How Big is My One-Name Study?

Surname Size

As the image here might suggest, you are going to need to think and write notes relating to the size of your potential One-Name Study, it is nothing complicated, I promise!

Not all surnames are equal and understanding the frequency of the surname will be determining factor. The more frequency a surname appears, then the bigger the study is going to be and the more time it will take to collect, analyse and organise.

Whilst a large study is a challenge, they are, in the modern era very achievable. A fellow member of the Guild of One-Name Studies told me that it took him 10 years to collect all the instances of his surname from the General Registration Office (GRO) indexes. Now, thanks to sites like FreeBMD it is possible to download the data in a matter of minutes. That study has gone on to create a large database of about 77,000 instances of the surname. That study is the Featherstone One-Name Study which began in the 1990’s. Another large study is that of the Howes One-Name Study, which began about 10 years ago and has circa 130,000 individuals in reconstructed families.

For a moment, lets turn our attention to surnames whose origins are England and Wales. To determine the frequency of those names, we would look see how many instances of the name occur in the 1881 Census.

  • 1-30 Tiny study
  • 30-300 Small study
  • 300 – 3,000 Medium study
  • 3,000 – 30,000 Large study
  • 30,000 – 300,000 Extra large study
  • >300,000 are huge studies such as Jones Smith

For my Orlando One-Name Study, there are less than 300 in England and Wales, so that appears to be a small study, but the surname is an Italian one, with huge peaks of migration to other Countries – Look back to the Surname Profiler Map that I mentioned a few days ago.

For surnames in the United States turn to Ancestry and check the frequency of the surname there.

There are other considerations too, in the case of European surnames there will be peaks of mass migration caused by important aspects of European history.

There is a useful page on the Guild of One-Name Studies website about choosing a surname and about the size of a study. In fact you can see the numbers relating to the Orlando, Featherstone and Howes studies, so it is worth reading and you can do so here

Why not consider the surnames of your four Grandparents – would they be suitable as One-Name Studies? And if no, why not? – Go on, leave a comment or write about it on you own blog and leave the URL below.

More details and information is covered in the Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course.

About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in Introduction to One-Name Studies (Pharos course 901), One-Name Studies. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to How Big is My One-Name Study?

  1. Pingback: A-Z Challenge 2018 – Observations and Analysing your One-Name Study Data | Anglers Rest

  2. Hj todd says:

    Trying to study the Grayshon(+ variants ) mainly in West Yorkshire…interesting..


    • Hello there, that is an interesting name and I immediately thought “should” that surname have an e on the end? A number of surnames are regional and depending on a number of other factors there maybe a shift in the surname becoming less regional. The surname that my husband is interested in was predominately in what we now call Cambridgeshire, but was then Huntingdonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk with the name also appearing in Essex. The railway was influential in the surname moving to Yorkshire which explains the sudden shift in the distribution of the surname. If the surname started in rural Yorkshire then it was perhaps driven into the cities by the railway or perhaps the mills of nearby Lancashire.

      What I like about the Guild not being prescriptive it means that those with studies can follow interesting people or migration patterns and anything else that adds dimension and scope to a study.
      Happy researching!


  3. Marion says:

    I’m slowly working on my Dykes One Name Study (not actually registered it yet). Need to have a good read of the website and through some of the advice on the fb group


    • Hello Marion, The Guild website has lots of useful information on starting a ONS and I think I have referenced here in the last few days. A rule of thumb is, certainly for surnames whose origins are in Britain is to see how many examples of the surname there is in 1881. There are also choices, variants to research although a variant is not necessary it does help to think of it, especially with a name like Dykes – could this be Dikes? Also the background of the surname. If you are already a Guild member, the Pharos course does give a grounding of proceeding with a study and later on in the series I share what I did whilst the September course participants were working through their exercises.


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