How to Trace the History of a Name

by Sharon Guy

Every name has a history. You can trace the history of your name to find its origin and meaning, or to build a family tree. You can use genealogy to research your family's history and find out about your ancestors. Tracing the history of a name takes time; however, there are online genealogy resources to assist you.

Interview your relatives to gather as much information as possible. Talk to your parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Collect the following information about each family member: complete name; maiden name; addresses; birth date; place of birth; marriage dates and locations; date and place of death of deceased relatives.

Ask older relatives if they have any old letters or family Bibles that might contain useful information about prior generations. Ask of they have old photographs of distant relatives. Check to see if any names are written on the backs of the photographs.

Make a list of information your relatives could not provide. Search public records for birth and death records of your ancestors. Search the vital statistics registry for birth certificates and death certificates in the states where the relative resided. Look for genealogy resources in the National Archives and Records Administration at

Look for existing family trees in online genealogy sites like,, and It is possible that someone else has traced your family tree and posted it on one of these sites.

Search for family pedigrees to see if another family's research is linked to your family tree. Two examples of family pedigree websites are and

Go to local libraries in towns where your ancestors lived to look for birth announcements, marriage announcements and obituaries in old newspaper records. Research online newspaper archives for more recent records. Review the announcements for names of relatives.

Review the birth and death certificates of your ancestors to find the names of their fathers and mothers. Search for Federal Census records if they lived in the United States between 1790 and 1930. has an online Federal Census database that you can search for a fee, using only the names.

Use the interactive search at to search the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for death records of people who died after 1962.

Research naturalization records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at for ancestors who were immigrants.


  • Use genealogy message boards to search for information about your family tree, and share your genealogy research with others.

About the Author

Sharon Guy is a freelance writer and attorney. She has been writing for law firms, businesses and nonprofit organizations since 2000. She holds a Juris Doctorate from Quinnipiac University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in fine art from Bard College.

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