How to Search Surname History

by Carol Adams

Genealogy is more than just a simple pastime: it is an exciting activity that can be like reading a mystery novel. Genealogical research focuses on your ancestors (those with your surname). There are many places you can turn to in this surname research. Part of the effort can be focused on your direct ancestors, while another part can focus on the geographic or cultural origins of your name., along with the root meaning. For example, a Smith clearly had an ancestor who worked in a blacksmith shop. Other name origins are more obscure, with some having been lost to history.

Question family members, especially the older ones, about your ancestors. Get as many names, places and dates as you can. You should also ask if any of them have an old family Bible, since many families used the back blank pages in these to record family marriages, births and deaths. These will sometimes make reference to someone having come from a particular country.

Contact your local library or a nearby university library to see if they have a genealogical collection. Some will even have a separate room devoted to this purpose. If they do, visit them and search through their collection for information related to your branch of your family in particular and your family name in general. Check sources like Burkes Peerage or the Penguin Dictionary of Surnames.

Go online and visit the Family Search website. This source includes names and information about many of the people who have lived in the United States. Keep in mind, though, to double check the information you find at this site with other sources, since the data is user submitted and not always reliable. If you prefer, you can try one of the pay sites to search for further information. Sites like Geneaology.com and Ancestry.com offer access to large collections of official records, such as birth records, census data and military service. You would normally have to search county, state or federal offices for this information. Keep in mind that many of these sites are pay sites.

Hire a genealogist if you feel you need professional assistance. A professional will be able to more quickly hone in on exactly the records you need to answer your questions based on their years of experience. They will also be skilled at interpreting things that might seem obscure to you. However, they can also be fairly expensive, and you will have to share a great deal of personal information with a total stranger.

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About the Author

Carol Adams has been writing since 2009. She writes about graphics, 3D and video software for various websites. Adams earned a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and a Master of Arts in liberal arts from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.