Common surnames can make genealogy research more challenging. But learning more about your last name (including how common it is) can also enrich your family history. Check out 4 free online tools for learning more about your family’s surnames. Then share what you learn the next time your relatives get together!
If you have common surnames on your family tree, you may have become frustrated at times trying to determine whether the “John Williams” or “Elizabeth Smith” you’re looking at in a record belongs to your John or Elizabeth. Would it make a difference if you discovered they lived in an area where there very few folks by those names during that time period? It would. Furthermore, it would probably also be nice to know things like where else in the world–or within England, for example–that surname is found now (or was in the past).
The enormous amount of census, vital records, and family tree data now online is making it easier to answer questions like these. Below, find free online tools for mapping common surnames (and less-common ones, too) across time. They include surname search tools hosted by a couple of our Genealogy Giants, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com. What can you learn from the following sites? Do they agree with one another? Check them out!
Your surname in the 1990 and 2000 U.S. censuses
The US Census Bureau has created databases of last names that appear in recent censuses. You can look at the results a couple of ways:
- Click here to search for your surname among the most common 150,000 surnames from the 1990 and 2000 censuses. These surnames cover about 90% of those who participated in the census.
- Click here to view a list of all surnames that appear 100 or more times in the 2000 census. (Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown, Jones, Miller and Davis all top a million occurrences!) According to this webpage, the top 15 surnames have remained fairly steady in the most recent three censuses with one exceptional trend: Spanish-origin surnames are starting to make the lists.
Common surnames of England and Wales
Find out how common your surname is today in England, Wales, and the Isle of Mann. The Surnames of England and Wales – the ONS List has a searchable database of almost 270,000 surnames shared by 54.4 million people (it excludes surnames occurring fewer than 5 times in the total database of nearly 60 million people). The list compiled between 1998-2002 does have some duplication and misspellings: “experience suggests that multiplying the result for your surname by 0.93 will give a good idea of the living population for your surname.”
What’s in a name? Ancestry.com answers
Ancestry.com hosts this fun and free tool for those with roots in the U.S., England, Scotland, and Wales:
Remember, it’s not a precise genealogy research tool. But it can prove interesting. When I ran this search for the married surname of our Genealogy Gems DNA expert, Diahan Southard, I was shown (among other things) this interesting map illustrating how the Southard family was spread across the United States in 1920:
Surname directory at MyHeritage
MyHeritage.com hosts a searchable surname directory taken from data found on its site. To search the surname directory, choose the first letter of the last name from the alphabet shown below the search screen. (If you enter a name in the blue search boxes, you’ll be taken into their record-searching area, which isn’t the same):
You won’t find all names surnames here, though you may find variant spellings of yours. (I never knew McClellan could be spelled in so many different ways!) Here’s a map of how they find my husband’s surname, Morton, scattered across the globe:
Looking for more surname distribution maps? Click here to find a list organized by country.
Next Steps: Try this with your common surnames
If you’ve taken a DNA test…Thousands of people are compiling their same-surname DNA test results into surname projects. Click here to learn more about how to “social network” your yDNA test results in a surname project.
If you’re a Genealogy Gems Premium subscriber…you can watch Lisa Louise Cooke’s fabulous video tutorial, Common Surname Google Search Strategies. Use her tips to find even your most commonly-named relatives online! (Not a Premium member? Click here to learn more–for one low price, you’ll get a year’s access to hundreds of Premium videos and podcast episodes!)
It’s another big week for genealogical records. Here’s the latest including two rare opportunities for free access to subscription military records.
Ancestry® Veteran’s Day 2019 Free Access To World’s Largest US Military Records Collection
From Ancestry: Ancestry® boasts the world’s largest US military records collection. Find inspiring stories about heroic family members who served our country.
- The free access promotion ends November 17 at 11:59 PM EST.
- Visit the collection here.
- More than 260 million US military records
- More than 60% of Ancestry U.S. subscribers who have a family tree have found at least one military record for an ancestor!
- Find draft cards, enlistment records, soldier pension indexes and more
- Our U.S. military records cover all 50 states and nearly 400 years of American history
- View the full list of collections
- Anyone can help honor our veterans: Capture WWII Veteran’s Stories
My search for Sidney Mansfield retrieved at least three records:
Search results for Sidney F Mansfield of Minnesota
While I had found some of these before, this records from the U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 collection was a pleasant surprise, although reading it brings to light an unpleasant time for Sidney:
Record of Sidney F. Mansfield
Findmypast Granted Free Access to International Records Ahead of Veterans day 2019
The free access promotion ended at 12 pm GMT on Monday, November 11th
Findmypast includes more than 85 million military records covering the Armed Forces of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. Researches can search for their ancestors in a variety of fascinating documents ranging from service records and pensions to medal rolls, POW records, casualty lists and more.
New Historical Records at MyHeritage
From the MyHeritage blog: “18.6 million new historical records have been added in October 2019 in seven new collections from all over the world, including:
- the former Soviet Union,
- the United States,
- and Denmark.”
Here are the full details of these new record collections:
Australia Death Notices, 1860–2019
“This collection of over 7 million records contains death notices, funeral notices, and obituaries from Australia from a variety of sources. The dates of these notices primarily range from 1900–2019, with a few entries from the previous 50 years.”
Spain, Bilbao Diocese, Catholic Parish Records, 1501–1900
“This collection of over 4.9 million records consists of baptism, marriage, and death records for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bilbao in Spain. The majority of the records correspond to the historical region of Biscay, Spain within the Basque Country, with a small minority of records from Cantabria.
Baptismal records contain the following searchable information: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the child and parents, date, and location. For marriages: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the bride and groom, date, and location. For death records: first name, primary surname and secondary surname of the deceased, date, and location. The parish is also listed in most records.”
Soviet Union, Soldier Memorials, 1915–1950
“The 4.5 million records in this collection provide details on soldiers from the Soviet Union who died or went missing during the wars in the early to mid-20th century.
Information listed on these records may include:
- year of birth
- place of birth
- date of retirement
- place of retirement
These records might also include place of service, cause of death, and hospitalizations. Most of the information in this collection is in Russian. MyHeritage provides the ability to search this collection in one language and receive results in another using its unique Global Name Translation™ technology. The technology automatically translates given names and surnames into the language of the query. For example, a search for Alessandro (Alexander in Italian) will also find “Саша,” the Russian form of Sasha — a popular nickname for Alexander — with its corresponding translation into the language of your search.”
Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index, 1918–1940
“In the city of Riga during the interwar period, every person over the age of 15 was supposed to have an internal passport as proof of identity. This database of 890,811 records includes residents of Riga and may include the surname, given name, father’s name, date of birth, place of birth, and place of origin of the passport holder. This collection is completely free to search, view, and add to your family tree.
Many of the internal passport files contain all addresses the person lived at during the passport’s validity, including those outside of Riga.
Whenever the passport’s validity expired, the passport was to be returned to the government. It is not known how many actually returned their passport to the government, so this collection is not a complete representation of all people who lived in Riga during this period of time.”
United States Index of Gravestones, 1900–2018
“This collection includes 601,986 records from more than 25 cemeteries located in the United States.
The records include headstone inscriptions and burial records. In these records you may find information such as:
- deceased’s name
- date of birth
- date of death
- date of burial
- place of burial
Cemetery records are especially helpful for identifying ancestors who were not recorded in other records, such as children who died young or women.
Records from cemeteries in the following states can be found in this collection:
- Washington D.C.,
- Rhode Island,
- and South Dakota.”
Germany, Emigrants from Southwestern Germany, 1736–1963
“This collection of 285,158 records is an index of emigrants leaving Southwestern Germany largely between 1736 and 1963. Records may contain the following searchable information: first and last name, birth date, date and county of emigration, and first and last name of a relative.
The following information may also be viewable:
- alternate name
- former residence
- marital status
- birth name
- additional information on the family of the individual.
Emigration from Germany occurred in a number of waves, triggered by current events such as the July Revolution of 1830, the 1848 March Revolution, the foundation of the German Reich in the 1870s, World War I, and other significant events. The majority of the records from this collection are from the mid 1750s to the early 1900s.”
Denmark, Copenhagen Burials, 1860–1912
“This collection of 255,733 records is an index to burial records from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Records typically list:
- the name of the deceased
- death date
- burial place.
In some cases, the deceased’s age, occupation, and cause of death may also be listed.
Burials usually took place with a few days of death. Burials in Denmark were recorded in the records of the parish where the burial occurred. Original burial records have been digitized and made searchable by the Copenhagen City Archives.”
Sample: Thorvald Nikolaj Thiele Died: Sep 26 1910 Danish astronomer and director of the Copenhagen Observatory. He was also an actuary and mathematician.
Enjoy searching all of these new collections that are now available on MyHeritage SuperSearch™. Searching these records is always free, and you can also view and save records to your family tree from the Latvia, Riga Internal Passport Holders Index for free. To access Record Matches or to view or save records from the other collections, you’ll need a Data or Complete subscription.
MyHeritage’s Record Matching technology will notify you automatically if any of these records mention a member of your family tree. You’ll then be able to review the record and decide if you’d like to add the new information to your tree. Learn more about Record Matches on MyHeritage Education.
New Digitized Collections at the Library of Congress
From the Library of Congress: “Researchers and students have gained access to seven newly digitized collections of manuscript materials from the Library of Congress, including records of one of the most important women’s suffrage organizations, the papers of President Abraham Lincoln’s personal secretary and collections on the history of federal monetary policy. The availability of these collections added more than 465,000 images to the Library’s already vast online resources.”
The new collections include:
The records of the National American Woman Suffrage Association:
records from one of the most important national women’s suffrage organizations in the U.S. The collection includes more than 26,000 items, most of which were digitized from 73 microfilm reels.
Women’s Suffrage Records
The papers of the presidential secretary and biographer John G. Nicolay (1832–1901) consist of 5,500 items scanned from original materials. Spanning the years 1811 to 1943, the collection particularly reflects Nicolay’s tenure as private secretary to President Abraham Lincoln.
From the same era, the papers of Confederate general Jubal Anderson Early were also released online.
Olmsted Associates Landscape Architectural Firm – The collection documents the work of the landscape architectural firm originally founded by Frederick Law Olmsted as it was continued by his sons in Massachusetts. It includes nearly 150,000 items scanned from 532 reels of microfilm.
Federal Monetary Policy:
Three newly released collections relate to federal monetary policy:
Read the entire announcement at the Library of Congress.
You will all feel a little lucky this week with new and updated genealogical records for Ireland and several states across the U.S. Records from Nevada, Nebraska, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota are on the list. Updates to two of the Freedmen’s Bureau record collections will wrap up this week’s records you can dig into.
IRELAND – RECORDS, GUIDES, AND BOOKS
The New England Historical and Genealogical Society is offering access to their Irish resources for FREE for a limited time. So hurry before it ends on August 9th and see what luck you have digging up your Irish ancestors.
You will need to sign-up, but remember, it’s free. Once you have logged on, you will begin your search here.
Many Irish researchers have difficulty finding records because of the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922. Not only can you browse the records available, but also the subject guides and books for Irish genealogy.
UNITED STATES – PENNSYLVANIA – NATURALIZATION RECORDS
The Chester County, Pennsylvania website has made their naturalization indexes available for the year span of 1798-1935. To search their indexes is free, but there is no name search field. You may have to scan several pages to find the record that may interest you. The database is also available to search from Ancestry.com and allows you to search by name, date of event, and place of origin.
The index of naturalizations include the name of the individual, name of native country, and a date. The original record could hold additional information. You can request a copy of the original record from their webpage. To learn more about that, click here.
UNITED STATES – NEVADA – MARRIAGE & DIVORCE
The most difficult records too find are often those that were created within the last 50 years. Due to the scarcity of recent records, we are pleased to see Ancestry has added a new database titled Nevada, Marriage Certificates, 2002-2015. You can search by name, date, location, and spouses name.
The digital image of the marriage records differs from year to year and location to location, but generally, you will find the couples’ names, ages, date and location of the marriage, and the person who officiated the wedding.
Nevada, Divorce Records, 1968-2015 has recently been updated on Ancestry as well. This index includes nearly half a million divorce records. You can use the index to locate the county the divorce took place, and then contact that county for the original records. You won’t find the reason for divorce in this index, but you can find the county of divorce and the divorce file number that will help locate the further records you want.
UNITED STATES – NEBRASKA – PASSENGER LISTS
A passenger list database for Omaha, Nebraska? Yep, but these are passenger and crew lists of air manifests between the years of 1958-1965. The collection is titled Omaha, Nebraska, Passenger and Crew Manifests of Airplanes, 1958-1965. If your Omaha relative did a lot of air travel, these records may be of interest to you. These records were were recorded on a variety of forms turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Some details included the name of the airline, type of aircraft, flight number, places of departure and arrival, dates of departure and arrival, full name, age, gender, physical description, military rank (if any), occupation, birthplace, citizen of what country, and residence. For military transports, you may even find the next of kin, relationships, and addresses. Later, manifests may include visa or passport numbers.
UNITED STATES – MINNESOTA – PASSENGER LISTS
The same is true in this database, Minnesota, Passenger and Crew Lists, 1957-1962 at Ancestry. This collection includes both air travel and ships coming into Minnesota ports. The original records were originally digitized by the National Archives and Records Administration. Information you may collect from these digital images include:
- Ethnicity, nationality or last country of permanent residence
- Arrival date
- Port of arrival
- Port of departure
- Ship name
UNITED STATES – GEORGIA – BONDS AND LICENSES
Ancestry has added the Savannah, Georgia, Licenses and Bonds, 1837-1909 database this week. You will find digital images of records from the City of Savannah’s Clerk of Council relating to people and businesses. These records usually include the name of person’s name, occupation, name of business, record date, record place, and subject.
UNITED STATES – FREEDMEN RECORDS
FamilySearch has updated two of their existing collections within the Freedmen Bureau Records. The United States, Freedmen’s Bureau Ration Records,1865-1872 and the United States, Freedmen’s Bureau, Records of the Superintendent of Education and of the Division of Education, 1865-1872 have been able to be browsed for some time. While not all the records have been indexed by name for easy searching, many have. You will want to first run a search by your targeted name. You can browse all the digitized images, but it won’t be easy. The ration records are not filed by county, but by film number. However, if you want to browse the collection of education records, they are searchable by state, then date.
MORE GEMS ON IRISH GENEALOGY
Beginning Irish Genealogy: Tips and FREE Records
A Comprehensive Way to Learn How to Research Irish Genealogy
Irish Genealogy: Find Your Poor Ancestors in Ireland
Family History: Genealogy Made Easy Podcast
with Lisa Louise Cooke
Republished June 24, 2014
Listen to the Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast by Lisa Louise Cooke. It’s a great series for learning the research ropes and well as refreshing your skills.
Download the Show Notes for this Episode
Welcome to this step-by-step series for beginning genealogists—and more experienced ones who want to brush up or learn something new. I first ran this series in 2008-09. So many people have asked about it, I’m bringing it back in weekly segments.
Episode 37: Your Genealogy Questions Answered, Part 2
Today’s show is all about YOU! Just like Episode 36, this episode is made up completely of your emailed questions, comments and stories. Joining me on today’s episode to read your emails again is my daughter, Lacey Cooke.
Question: Is there a way to get iTunes to download all of the podcasts instead of just the most recent ones? I thought I saw it on the website somewhere but now I can’t find it. –Melanie Armstrong
Answer: (updated since the podcast originally aired): In your iTunes LIBRARY, on the line where the Genealogy Gems Podcast is listed click the GET ALL button. This will download all the past episodes to iTunes on your computer, to be listened to at your convenience. Downloading will take several minutes. You will see a little spinning orange circle to the left of the podcast name as it downloads. Once the episode is downloaded the text will turn from gray to black. Double click the episode and it will start to play after a moment or two.
Question: I use the free forms at Family Tree Magazine’s website. Do you keep your old Family Group Sheets on file so you can double check them later? – R. Butler
Answer: I love all those free forms at Family Tree Magazine! I’ll tell you the truth, I decided to throw mine away. I transcribed everything into my database and threw away the paper. Everything is properly sourced there, which is key. I avoid duplicating efforts, which has happened to me when looking back at old paper forms. If I need to double-check things, I do it from the actual sources—the birth or death certificate or interview—not from the family group sheet. The only exception is if the group sheet is part of a brick wall case file that I haven’t solved yet. I keep them until the case is solved, and then the cited answers go into the database.
Question: How do you know when records/indices are complete? I have been looking for immigration records for my family and cannot find them.
They came in large family groups, so you would think it would be easy to find. Even though the name (Mauge) is often misspelled (Mange, Mauga) I cannot find them at Ellis Island, Steve Morse’s website, The National Archives or through my Ancestry.com subscription. The years span 1880 through 1885. Are these immigration records complete or am I looking in the wrong place? -Anne-Marie Eischen
Answer: There are many factors involved here, and many avenues to pursue. Based on other information you told me about your family’s arrival, here are some ideas:
- The Family History Library has microfilm of the Baltimore Passenger lists between 1920 and 1897 – and it lists the main author as the U.S. Dept of the Treasury, Bureau of Customs. Passengers are indexed by soundex and the soundex code for Mauge would be M200. But considering the variations you have found of the name you’ll want to arm yourself with the soundex codes for all those variations. The M200 names are on Film # 417302 which I found in the Family History Library catalog and familysearch.org and you can just go to your closes Family History Center and order the film for under $10 and they will send it to you to view at the center.
- Check the at the Immigrant’s Ships Transcribers Guild website.
- Click here for a great summary of Baltimore passenger lists by Joe Beine online.
- You will also find an index for Baltimore passenger lists between 1820 and 1897 at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN.
- Look closely at your source for the port information, and see if you can locate any other verification of that. Maybe she actually arrived through another port.
- Usually I would tell you to check departure lists, but in this case, departure lists for Bremen for that time period are not available.
- Here’s a great book recommendation for you: Finding Your Chicago Ancestors by Grace DeMelle.
Question: I wanted to share the results of my Google Alerts. My father had red hair and was called “Red” most of his life. So when I ask for “Red” Browning in my alerts, I have received information on the red Browning sweater (the Browning clothing line), a red Browning rifle case (they make guns) and recently the Cincinnati Reds Tom Browning went to jail (the Red’s Browning…). Alas, nothing yet on my Dad! Another family name is Gorry – you can imagine what I got last Halloween! I do love the alerts though – and have added eBay alerts too, thanks to you. Keep encouraging us and thanks for the great tips! -Joan Ketterman
Answer: I’m not sure how much I can help with that one – keep playing with the “plus” and “minus” signs in your searches to refine what you’re looking for. And I’m glad you’re using those eBay alerts. Learn more about eBay alerts in Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 140. Note: Genealogy Gems Premium Members can learn more about Google Alerts in Premium Podcast Episode 28.
Comment: On the podcast you recommended using Google Books. I have a “gem” for you….I have a link where the LDS church has archived loads of family history books: http://www.familyhistoryarchive.byu.edu. Follow the link and type in the surname of your choice. I have found some wonderful stories there about my ancestors. – Susan in West Palm Beach Florida
Note: The BYU Family History Archive she references has migrated into the Family History (Digital) Books collection at FamilySearch along with the digital book collections of other repositories/ They are now searchable at FamilySearch.org.
Question: This is just something that bugs me. WHICH is the correct pronunciation of Genealogy??? GEEN-e-alogy (with a long “e” at the beginning) or Gen-e-ology (with a short “e” at the beginning)?
Answer: I’ve heard it both ways and I’ve pronounced it both ways. But when I went to Dictionary.com, they actually have an audio pronunciation and they say, GEEN-e-alogy, with a long “e” at the beginning. However you pronounce it, it’s a barrel of fun!
Question: How can I learn more about the Freedom of Information Act?
Answer: Listen to Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 20 and Episode 21. It’s also covered in my book Genealogy Gems Ultimate Research Strategies.
Question: Hello, I just finished listening to the June Family Tree Magazine Podcast. I have been wanting to write to you for months now to ask you this question: Who is the musician playing the guitar music during the podcast? My husband is a big Chet Atkins fan and I thought it could be Chet but my husband says no just from listening to it. Can you please provide me with the musicians name? -Melissa Roberge
Listen to this episode to find out the answer!