How Big is my One-Name (Surname) Study?

Image courtesy of Unsplash

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 frequent a surname appears, then the bigger the study is going to be and the more time it will take to collect, analyse and organise. Now that does not mean it is out of your reach, it is simply a case of being aware of a variety of factors.

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 indexes, that were originally held at St Catherine’s house in London. Now, thanks to sites like FreeBMD it is possible to download the data in a matter of minutes. You can access the indexes, but they are restricted to about six sites across England and Wales.

The study I mention has gone on to create a large database of about 77,000 instances of that particular surname, which 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 190,000 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 and 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 at the distribution map that I mentioned a few days ago.

Distribution of Surnames 2014 for Orlando and Butcher – Copyright Julie Goucher, 2020

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 not, 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.

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