Surnames and Your Genealogy–

Remember, what you look for, you usually can find in today’s databases. In a database of billions, you can expect to discover at least 2 or more people of the same names and the same dates: more than 2,000 Janet Scotts were born the same year in Edinburgh Scotland! You can expect to find someone who closely matches what your image of an ancestor is. But…

If up to 40% of current DNA registrations document a surname different than the DNA test, does this mean that genealogies and family histories based on a single surname are wrong some 40% of the time?

If ancestors were required by law to change their surnames, does that mean that tracing a family back in time requires a name change too?

If the English Surnames Survey, studying surname development county by county, has discovered that hereditary surnames came later than expected in some parts of England, does that mean persons with the same surname are unrelated?

If surnames are chosen from geographical features like Hill and Lake; from colors like Brown and Black; from occupations like Butler and Crew; from places of residence like Belingham and Hastings; from patronymics (created from the father’s given name) like Robinson (Robert or Robin) and Anderson (Andrew); from nicknames like Walsh and Pinkham, does that mean persons with the same surname are unrelated?

If surnames disappeared from records during the Black Death, ca. 1347-50, does that mean there was a name change? What about the failure of the male line and its surname?

If surname variants like Aspinwall, Astmoughe. Aspenhaulgh, Asma occur in the same exact records of the same dates, does that mean they are all related?

If the surname pool is expanded by immigrants and their surname variants, by the impact of corruption and phonetics on spellings, or by changes in pronunciation can you recognize your ancestors in their names?

One of the most important facts in genealogy is that all people of the same surname may not descend from the same ancestor or originate in the same place. To prove the line of descent, trace back in time to the earliest found spelling and location. Begin with the marriages of the ancestors and the surnames as they are given in the marriage documents. Go on from there, documenting each generation and tying each generation to the one behind and the one in front. Assumptions of descent occur frequently and riddle online pedigrees with inaccuracies. When you build your lineage generation by generation, you have a real pedigree documented and proven. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS As Mark Twain is supposed to have said: “Put your facts first; and then, you can distort them as you please!”


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