Localize Your Surname with Distribution Maps
Nathan W. Murphy, MA, AG®
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Genealogists and various organizations in Europe and North America have produced maps that make learning about your surnames fun!
Surname-distribution maps are great aids to determining immigrant origins. They work particularly well for studies of less-common surnames and in countries that did not use patronymics. United States researchers should remember to search for variant surname spellings, especially for those with European ancestors whose surnames were Anglicized in America. If immigrants arrived in family units, identifying places where both the father and mother’s surnames were prevalent, provides valuable clues about their origins.
The following searches are free:
- (1) England
- (2) England
- (1) France
- (2) France
- (1) United States
- (2) United States
- (1) Wales
- (2) Wales
The following commercial companies sell surname distribution maps or programs which create them:
- Archer Software: GenMap UK, Surname Atlas (United Kingdom)
- German Surname Maps
- Namensverteilung: Surname Distribution Maps (Germany)
- RootsMap: Surname Distribution Maps (United Kingdom and Ireland)
- RootsUK: Surname Distribution Maps 1800-2002 (England)
- Surname Distributions for Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland
- Tus Apellidos: Surname Distribution Maps (Spain)
- Verteilung einiger Nachnamen in Deutschland: Surname Distribution Maps (Germany)
In order to “do it yourself” and create your own surname-distribution maps, you will need to identify sources in ancestral countries that are indexed nationwide. Census records, telephone directories, and civil registrations of births, marriages, and deaths are often very useful. After creating a list of places for a surname, simply plot them on a map. This process should ideally be completed several times, using various sources, at different moments in time to track migrations through the centuries.
Here is a telephone directory that covers several foreign countries:
- Infobel: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, United States
Surname Navigator contains a one-step search engine to find your surnames in several foreign countries.
Here are examples of online nationwide source indexes for various countries:
- 192.com: British electoral rolls 2003-2005
- 1880 United States Census
- 1881 British Census
- 1881 Canadian Census
- Ancestry: 1790-1930 United States censuses; 1851-1901 English and Welsh censuses
- Australasia: births, deaths, and marriages
- Digitalarkivet: 1801, 1865, 1875, and 1900 censuses of Norway
- Free BMD: England and Wales civil registration indexes 1837-1983
- Genline: Swedish church records 16th-20th centuries
- Heritage Quest: 1790-1820; 1860-1930 United States censuses
- HisKi Project: pre-1900 Finnish church records
- International Genealogical Index: although incomplete, excellent coverage for England, Mexico, Norway, and Sweden
- Irish Ancestors: Griffith’s Valuations 1848-1864, 1890 Births Distribution
- Italian Surnames: Data on current distribution of Italian surnames
- My Irish Ancestry: Griffith’s Valuations 1848-1864
- The National Archives: PCC Wills Index 1383-1858 (England and Wales)
- National Burial Index: although incomplete, excellent coverage for English and Welsh burials
- Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique: pre-1799 Catholic baptisms, marriages, and burials in Québec
- Scotland’s People: 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 censuses of Scotland; births and baptisms 1553-1854; banns and marriages 1553-1854; wills and testaments 1513-1901
- Vital Records Index: although incomplete, excellent coverage for Denmark, Finland, Mexico, Norway, and Sweden
Here are examples of published nationwide indexes:
- Geographie der Luxemburger Familiennamen: (Nach der Volkszählung von 1930) (Luxembourg: Gasperich, 1989).
- Laurent Fordant, Tous les noms de famille de France et leur localisation en 1900 (Paris: Archives & Culture, 1999).
- Swiss Surnames: A Complete Register Commonly Known as Familiennamenbuch der Schweiz. CD-ROM, 2003, Picton Press, P.O. Box 250, Rockport, ME 04856.
Modern British Surnames is a web site that identifies useful British sources for studying surname distributions.