Thursday, December 1, 2016

Absolutely Everything There is to Know...

...about your surname may be found on the register of the Guild of One-Name Studies—provided, of course, that your surname has already been registered with this U.K.-based organization.

I already know that Laws is one of those registered surnames; a reader in Scotland alerted me to that fact in a comment a while back. Interestingly, the person who chose to establish Laws as one of the surnames in the Guild started his pursuit of the surname when he hit a brick wall in his research, back in 1984. That impetus led him to send letters all over the world in pursuit of answers on this family line. The result of the response—while not necessarily answering his specific question about the Laws line—led to formation of the "Laws Family Register" and subsequent registration of the surname with the by-then five-years-old Guild of One-Name Studies.

With that one reader's comment, I was now equipped with the Guild of One-Name Studies' register entry for the surname Laws. And finding that entry led me to the Laws' one-name study "About" page, as well as their blog and the link to the Laws Family Register.

Because one of the main obligations of Guild members is to answer all "enquiries" concerning the specific surname, the registry includes email contact information for the lead person heading up a specific study. As soon as I gather up the strands on the Laws family members at which I am stuck—the parents of my second great-grandmother, Sarah Catherine Laws, who in 1856 married Thomas D. Davis in Washington County, Tennessee—you can be sure I'll be in touch with the head of the Guild's Laws study. After all, if he is receiving questions from as far away as Australia, there will likely be some folks in North America on his mailing list, as well.

The actual list of all one-name study surnames—and their spelling variants—recognized by the Guild can be found in their online register. When I set about learning more about the Guild itself, realizing that this is a British organization—and I a mostly non-British descendant—I thought perhaps there wouldn't be many surnames in their register which would be of interest to me. But I still took a look. After all, there are over eight thousand names contained in that register. While many of the inaugural studies were taken up by British subjects—hence, the logic of assuming the names would be British in origin—as went the Empire, so went the distribution of surnames. And, eventually, members of the Guild.

Then, too, in starting a one-name study, the advice is apparently to find a Goldilocks-like compromise: a surname which is not too popular, yet not too rare. The ideal candidate is apparently a surname which is "just right" in relative frequency.

So, seeing my husband's Irish forebears were once subjects of the United Kingdom, how would his surnames fare in the Guild's register? I checked for Tully and found it registered, along with several spelling variants. Stevens, however, didn't make the cut—nor did its traditional spelling variant, Stephens ("Step hens," my husband prefers to call it)—presumably on account of its numerous occurrences.

Looking on behalf of my mother-in-law's surnames, I saw no sign of Flowers. Surprisingly, neither was there any trace of Gordon, though I was quite sure the name's Scotland connection would warrant a nod from the Guild's London headquarters.

Of course, though I thought Boothe, Davis or McClellan on my mother's side might have been a possibility—none was—I already knew not to attempt any of the Polish surnames found on my father's line. Perhaps it will take some digging to get back to surnames in my lines which might resonate with the proper British study specimens chosen as likely surnames to research by Guild members.

In their advice on how to start a one-name study, the Guild recommended,
You may find it useful to start by finding out how rare or common your name really is, how it is distributed through the country you live in, and, later, throughout the world.

Along with this advice, the Guild provided links to help prospective members determine that exact status, both in the U.K. and in the U.S. Since the geographic distribution of some surnames has turned out to be worldwide in scope, it is no surprise to see worldwide interest in the Guild, itself. In fact, in addition to the wiki articles I mentioned yesterday from Wikipedia, ISOGG and, the actual Guild registry itself can be accessed through the FamilySearch website. We'll take a look at that and some other aspects of the Guild tomorrow.

Above: "Winter Getaway," undated oil on canvas by Norwegian artist Axel Ender; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.    


  1. I am enjoying your winter scenes! Especially the ones with canals in them.

    1. Thank you, Iggy! The canal scenes remind me of the terrain around here--I live near a river delta. And finding gems in artwork is always fun.


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