Discover your Family Tree Today

Find your Heritage by Decoding your Surname Genealogy

Until about 1100 A.D. most people in Europe had only one name, which is still true in some primitive countries today. As the population Increased it became awkward to live in a village where perhaps 1/3 of the males were named John, another sizable percentage named William, and so forth.

Therefore, to distinguish one John from another a second name was needed. There were four primary sources for these second names:

  • A man's occupation
  • His location
  • His father's name
  • Some peculiar characteristic

Illustrations of How Surnames Began

Examples of Occupation: The local house builder, food preparer, grain grinder, or suit maker might be recognized by their trade: John Carpenter, John Cook, John Miller, and John Taylor.

Examples of Location: The William who lived over the hill became known as William Overhill, the one who dwelled near a stream might be known as William Brook or William who purchased a piece of land, perhaps was recognized as William (property location or place).

Examples of a Father's Name: In many countries, a child's surname was the father's first name and added "son" or a form of "daughter" such as Williamson to indicate the child is the son of William. Some endings used by various countries to indicate "son" are:

Dane's and Norwegian's -sen
Scot's and Irish-Mac
The Irish 0' incidentally denotes grandfather. A person named Joseph O'Mally was the grandson of Mally.

Examples of Characteristic: An unusually small person might be labeled Small, Short, Little or Lytle. A large man might be dubbed Longfellow, Large, Lang, or Long. Many persons having characteristics of a certain animal would be given the animal's name. Examples: a sly person might be named, Fox; a good swimmer, Fish, etc.

Searching for your Heritage

To follow a family back in time can be very difficult, as one sibling may have a slightly different last name than another. As an example: one brother can have the spelling of their surname as Bell while another sibling might be Beal. Going further back in time, one brother could have an all together different variation than his siblings. For example: one might have taken the last name based on where he lived, while another took on a family name based on a characteristic.

Use Good Genealogy Research Steps to Discover your Ancestors

  1. Do not take for granted when you find a genealogy document that has your ancestor’s name, that it is them.
  2. Exhaust all resources to find and verify important family facts: birth, marriage, death, parents, siblings, and other family relationships.
  3. Write down conclusions as to why the documents help or contradict each other.
  4. Use a variety of historical records to verify family information and kinship. Including primary and secondary genealogy documents.
  5. If you can’t find the document that you are looking for, it is suppose to be available, try using different spellings. We have found that many documents often have words spelled the way they sound. Many secondary records that have been transcribed often have spelling errors that occur during the transcription process.
  6. Finding a person in genealogy archives can be an issue due to the way the name was spelled either on purpose or by accident. Because the US census takers often did not confirm the spellings of names, the soundex calculator was created to index names in the 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 US Census. The soundex calculator can also aid genealogists by identifying spelling variations for a given name.

Begin your Surname Genealogy Search