Surname Study

There are three variants of surname related studies done to support genealogy. A Family Branch Study, a Surname Study, and a One-Name Study. All tend to be focused at the distant ancestor and looking forward in time. They are specific to general in their coverage of ancestors for a particular person; respectively. 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. We directly support the Family Branch Study on our Family Branches page.


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. These two actions really started the record keeping of all people; royal, common and otherwise. Historically, otherwise, only royal families had their lines recorded and tracked.

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 and nearer than 500 year extreme yDNA SNP 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.

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 through time. One-Name Studies do not attempt to build the family branches, in their purest form. They simply gather, reference, and index all uses of the surname.

Surname Study

Surname Studies work to make patrilineal lines from the collected names in a One-name Study. This is possible because most records, historically, only mentioned the male head of household (or nuclear family in most cases). So when records are linked to find sons of fathers, a patrilineal line is formed. A previous One-name Study is not required to form a surname study but it helps.

Independent patrilineal lines developed in a surname study provide a thread through time. When the threads of all the family members are found (possibly through surname studies on each of their fathers for wives), 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 has often been 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.

Family Branches

A Family Branch Study (or Family Branch, or simply Branch) is one further refinement of 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.

A goal with any Family Branch work is to both merge EKA ancestor lines to create earlier-in-time branches and single, new EKA. But also to work forward far enough to within the last 200 years and within reach of starting autosomal studies.