Surname Distribution Maps and Migration

Surname distribution maps add a new and different dimension to a One-Name study.

A surname may well have it’s origins in one Country, and a map can provide an interesting insight to how migration can influence the geographic spread of a surname. Going a step further, historical events can influence migration which in turn can be identified using a distribution map.

Especially those of us researching European surnames, a map can be used to identify where to start. In Europe, excluding UK and Ireland, events are recorded in the town & village in which they occur. If you are researching and find a Census or passenger list which simply lists the Country of origin as the place of birth, that is helpful, but not going to break those brick walls down.


courtesy of

In my Italian family I have the surname of Virciglio. This map from shows where the surname appears in Italy and the Islands. As you can see it is not a name that is widespread, although it is reasonably popular in “my” bit of Sicily.

We know, because history tells us, that there was significant peaks of migration from Italy and in particular south of the mainland and the islands. Famine was widespread, the only way of having a reasonable life was to migrate to other Countries and one of those countries was the United States.

Virciglio USA

Courtesy of

Using another map from the same site shows the distribution for the same surname across the United States. This is especially helpful for the United States because, like Italy, records are held at local level, so I can discount all the states where there is no colour, at least initially.

Do surname distribution maps provide all the answers? – No, but they do provide scope for further research and considerations.

orlando Map

Courtesy of

That said, when I insert my Italian study surname into the website, the map looks like this which does not tell you anything beyond it is a popular surname and especially in the South and in Sicily.

There are a number of other surname distribution sites covering a number of other European Countries and there is a very useful Facebook Group too.

Don’t think that this site is not worth exploring if you are researching British surnames, a quick search of two Guild registered surnames, Butcher and Howes both produced a map, and whilst not the colour explosion of the Orlando map, certainly of interest nonetheless.

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 Genealogy, One-Name Studies, Virciglio. Bookmark the permalink.

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