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RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 2:  What's in a Name?


"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.

 

Surname Resources at RootsWeb

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.

 

Quacking up

You think you have some funny characters and names in your family tree? Take a gander at these:


  • Scrooge McDuck
  • Grandma Duck
  • Gus Goose
  • Gladstone Gander
  • Miss Quackfaster
  • John D. Rockerduck
  • Glittering
     Goldie
  • Ludwig Von Drake
  • Matilda McDuck
  • Hortense McDuck

  • Quakmore Duck
  • Fethry Duck
  • Double-O Duck
  • Moby Duck
  • Huey Duck
  • Dewey Duck
  • Louie Duck
  • Daisy Duck
  • April Duck
  • May Duck
  • June Duck


Just for fun: Can you untangle these birds in Donald Duck's family tree?

Freeman, J. W. 2nd ed. 1973. Discovering Surnames: Their Origins and Meanings. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, UK. Shire Publications Ltd.


Suggested Reading & References


Additional Resources


Links in this Guide
(in order they appeared)