Maximizing family history discoveries with a one-name study

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13 March 2017
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Susan C. Meates explains how to study a surname within your family tree, using a combination of online databases and DNA data to discover the history of the name over the centuries.

Susan C. Meates explains how to study a surname within your family tree, using a combination of online databases and DNA data to discover the history of the name over the centuries.

Studying a surname is a fascinating experience. As you research and gather events and data, the answer to questions can be found.

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How frequent is the surname? Where is the surname today? Where and when did it come about? How has the surname form changed throughout the centuries? How many different documented trees exist? Where is the surname concentrated? These are just a few of the discoveries that can be made by studying a surname.

Your surname today

A place to start is to find out about your surname today. The World Names site is a useful tool.

The site can generate a global map of where your surname is located today, and indicate the frequency of the surname in each country’s population.

The database that is used by the mapping tool has data for approximately 300 million people in 26 countries of the world, representing a total population of 1 billion people in those countries. The names and location data are derived from publicly available telephone directories or national electoral registers, sourced for the period 2000-2005.

To use this tool, simply enter the surname in the search box in the upper right. The map shown is for the Ricketts surname. [Figure 1]

You can then click on a country to get a breakdown by geographic region within the country. [Figure 2] You can hover over an area for more information. This map of the Ricketts surname in Europe clearly shows a concentration in England. The white area on the map is where there is no one with the surname, and the grey area is countries where this site doesn’t have data.

Statistics are also provided by the mapping tool, including the frequency of the surname, the top countries, the top cities, and the most common forenames. [Figure 3]

Are the trees related?

As your one-name study research progresses, you will most likely be constructing documented family trees. These trees will all end at some point in the past. Where and when they end will probably vary. Some may end in the 1800s, most in the 1700s, and some in the 1600s, and rarely the 1500s.

Depending on the frequency of the surname, you may have a few trees or many.

The question then becomes: Are the trees related? A Y-DNA test is the only way to answer this question. Adding a DNA Project to a one-name study enables you to make discoveries not possible from the paper records alone. Testing one or more males with the surname representing each documented tree will tell you if these trees are related since the adoption of surnames. The results can be a surprise.

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A 37 marker Y-DNA test is recommended. 37 markers are needed for a genealogical time frame. Fewer markers are more anthropological, and a match at 12 markers may not hold at 37 markers.

When a match occurs between trees, you would want to review the research to see if you can find a documented connection. When you can’t find a documented connection, which occurs frequently, this means that the trees are related in the time period between the adoption of surnames and the start of the documented trees. This is a time period of hundreds of years.

As your DNA Project progresses and you test more trees, you are uncovering information not available in the paper records. You will be grouping matching trees into genetic groups. All the documented family trees in a genetic group are part of a genetic tree.

A one-name study and a DNA project

A one-name study involves researching all occurrences of a surname and variants, usually on a global basis, whether or not these persons are related.  A DNA Project involves testing all documented trees on a global basis. A DNA Project is a perfect companion to a one-name study and vice versa.

For example, the Ricketts one-name study collaborates with The Ricketts Family History Project, which includes a DNA Project.  Combining a one-name study with a DNA Project has led to many interesting discoveries.

The Ricketts Family History Project encourages testing by providing a paid DNA test kit if a family tree meets the eligibility requirements. Over 300 men from 14 countries have tested. Due to the frequency of the surname, with a worldwide population estimated at 39,000 including variants, there are many more family trees to test.

If you are a male with one of the following surnames, you may qualify for a paid test kit:

Rackett, Ragget, Raggett, Reckart, Reckitt, Rickart, Rickat, Ricket, Rickets, Rickett, Ricketts, Rickit, Rickitt, Rocket, Rockett, Wreckitt, Wreggitt

Find out more

Visit the DNA Project website; e-mail. One Name Study website.

UK freephone: 0800 689 9949   Please leave a message. All other countries: Country Code 1 303-422-9371 GMT-7 Please reverse charges.  

Postal address: The Ricketts Family History Project  UK Office, 3 Wintergreen, Chilvester Park, Calne SN11 0RS

Australia: The Ricketts Family History Project  Australia Office, 22 Kirrawee Avenue,  Kirrawee, New South Wales 2232

USA: The Ricketts Family History Project  PO Box 564  Wheat Ridge, CO 80034