popular names by state

Can you guess the most popular last names in your state?

Let’s play the name-game! Do you live in Massachusetts: Try to list all the Sullivans you’ve met in the last 15 years. How about those of you from Vermont: How many of your friends have the last name Johnson?

Go ahead, keep counting. We’ll wait.

The infographic featured in both the cover image and below, was originally posted by the Ancestry blog back in December of 2014, and has since been featured on AL.com and Masslive.com. This map shows the three most popular last names by state. According to the data in the Ancestry blog post, every American knows about five Smiths each.

“Smith, along with Johnson, Miller, Jones, Williams, and Anderson make up most of the most popular surnames all across the country,” the blog reads. “But there are still regional differences. If you are in the Northwest, you are more likely to come across an Anderson than a Brown, which is slightly more common on the East Coast.”

Check out the top three results for your state (click image to enlarge):

popular names by state

colonial New York, Genealogy, Family History

Colonial New York Genealogy

If your ancestors were living in New York state at the time of the American Revolution, your line of descent is likely to take on one of a handful of forms. If your immigrant ancestor arrived before 1664, you are likely to be descended from a Dutch inhabitant of old New Netherland. After that date, however, tracing your Colonial New York genealogy down the line means your antecedents are far more likely to have been born in Great Britain (England, Wales, or to a lesser extent, Scotland or Ireland). They could also have been New Englanders who migrated to New York from Massachusetts or Connecticut, once New York was under English rule.

After the turn of the 18th century, a number of emigrants from the German Palatinate began to make their way to New York’s Mohawk Valley; however, as late as 1790 only one percent of New York heads of household were of German or French descent. On the eve of the Revolution, New Yorkers were concentrated in New York City, Long Island, and along the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, and the state trailed Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina in total population.

This picture changed dramatically by the early 1800s, when New York’s population surpassed that of all other states, thanks to the pull of its extraordinary harbor, industries, hinterland, and internal improvements, as well as to the inexorable push of Western European emigrants vying for greater opportunities in a free land.

If you’re researching early New York roots, Genealogical.com (the parent publishing company who sponsors this blog) offer a wide variety of publications you could consider. Running the gamut from statewide to regional to countywide and New York City titles, this extensive collection covers they key record sources (wills, deeds, military records, marriages, etc.) that are crucial to 17th- and 18th-century New York family history. In the aggregate they touch on well over 1,000,000 New York ancestors. In the absence of official New York public records, some of titles for Upstate New York fill in the gaps, and the multi-volume sets of New York genealogies, mostly compiled from obscure, unindexed periodicals will save you an enormous amount of time in your research.

There are also some wonderful online resources dealing with New York history, such as the New York History Blog.

Image credit: Engraving depiction colonial New York councilors Nicholas Bayard, Stephanus van Cortlandt, and Frederick Phillipse attempting to quiet revolutionary fears at the time of Leisler’s Rebellion in New York City, 1689. By Art: Alfred Fredericks; Engraving: Albert Bobbett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


surname history

Name is the Game – Surname History

Editor’s Note: The post below includes an excerpt from Lloyd Bockstruck’s book, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist. We are focusing on surname history, as that can be a common question and potential pitfall to be tackled in genealogical research.

Names, like people, have lives of their own, which is why Lloyd Bockstruck’s recently published book about the serendipity and life’s choices that can alter our family names is must-reading for every researcher. Mr. Bockstruck, one of America’s foremost genealogists and the former genealogy librarian at the Dallas Public Library, has distilled the wisdom of a lifetime about the vagaries of names into this work. Eminently readable, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist is a collection of illustrations and cautionary tales that can help family historians surmount the obstacles or avert the pitfalls associated with naming practices throughout the centuries.

The book is divided into five chapters, and it engages the reader at the get-go. For instance, in the introductory first chapter Bockstruck relates a number of first-hand accounts that fostered his early fascination with names, such as his initial failure to find the tombstone of German great-aunt Barbara Baker (born Barbara Becker). The introduction’s high point is the incredible story of the peregrinating Scots colonist Ian Ferguson, whose name was recorded as Johann Feuerstein when he was among the Pennsylvania Palatine immigrants, and was later recorded as John Flint when he moved to Philadelphia. Two generations later, one of his grandsons, Peter Flint, moved to Louisiana, where he was recorded as Pierre a Fusil, only to end up as Peter Gunn when he settled in Texas after the Civil War.

While we obviously recommend reading the book for yourself, we will be excerpting from Chapter 3, the “Surname” section of the book. This is the longest section of the book, and it covers lots of territory. Topics include maiden names, spelling, surname misinterpretation, aliases, military influences, changes in language, dialects, surname abbreviations, and much more.

Please enjoy Part I below, and visit us again soon to read more from The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist:

The use of an additional name to differentiate among people of the same Christian name in a community began as a byname. It was not until that the second name became hereditary that it became a surname.

The first people to adopt more than one name were the Chinese. It was Emperor Fushi who ordered the use of family names in 2832 B.C.

Family names can be grouped according to five categories. One is for surnames derived from toponyms, i.e. places or features of the landscape or ofnames of actual localities.The Jacob who lived at the edge of the woods would become Jacob at the woods or Jacob Atwood. His neighbor who lived in the agricultural belt of the community might become John Fields. William Hill, Robert Brooks, John Rivers, or Peter Meadows are other examples of people taking a surname from a landscape feature. The Germans and the English have a high incidence of such surnames.

Other surnames are indicative of a trade or occupation such as Smith, Carpenter, Taylor, Shepherd, Teacher, Turner, Cooper, and Wheelwright.

Sometimes people who excelled in particular roles in morality plays acquired surnames from their roles. Sheriff, Duke, King, and Bishop are examples of such.

Still other surnames arose to express relationships . Jeremiah the son of John became Jeremiah Johnson. William the son of Richard became William Richardson, and Richard the son of William became Richard Williamson. Sometimes the suffix “-son” was expressed in the possessive so that the letter “s”was appended to the Christian name as in Williams for the son of William or Harris for the son of Harry.

Sometimes it was the diminutive of a forename which Jed to the adoption of the surname as in Dickson or Robinson . Patronymical surnames predominate among the Welsh, Scots, Irish, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. They are also widespread among the Germans and Poles.

Surnames also derived from nicknames indicating a physical or personality trait such as Goodfellow, Short, or Black. The Italians and Irish favor this category.

It was said of the Todd family of Kentucky that their surname had two d’s while God had only one.

Please visit us again soon for Part II!

Image credit: Grave stones These are around the perimeter of the ruined church of St Mary’s. By Dennis Simpson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.


Family history, family tree

Family History – Don’t Just use the Internet

This blog is the offshoot of a family-owned, brick and mortar publishing company, so we may be a little biased in what we’re about to say: We believe that while researching your family history has gotten increasingly easier by using the Internet, relying too heavily upon, or solely utilizing online resources, is detrimental to establishing your true family history.

Certainly there are limitations on how much family history research you can do without the Internet, and we’re not advocating an approach that doesn’t take advantage of online records, forums or search tools. We’ve written previously about how amazing forums can be to getting started in your research, as well as encouraging development into a genealogy expert. But, we love and encourage the roll up your sleeves approach to genealogy research. When it comes to your family history, there are entire decades of information that can’t be found online because your grandmother never put her stories there. There are tasks that are better accomplished in person, like a visit to the county courthouse. Even when you find information online, records ought to be verified by, or based upon, information that exists in its original form offline, like death records.

This article came on our radar back in February. In his piece, Don’t let the internet be your first stop when researching your family history, Dr. Fraser Dunford, a professional genealogist and member of Kawartha Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, discusses how using the Internet as the sole starting point for your family history research can lead to a bad genealogy.

Please read Dr. Dunford’s article below, and let us know how you feel about the role of the Internet in researching your own family history in the comments section:

People deciding to look into their family history often make the mistake of first looking to the internet.

This has resulted in an astounding number of bad genealogies. You have some work to do before looking at what others have done.

We estimate that, of the genealogically interesting records in Ontario, only about five percent are online. If you use only the internet, you will have a rather pathetic family history.

Genealogy has a number of sayings that help keep you on track.  You should remember these sayings and always follow them.

The first saying is: Work from the known to the unknown.

You know about yourself. You know when and where you were born. Do you have your birth certificate? If not, now would be a good time to get it.

You know who your parents are. You know when and where they were married. Do you have their marriage certificate?  That may be a church certificate or it may be government issued. If you do not have it and your parents are no longer alive, you may have difficulty getting a government certificate (more on that in a future article).

You likely know when and where your parents were born. Do you have your parents’ birth certificates? If they were christened, do you know which church?

You may know about your grandparents – birth, marriage, death. You probably do not have documentation of those events.  What do you know of your grandparents’ children, your aunts and uncles?

Now you can start drawing your Family Tree.  (Here’s background on how to do that.)

Start with an Ancestor Tree, with you at the base of it. Put in your father and mother, and your four grandparents. With each name, put in their birth date.

If you have a lot of aunts, uncles, and first cousins, you can try your hand at two descendant trees, one for each pair of grandparents.

Start creating family records. If you have children, do one for your own family. Do one for your parents’ family, and do one for each of your grandparents’s families. That will give you four family records.

In each one, enter everything you know about the father and mother, and enter each child with birth date. For each piece of information, make a note of why you know it. In particular, note those for which you have proof and those for which you have only been told.

If you know anything about your great grandparents, repeat the process for them (you have eight great grandparents).  As you go further back, you have less and less proof, and more and more blank spaces. Now you have very specific questions to ask about your ancestors.

Talk to your family, particularly the older generation. If they are quite elderly, talk to them now. Every genealogist has questions he wishes he had asked his grandparents. Most people like to talk about their early lives so you probably will get a lot of information.

Write it all down.

Remember that oral information has to be verified. It will tell you what to look for but does not excuse you from looking.  You will hear family stories. Write them down carefully but do not make the mistake of believing them.

Here is another genealogical saying: Family stories are usually untrue but tend to be based on something.

Every family has the story of being descended from royalty. It may be nothing more than one of your many-greats grandmother having the maiden name King (of course you are descended from the King!).

Image Credit: Genealogical Tree of Maria Justina und Johann Maximilian zum Jungen, By unknown Middle Rhine Master [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Using tax records in genealogy

Strategies for Using Tax Records In Genealogy

Editor’s Note: Genealogical.com recently reprinted Emily Anne Croom’s excellent manual, The Sleuth Book for Genealogists: Strategies for More Successful Family History Research. The Sleuth Book is brimming with wonderful checklists, case studies, and novel approaches for using any number of genealogical source records. Ms. Croom’s book is so full of useful information, we’re quite fortunate to be able to excerpt it here on our blog. The following post discusses strategies for using tax records in genealogy, sources where you can find the information, as well as why the information is, in the cases of some states, priceless in your search:

“He was excited. Excited and happy, like a dog which has followed a cold trail for a long time, and suddenly finds it a hot one.”–Nurse Detective Hilda Adams about Inspector Patton 68

Research in tax records has produced this reaction of excitement for many genealogists and has resulted in many “hot trails.” A number of states and towns have preserved tax records that date to their early years; others have not been so diligent. Nevertheless, the genealogist needs to use them whenever they exist. They are particularly valuable for research in Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and early West Virginia when it was part of Virginia. The surviving records are usually found in county courthouses or in state archives. Many have been microfilmed and are available from the Family History Library.

Tax records are kin to land records because residents paid taxes on land they owned, as well as on slaves, horses, cattle, oxen, personal property, and luxury items such as clocks and carriages. In some cases, specific items were taxed in a given year, such as certain items of furniture, mirrors, and window curtains in Virginia in 1815. Sometimes, as in Virginia, the land tax records and personal property tax records are separate. People who owned no land could still have paid poll taxes (head taxes) on themselves, slaves, or sons of taxable age. Widows were not normally taxed except on their land and slaves, although men of taxable age in their households were taxed.

Following the existing tax rolls for a given ancestor over a period of years can give the researcher quite a bit of information. Yet, each state had its own laws, forms, and lists of taxable property. Free men could begin being taxed when they became 16 or 18 or 21 years old, depending on the state and the time period. Slaves were often classified in the tax rolls in age groups, such as those under 12, 12 to 16, over 16, or 16 to 55. These categories also varied from place to place and year to year. Usually, the tax laws designated an age after which a person was exempt from certain taxes.

Information Sometimes Found in Tax Records:

What kind of information, in general, may be shown in these records? Below are some of the standard column headings, but these vary from state to state, even from year to year:

  1. Name of the person charged with the tax, usually the head of household
  2. Names of free men of color being taxed
  3. Number, and sometimes names, of taxable free white males in the household
  4. Number of acres of land owned, sometimes with location information–adjoining neighbors, watercourse, distance from the courthouse, or district number
  5. Name of original grantee of land
  6. Number of slaves in the household each year, sometimes with their names
  7. Rent received on rented property
  8. Number of horses, oxen, or cattle owned
  9. Value of land, slaves, or other taxable property
  10. Amount of tax paid

What other information might the genealogist glean from studying some tax rolls?

  1. Relationships, either expressed, deduced, or suggested
  2. Suggestions of birth order among sons in a family, depending on when they first were named or became a head of household
  3. Suggestions of death year or moving, when someone no longer was listed, when an estate was listed, when someone was named as guardian of the children or administrator of an estate, or when someone is taxed for the property formerly belonging to another person
  4. Occupations, expressed or implied by paying license fee
  5. Suggestions of family groups of slaves, when, over the years, the same slaves were named in a household; sometimes, slaves’ ages
  6. Changes in a person’s net worth or lifestyle, expressed in changes in the number of slaves, livestock, and luxury items
  7. Preliminary identification of neighbors by studying adjoining landowners and watercourses, or when the tax collector dated each entry and it ap¬pears that he visited the households in person.

Image Credit: This image, The Unknown Tax Payer, belongs to Christopher Allen via Flickr.