A Common Family Surname

Doing family research if you just happen to have several very common, proliferate surnames can prove to be a challenge. I just came across a not so proliferate individual’s given and surname for the 1940s-1960s – that of Walter Ashley – and I just discovered there were two of these gentlemen living within 50 miles of each other and approximately the same age.

So what can help if you have ordinary surname branches to research?

Start with the individual or ancestor closest to you on the family tree. It could be you with that common surname or your mother. You start with the person you are most familiar with. Locate all information – BMD, hometown, siblings, marriages, occupation, etc, everything you can find.

Take that line back … grandparent, great grandparent until you can not document anything else on a specific person. It could be a great grandfather, say Henry Smith. This could be a stopping point since that would be common. You need to have some basic info, approximately hometown and dates. Knowing approximately where an ancestor lived even for some years does help narrow a search.

Then focus on other family relatives (aunts, cousins, uncles), friends / neighbors and associates. The associates could be business associates or co-workers. If there was the possibility that your hard to find ancestor owned a business (use newspaper ads) he could have had workers or partners.

Look over census records very carefully for a specific hometown and see all individuals with that same surname. True, there might be 50 people, and then there could be 5 out of that number that is related. Check carefully given names. If you see any repeat, especially children of different generations, there could be a match.

When doing searches, use the various forms of a person’s name in connection with the given names, such as the full names (John William Jones), the shorter version (Jack Will Jones), the even shorter version (John Jones) or nicknames (J. Bill Jones) and the initials (J. W. Jones).

In the US, the number one common surname is Smith, then Jones, Johnson, Taylor, Williams and Brown. In the UK they are first Smith, Jones, Brown, Williams, Taylor and Lee. 

If still no success. Take a break, work on another branch and return to the common surname branch with fresh eyes and maybe new resources.

Photos: Mr & Mrs. Smith, USA Surnames.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:


Directory of Surnames

Surnames are all about What?

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