Saturday, November 29, 2008


Volume 7, Issue 5
November 24, 2008

Y-DNA: Surnames and One-Name Studies

Y-DNA projects are organized around a surname and variants, and are therefore called Surname Projects.

For decades, long before DNA testing was available, many genealogists have been studying surnames. When you study a surname and its variants, it is called a One-Name Study.

A one-name study involves researching all occurrences of a surname and its variants, usually on a global basis, as opposed to a particular pedigree (ancestors of one person) or descendancy (descendants of one person or couple). Due to the commitment required, most one-name studies are for rare or low frequency surnames.

An organization exists for those who are interested in one-name studies: the Guild of One-Name Studies. Founded in 1979 and headquartered in London, England, the Guild has over 2000 members around the globe, who are studying over 7,500 surnames.

The Guild of One-Name Studies offers two levels of membership. You can join without committing to a one-name study, and receive many benefits and educational opportunities. If you are interested in pursuing a one-name study, you can register your one-name study with the Guild. Only one person can register a surname. Registration of a surname involves several commitments, including committing to collect all occurrences of a surname world-wide. For this reason, most of the surnames studied are less frequent surnames

Those who get interested and pursue a one-name study often build up a large volume of data and information, which can help other genealogists with their family trees.

If a one-name study exists for any of the surnames in your family tree, contacting the researcher may benefit your research. The one-name study may have information about your tree or hold relevant documents. To find out if a one-name study exists for any surname in your family tree, visit the Guild web site linked at the end of this article and search the surnames of interest in the box on the home page.

A DNA Project is a natural companion to a one-name study, and many Guild members have started projects at Family Tree DNA. When you search a surname at Family Tree DNA, you will see on the search results page the Guild logo next to Surname Projects that are part of a one-name study. To display the Guild logo, the Surname Project administrator or co-administrator must be a Guild member, or the Guild member must be collaborating with the project administrators, and the surname must be registered. (Guild members can contact for further information.)

Family Tree DNA is pleased to display the Guild of One-Name Studies logo for Surname Projects that are part of a one-name study to recognize the significant contribution that Guild members provide to the genealogy community in their study of surnames.

Just as a DNA Project is a natural companion to a one-name study, an existing DNA Project can benefit from taking a one-name study approach. In many cases, Surname Projects are performing many of the tasks associated with a one-name study, and knowledge about one-name approaches may benefit the Surname Project.

An example of Surname Projects performing a task associated with a typical one-name study is collecting family trees for the surname. Many Surname Project Administrators have also extracted census entries for the surname to assist them in their efforts to help participants in their genealogy research.

A one-name study collects all occurrences of a surname world-wide. Often, this process starts with census or birth-marriage-death records. With the advent of online genealogy databases, it has become much easier to collect records like census records. For countries with centralized Civil Registration, such as England, building a database of these entries has become much easier as the indexes become available online.

Collecting census records is a very effective beginning, and will assist a Surname Project. Consider noting on the earliest census record for a country whether a descendent of that household has participated in DNA testing. This approach will enable you to determine your progress in finding participants to represent the various family trees.

Anyone with an interest in one-name studies can join the Guild of One-Name Studies, even if you aren't ready to undertake a one-name study. There are many benefits, especially their e-mail Forum where members help each other, and their quarterly award-winning Journal of educational articles. Those who decide to conduct a global one-name study can take the additional step of registering a surname. For more information see the web site address below. Be sure to search to see if a one-name study exists for any surname in your family tree. The researcher may hold records relating to your genealogy research and be able to supply information to assist you with your genealogy research:

For Group Administrators: Recruiting in the Ancestral Country

Recruiting participants in the ancestral country is a key element for helping Surname Project participants make the connection to their country of origin, and will result in additional discoveries about the surname, including information about the evolution and ramification of the surname.

Often, a participant will only know the ancestral country and have no idea of where to start in looking for a connection.

Recruiting in the ancestral country will in time lead to a match for participants and clues of where to begin their search for paper records regarding the immigrant ancestor.

The first step in recruiting in the ancestral country is to determine where the surname resides today, and, if the records are available, where the surname resided in the past. For high frequency surnames, such as Smith and Walker, you will find the surname in almost every location in the ancestral country.

For less frequent surnames, you may see clusters in one or more locations. For a high frequency surname, many participants from the ancestral country are required to find all the different Y-DNA results for the surname. The good news is that there is a large population from which to recruit, though it may take time for those in migration destination countries to find a match. One recruiting approach for a high frequency surname is to focus county by county in recruiting efforts. These recruiting efforts may include joining local societies, as well entering the surname in any websites that have national coverage. If your surname is found in a small number of areas, you want to focus your recruiting efforts on these areas, starting with joining any local genealogy societies. Often, these genealogy societies will have "member's interests" pages where you can list your surname interest and contact others, or wait for them to contact you.

Even if you have a low frequency surname, there is still value in joining any national organizations.

Direct mail is a tool to reach the households in the ancestral country. If the cost of postage is a problem, mail a small batch of letters each month. You can find addresses through online phone books and electoral rolls. The majority of your letter should focus on genealogy research first, and then introduce your Surname Project. It is important to minimize scientific terminology and explanation. Your goal is to get a response, so you can begin a dialogue to turn them into a participant. If your Surname Project is able to offer sponsored tests or to cover some of the cost, be sure to mention this in your letter. If the cost of testing is paid, you will achieve a higher response rate.

One key prerequisite of recruiting, regardless of where you are recruiting, is to have a project profile and project website that motivates potential participants to participate. You want your recruiting efforts to turn prospects into participants.

We recommend that you update your project profile and project website at least once per year. In the time since the last update, your knowledge level has increased, and you have received feedback from your recruiting efforts. You can apply this new knowledge, and improve your project profile and project website.

If you are about to embark on recruiting in the ancestral country, it is recommended that you update your project profile and project website first.

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