Having fun with genealogy data, such as creating a pie chart of your personal ancestry, is an enticing way to introduce family tree research to your family or to your students. One of the great things about learning is that the more you know, the more questions you start having.
So I gave some more thought to what my pie chart revealed. It made me wonder how prevalent my surnames were in my current country of residence, and it made me think about other comparisons, too.
With the assistance of the internet and search engines, it turns out, a lot can be found. I’m in a visual mode for learning right now, and the graphs, charts and maps I’ve found look like handy tools for encouraging your young people to try their hand at discovering more about their roots.
Having made my pie chart on personal ancestry, I first thought, “Well, what about other people’s ancestry? How prevalent are my original ethnic roots in the land where my family now lives?” Turns out there are dozens of resources to display this answer. Wikipedia, of course, is the primary go-to source, but they obtained much of their graphics from the US Census Bureau. There are distribution maps for many of the major nations of origin, and even for some of the lesser-recognized ones, such as my maternal grandfather's Welsh roots.
Then, my mind turned to surnames: how prevalent were mine, as a proportion of this country? I found an online database that contains the 50,000 most commonly occurring surnames in the United States as shown in various census years throughout our history, and started plugging in some of my surnames.
Since I had already been working with the great-grandparents for my pie chart, I started with my father’s side of the family. Laskowski gave me some interesting results. Nothing came up for Puhalski so I guess that shows me that my surname didn’t rank in that top 50,000. Undeterred, I went for the spelling variation I’ve seen the most: Puchalski, which only gave me results for 1990. At least, I made it into the one-out-of-7500 category there. For Zelinski, well, suffice it to say there weren’t too many. That’s the spelling variation I found reported on my great-grandmother’s daughter’s death certificate, and I never felt too sure about that rendition. Switching to the spelling variation Zielinski, I did a bit better. I gave up there—didn’t even try for my paternal grandfather’s mother’s maiden name (Krauss) because I’ve only found one very squishy record of that name in documentation and I’m not very confident of it, though I’m sure that would be a more common name.
Moving to my mother’s side of the family, I got the opposite result. There were so many people with those same surnames that it rendered the data rather useless. McClellan makes a predictably widespread showing through all the available data years, but provides information quite contrary to mine, as my family settled in the southern colonies and ended up in Florida and South Carolina. Broyles starts out, as I already suspected, in Tennessee only in 1850, with population saturation of about 1 out of 1,000, spreading out from there to all but the northeastern states by 1990. Davis, while producing a spectacular technicolor display, also provides little information of use to me, as the name is so common. Although Boothe, while a common name, produced a less widespread display, I was surprised. Because of the spelling variation, I also checked the Booth version. It turns out to be more widespread and prevalent (in saturation), but because some of my distant relatives switched from the one spelling to the other, the data doesn't tell me much...other than to provide a curiosity.
That’s the data, as far as information on the United States goes. However, the possibilities don’t stop there. There are resources to check prevalence of surnames in other countries, too—whether nation of origin, or other immigration destinations. I remembered Herby, my old trusty source for surname concentrations in Poland, and since I had it flagged in my favorites, went back to visit the old site; unfortunately, the dreaded error message found me there. I didn’t stoop to the disappointment, though, and went searching on Google for any other possibilities, and found several. Wikipedia again came through for me with everything from history of specific surnames and ancestry groups to stubs of articles on specific surnames, just waiting for someone to fill in the blanks with a new article entry. There are articles and charts tucked away in all sorts of online nooks and crannies. Even Facebook gets in on the act.
So, there it is: a pile of data full of colors, shapes and numbers, waiting to be tossed into an enticing melange of ethnic possibilities for your personal family tree diagram.