What to do When You Have a Common Surname

For all of the Smiths and Jones out there, it IS possible to conduct genealogy research without pulling out your hair. Yes, you will have to be more diligent, and patient than say, those researching the Humdingers of the world. However, it IS possible to discover where your family immigrated from, who you are related to, and your family’s role in history.

Here is what to do when you are researching a common surname.

1. Organization is key: If you’re collecting information on every say, single Smith in the world, then you are going to have quite a mess on your hands. As you sort through information, record it by date, type of information, family members you’ve received this information from, family branch, and so on.

2. When searching for a common surname whenever possible include a location for the name whether it’s a city, state or country, and a time period. This will help you narrow your results when looking for records like baptisms.

3. Add common genealogical terms to your search to eliminate non-genealogy results. This is particularly important when searching online or using reference materials. Genealogy terms include words like: family, genealogy, cemetery, wedding announcements and so on. Be sure to be specific.

4. Use any unique identifiers you may have to assist your search. For example: if your great-great-grandmother’s maiden name was Humdinger (staying consistent with the surname used earlier), then you’re more apt to find more specific results using this surname being attached by marriage to the common surname your searching for.

5. Does the common surname come from anywhere in particular? For example, the surname Smith may be an abbreviated name from when your family immigrated. It could also simply be the name assigned to them when they immigrated. Immigration officials were known for “anglicizing” surnames if they couldn’t understand or could not spell an immigrating person’s surname. Additionally, some surnames come from their occupations; example: Blacksmith. If you know the origin of the surname you are researching, you may be able to narrow your results this way.

6. Pay attention to the family first names that are passed down from generation to generation. Many cultures have the tradition of passing along family names. So John Smith’s son will also be John Smith… or Robert John Smith, if they have the tradition of making the child’s middle name the father’s first name. In some cultures families share the middle name, and pass it down to the next generation. Knowing this information can also help you narrow your search results.

The truth is, if you have a common surname, your genealogical research is going to be a bit more challenging but NOT impossible.

Consider using a professional researcher to help you get started or if you run into a roadblock and need help continuing your search.

Steer clear of the online services which promise to create a family tree for you, as these websites are typically full of errors …and most times are incomplete.

Whether your surname is Smith, Miller, Jones or another common surname… or even if it’s Papadapolis,… building a family tree is an interesting and rewarding process. Don’t let an obstacle like a common surname stop you from enjoying the benefits!

Warning: Genealogy can prove addictive! LOL

Previous articles:
  What Is Genealogy?
  Why is Genealogy Important?

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About the Author Admin

Internet Specialist by trade and passionate about my family's history, I set out to try and reconnect the many lost connections with my paternal family.

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