild of One-Name Studies attempt to establish criteria and minimum standards. This organization also publishes the renowned Journal of One-Name Studies where members can publish and discuss issues of relevance to this field.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English - Understanding Names in Genealogy offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.