Surname Study

There are three variants of related studies done to support genealogy. A Family Branch study, a Surname Study, and a One-Name Study. All tend to be focused at an ancient ancestor and looking forward in time. They are specific to general in their coverage of ancestors for a particular person. But that generality is what is needed sometimes to break through a brick-wall and discover a missing link in your ancestors. All of these studies are related to Surnames. All four of these terms are covered here for now.

Surname Study

Surname Studies are used for the early development of family lines in European cultures hundreds of years back in time. Mainly by looking for and collecting all uses of the surname (that is, a one-name study first and then working to link them into Family Branches. Just the collection of all uses of a name is termed a one-name study. Work to make patrilineal lines from the collected names is a Surname Study.

In Europe, male ancestors with the inherited surname are often the first and easiest to find and link up through the last 500 years of available records. Thus providing a thread through time. When the threads of all the other family members are found (possibly through surname studies on each of their fathers), a complete fabric of ones ancestry can be woven.

It must be stated that the lineage and web of whole families is as much, if not more, a contribution of the mother's involved. The mothers whose birth surname is often lost when creating a new family, historically. The goal here is to recreate the nuclear families (and not just the patriarchs) by starting with the patrilineal line first extracted. Think of how you build rock candy from a glass of sugar water. You start with a thread (the patriline) and then work to grow the larger chunks of candy (the related family members) around it. So goes with a Surname Study.

One-Name Study

One-Name Studies are more general than a Surname Study. They simply collect all records containing a surname and index them. This to make it easier for someone looking to develop a Surname Study that links the records into family lines. One-Name Studies do not attempt to build the family branches, in their purest form. Simply to gather, reference, and index all uses of the name.

Family Branches

A Family Branch Study (or Family Branch, or simply Branch) is one further refinement from a Surname Study. The Branch Study focuses on a particular ancestor, most often a patriarch, and simply works forward to find all the descendants. As is often the case for genealogy due to historic reasons, the branch focuses on the male lines forward in time. Such a specific study is often used to find nearer term patrilineal relatives that can be yDNA tested. Most genealogy / tree programs will support the viewing of Branches or patrilines.

Because Family Branches are often identifying a patriarch (for historical reasons), these are sometimes referred to as Patriarch Lines. There is more information on Family Branches (Patriarch Lines) on the Family Branches entry page for this wiki.


Surname Studies (and genealogy in general) are possible due to historical written records of commoner families being kept in most European cultures. Surnames had become common in conjunction with the start of record keeping (that is, the advent of surnames and the growth of written records are intertwined). Earliest written records are tax rolls created by King's to figure out how and who to collect taxes from. The Roman Catholic church mandated parish records recording the sacraments in many Western European countries in the 1500's. This really started the recording of all people; royal, common and otherwise. Historically, otherwise, only royal families had their lines recorded and tracked before.

Surnames are Patrilineal in most Europeans in that they follow the male line down for many generations. This happens to correspond to the transfer of a near-identical copy of the Y Chromosome (yDNA) in the cell nucleus down this same line. Hence the benefit of merging DNA analysis with patrilineal (surname) records research to create an initial family thread through time. This Surname Study, like most, concentrates on using yDNA testing first to verify patrilineal lines with an Earliest Known Ancestor (EKA) that existed 300 to 900 years ago. We then expand support to Autosomal DNA testing to match non-patrilineal family branches from the last 100-200 years. We hope to build some ability for 200 to 400 year out extreme autosomal matching as well. Autosomal testing helps in that any person can test, not just the patrilineal (male line) direct descendant. See our page on Genetic Genealogy for a further explanation of these DNA techniques.