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Surname Records: The First Step to Uncovering Your Family History

Performing a comprehensive search for surname records is often the starting point for people interested in researching their family history. Your surname, also known as your last name or family name, is one of your primary connections to your ancestors who also carried that name. There are a wide variety of places to perform a surname records search in order to locate information on your family and also to track down other family members both living and deceased.

Start with Common Surname Records.
The three main types of records that can be found through surnames searches are birth records, death records and marriage records. These three are the easiest to locate and the best place to begin your journey into researching your genealogy. Visit your local vital records government offices as a starting point. They may also have an online search you can use right from home to research your surname records in that area. If you know already which cities your ancestors inhabited, you can also contact the vital records offices in those cities to search for birth, death and marriage records.

Other great sources for these records are churches, synagogues and other places of worship. Since they are the place where marriages and funerals most often take place, and where babies are baptized, they often have records of all of these events in your family’s history. Searching the surname records at places of worship where you know your family attended services is a great way to discover much of your family history.

There are some large online databases that allow you to search these common surname records easily right from home, some of them with an incredible number of records from a wide variety of locations. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) for example contains over 81 million records and can be searched online. Census records for a number of difference countries are also available for search online. They are a great place to get a list of names you can then research further at the local level.

Dig Deeper into Surname Records.
Another great place to search for surname records is in old newspapers. Here you will find birth, wedding and death announcements as well as any news stories that may have involved your family. Obituaries can be especially helpful since they usually list the next of kin including parents, spouses and children of the deceased. These records can also be helpful in pointing you towards the right place of worship to seek out further records as they often list the place where services will take place for weddings, funerals and baptisms. Your local library will have old newspapers on microfilm you can search through.

Military records are another good place to locate ancestors. You can also find surname records using a variety of immigration records such as those at Ellis Island, ship passenger lists and official immigration documents. Much of this information is now available online, making it much easier to locate and access the records. Another source of surname records now available for online search is cemetery records. There is no need to go wandering through graveyards in search of information, you can access and view the records of who was buried where with a quick search right from home.

Misspelled Surnames and Common Surnames.
One of the biggest challenges for those searching surname records is figuring out just who is really related to you and who is not. This can be due to having a very common surname or to changes in the spelling over time either due to errors or on purpose. It’s a good idea to search multiple spellings of a surname, especially if you are aware of a spelling change somewhere along the line. If you find you are hitting a dead end, try to search surname records of common variations of your name so that you can locate potential connections to your family.

If you have a common surname the search for your ancestors can be a bigger challenge. Sorting through the surname records when there are a large number of results takes some time. Try to narrow it down by pinpointing more exact locations where members of your family lived and worked, as well as by the places of worship they were associated with. Another great way is to do your search in connection with other surnames that are related to your family.

The more surnames you have to search, the more records you can locate. Search surname records for the maiden names of your female ancestors as well and you will uncover new branches for your search. Especially in smaller towns, families often intermarried more than once, so you may find that knowing one maiden name provides the link to another branch of the family tree.

Connect with Others.
As you dig deeper into surname records, you will find that you start to run into other people researching the same name. Sharing the information and surname records you have found with others will help everyone to advance their knowledge of the past – and you might just encounter someone who turns out to be a part of your family.

The process of researching your ancestry is one that will be filled with exciting discoveries and a few dead ends along the way. Surname records can help you to learn a lot and uncover exactly where the next step of your search should lie. There are so many places to search for surname records that you will likely discover this first step to be an ongoing one as well. Each name is a connection to the next, and each discovery opens new doors. As you go further back into history, you will find that these records may be harder to come by due to poor record-keeping or a lack of surname records altogether. These frustrations will lead you to find new ways to continue the research into your past and help you to complete the picture of your ancestry.

The wide variety of surname records available makes this an exciting, simple and excellent place to begin the exploration of your family history.


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