Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 2
What's in a Name?
Can't find any of your relatives?
with Family and Home Sources
From the Beginning
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"Every surname is a story in itself. It may tell you where your forebears originated, what their work was, or their social status. It may even tell you the color of their hair or complexion, if they were bald, or had bandy legs, or were thin or tall, short or fat . . .
"While some of our surnames have remained virtually unaltered for centuries, others, distorted and changed by local dialects and alien tongues, bear little resemblance to their original spelling or pronunciation . . ."
Turn your back on a genealogist novice or experienced and the first thing they will do is look for their surname in a book, on a CD, in a document, or on a web page. So what are you waiting for? See if there is information about your surname here at RootsWeb: Don't be too picky about how the name is spelled or you might overlook some genealogical gems.
RootsWeb is home to thousands of surname/family mailing lists. Whether you are a brand-new researcher or a more experienced one, subscribing to a surname mailing list can be of immense help to you for learning about your ancestors. In fact, it can jump-start your genealogical research and save you time and money. Through mailing lists you are likely to find cousins who are working on the same branches of your family tree or who have connecting lines. Some of them may have old family Bibles, letters, photographs and/or genealogical material they compiled that they are willing to share with you.
A cousin discovered a trunk full of old letters and pictures when her grandmother died. Among them were letters my great-grandfather had written to her family back in Kentucky with news of his wife and children and about their everyday life in Arkansas. We discovered our connection via a surname mailing list.
A new researcher recently posted a query on another surname mailing list to which I subscribe, and within an hour I was able to send him nine generations of his Dutch ancestors.
So how do mailing lists work? You send a piece of e-mail to the mailing list's address, and the list retransmits (or reposts) that message to everyone who is subscribed to that particular list.
Check RootsWeb's mailing lists for surnames,
by locality and under other for miscellaneous lists.
Freeman, J. W. 2nd ed. 1973. Discovering Surnames: Their Origins and Meanings. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, UK. Shire Publications Ltd.
Bahlow, Hans. Deutsches Namenlexikon. Frankfurt am main: Ausgabe Suhrkamp Verlag 1967 (1972).
Bardsley, Charles Wareing. A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames with special American instances. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1980.
Bell, Robert. The Book of Ulster Surnames. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, Limited, 1988 (1994).
Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History. New York: The New York Public Library. 1946 (1984).
Fucilla, Joseph G. Our Italian Surnames. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1949 (1987).
Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges, A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 (1992).
Hoffman, William F. Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. Chicago, Ill.: Polish Genealogical Society of America. 1993.
Jones, George F. German-American Names. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1990.
MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland, Irish Academic Press Limited: Dublin, 1964 (1980).
Rowlands, John & Sheila. The Surnames of Wales. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1996.
Smith, Elsdon C. New Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Harper & Row. 1956 (1973).