Today we publish our genealogy tips on common surnames from our guest blogger Deborah Large Fox.
At my genealogy presentations, I often meet people who have given up researching their Irish roots. Most of them have the same complaint: a family surname that is ubiquitous throughout much of Ireland.
“My family’s name is Kelly (or Murphy or Brennan). And, everyone is named Mary and John and Patrick. It would be impossible to find them!” Difficult? Perhaps. Impossible? Never!
Every family is unique, even if the members share a surname with millions of other Irish descendants around the world. To track a family with a very common surname, you will need to be methodical, patient, detail-oriented, and determined. You will spend much time eliminating other families with the same surname, as well as tracking your own ancestors.
As all family historians must do, it is very important to begin with the present day family and work backwards. Your aim is to discover every possible detail about your family members and to determine what distinguishes them from all others with the same name.
As you go back through the generations, spot those characteristics that make your family recognizable. Did many of your ancestors have the same profession or trade? One woman found her family in County Waterford by researching brush makers. Another is following the paper trail left by generations of ancestors who entered the clergy.
Do your relatives share any distinguishing physical characteristics or special talents? Do special nicknames reoccur in your family stories? Often in rural Ireland, one nickname is given to a family branch to distinguish them from others, the Reds O’Brien’s or the Black Brennan’s, for example (hair color is often a distinguishing characteristic of family branches).
Those with a common surname must also pay special attention to the friends and family of their ancestors. Besides researching the baptismal sponsors and marriage witnesses, do a bit of digging on the neighbors and, especially, on the business partners, fellow workers, and fellow parishioners. These people might possibly have emigrated from the same location as your ancestor.
DNA testing can be a brick wall breaker in the case of common surnames. Many DNA surname studies collect and collate family records as well as DNA matches, enabling members to map out and connect family lines that could be difficult to distinguish otherwise.
Don’t forget: you may have a common surname, but your family is unique!
For more information on your family research visit Deborah’s blog spot: