How to start a One-Name Study


27 April 2017
Discover how to begin a One-Name Study, and how such a study can help you find out more about your ancestors, in our expert blog by Julie Goucher of the Guild of One-Name Studies.

As we work through our family history, gathering data and material about our ancestry, it doesn’t matter where your ancestors are from, we all have one thing in common. We all have a surname and broadly speaking, it is quite probably our oldest possession.

What is a One-Name Study?

A One Name Study or surname research focuses on one surname throughout time and geography. Members of the Guild of One-Name Studies who register a surname may do so for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they have a brick wall in their own genealogy, they might be curious about surname distribution for their surname of interest or maybe the surname is rare and they simply note all instances of the surname in case they come in handy later.

Whatever the reason and whatever the surname, the Guild is the world’s leading surname organisation with almost 2,850 members and over 2,469 surnames registered, plus more than 6,250 variant names. There is no prescriptive way to undertake a One-Name Study, and there are several principles, but essentially the registration requirements are that:

  • The study must be global
  • A registrant must respond to all enquires received
  • There is no time frame imposed on the globality of the study

 A One-Name Study is an opportunity to explore and research many people who have a given surname, regardless of whether they connect to your own ancestry.

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How to start a One-Name Study

Most commonly the way to start is from the catalyst. That might be an interest in a county or region and work outwards, to cover England and Wales, then moving to data extraction of Scottish resources, followed by those in Ireland, both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and then across the globe.

Or perhaps the catalyst was a migrational one, in which case you might focus on where your ancestry hails from. Or perhaps you focus on where the surname is most common. Perhaps the researcher resides in one country, the name hails from another and the most data available with ease of access is in a third country.

The Guild has what we call Seven Pillars or seven steps, as this image shows. These are the key sections of a One-Name Study, without being prescriptive. There steps are undertaken, but not necessarily in this order and it is very common to revisit steps as new material becomes available or is accessed. Over time, our studies develop expand as we do.

How does a One-Name Study fit with family history?

In short, very well. Our individual ancestries are aiming to focus on a family line back, from parents to grandparents, it also focuses sideways, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and so forth. A One-Name Study however is a complete attempt to data capture all people wherever and whenever for any given surname. That is very useful, especially if the surname distribution angle is considered. This method potentially allows to spot people who have migrated from one region to another within the same Country or migrated to another.

About the Guild of One-Name Studies

The Guild has lots of knowledgeable members about researching any number of studies, from small studies to large ones and everything in between and researching in different countries.  There is a quarterly colour journal, a members’ Wiki, members room, Guild indexes which are growing at a phenomenal rate, access to an archive of seminar and conference recordings.

The Guild hold an annual conference and typically host four seminars a year, all of which can be attended by non-members. They also have an extensive DNA section on their website, with some material open to non-members. Those with a registered study are encouraged to create a profile page for their study sharing which has an email link so people can contact them.

The Guild have a DNA Advisor who will work with a registrant who wishes to have a Y-DNA project associated with their study. 

If you are interested in finding our more about The Guild of One-Name Studies, please visit their website