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Getting Started with a One Name Study

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Project:One Name Study > Getting Started with a One Name Study

Getting started with a One Name Study can be an intimidating task, and requires a certain level of commitment from all members who participate in the study.


Before you Begin

Before officially starting a One Name Study, it is important to understand that Name Studies are global, and encompass all individuals that carry the name, so it is important to estimate the size of the Name Study. Every study will vary in size, origins, and geographical distribution, so you want to have some idea the global scope of the project, and then narrow down your research for your specific interests:

  1. Is the name extremely common (i.e., Smith), or rare (i.e., Bidelspach)?
  2. Does the name span multiple countries?

In order to get an idea on name size, it is helpful to start with a few research tasks:

  • Check the WikiTree Surname Genealogy Page (e.g., WikiTree Genealogy page for Smith). At the top of the page, there is an estimated number of SMITH profiles that are already on WikiTree.
  • Check the main FamilySearch Search Records page with an exact surname spelling (e.g., FamilySearch Record Search for Smith. At the top of the page, there will be a number that represents the total number of records found that include the name.
  • Check the Ancestry website (e.g., Ancestry search for Smith). At the top of the page, there will be a number that represents the total number of records found that include the name.
  • Check the FindAGrave website (e.g., FindAGrave search for Smith). At the top of the page, there will be a number representing the number of memorials currently included on the site. Note: FindAGrave is a controversial site due to the lack of sources, and sometimes even gravestone images. Usage here is only for approximation in determining your Name Study size.

As you can see from the table below, taking on a Name Study for Smith or Harris would be challenging for just one person, while a Name Study for Volcik or Bidelspach can be much more reasonable.

It is important to note that the numbers provided are estimations only and do not reflect unique records for unique individuals; a single person may be reflected in multiple records. In the case of Ancestry, these numbers also include the number of images and family trees the name appears in.

You can also research the geographical distribution of the surnames and the occurrence in census records to understand what possible languages and time periods you could be dealing with. It always helps to know what you are getting into![1]

Setting Up the Name Study

If a Name Study does not yet exist for the surname of interest, start by requesting a Name Study.

If there is an existing Name Study, or once your new Name Study has been created by the ONS Leaders, it is time to get started!

Main ONS Page

The main ONS Page for the study serves as the collaborative platform and launch pad for the overall Name Study. If this was setup recently by an ONS Leader, you will have the following standard sections:

==About the Project==
==How to Join==
==Research Pages==
==Related Surnames and Surname Variants==

Note: This is the preferred format for the main ONS page; however, some leeway and customization is allowed. If you are unsure on how to setup your main Name Study page, please contact an ONS Leader for assistance.

The required sections for each Name Study main page are described below.

About the Project

The ==About the Project== section should clearly identify the intent of the overall Name Study. Remember, every Name Study is global in nature and should invite others to collaborate and participate. As an example, you could say:

==About the Project==

The SURNAME Name Study project serves as a collaborative platform to collect information on the [ SURNAME] name. The hope is that other researchers like you will [[#How to Join|join the study]] to help make it a valuable reference point for other genealogists who are researching or have an interest in the SURNAME name.

As a One Name Study, this project is not limited to persons who are related biologically. Individual [[#Teams|team studies]] can be used to branch out the research into specific methods and areas of interest, such as geographically (England SURNAME's), by time period (18th Century SURNAME's), or by topic (SURNAME DNA, SURNAME Occupations, SURNAME Statistics). These studies may also include a number of family branches which have no immediate link with each other. Some researchers may even be motivated to go beyond the profile identification and research stage to compile fully sourced, single-family histories of some of the families they discover through this name study project.

''Also see the [[#Related Surnames and Surname Variants|related surnames and surname variants]].''

How to Join

The ==How to Join== section should include information on how to contact the ONS Coordinator. As an example, you could say:
To join the SURNAME Name Study, first start out by browsing our current teams and research pages to see if there is a specific study ongoing that fits your interests. If so, feel free to add your name to the Membership list below, post an introduction comment on the specific team/research page, and then dive right in!

If a team or research page does not yet exist for your particular area of interest, please contact the '''Name Study Coordinator: [[Wiki-ID|Name]]''' for assistance.

Research Pages

The Research Pages are where all of the magic happens in a Name Study! You may wish to research using specific methods or cover specific areas of interest, such as geographically (e.g., England, Harris Name Study), by time period (18th Century, Volcik Name Study), or by topic (DNA, Smith Name Study; Occupations, Durbin Name Study). All of this information should be kept separate from the Name Study main page! This will help to make sure others can easily contribute by adding new research pages that may not match your areas of interest.
On the main Name Study page, under the ==Research Pages== heading, make sure to add a new bullet point and link to the research page!:

==Research Pages==
* [[Space:England, Harris Name Study]]
* [[Space:DNA, Smith Name Study]]

On these individual research pages, you have full control of the layout and format. You can use tables to help organize your data (see Interments), provide text, facts, charts and other images (see Surname Distribution and Facts), or even create lists as you dig through DNA Connections (see: SmithConnection DNA). The sky is the limit!


In Seven Pillars of Wisdom - The Art of One-Name Studies ppublished by the Guild of One-Name Studies[2] there is a set of general principals that are described that can assist in running your Name Study[3].

While research tactics will vary across Name Studies based on the size of the study or the member's objectives in performing or participating in such a study, these pillars provide a solid framework on how to progress with results and to avoid getting stuck in data collection.

Collecting Data

The start of all Name Studies begins with the collection of data. The easiest way to begin is by extracting details of a name from census and BMD records. Data providers like FamilySearch provide options for data extraction, so be sure to check each site carefully! As you progress through data collection (remember to keep track of your sources!), you move on to analyzing your data.

Analyzing Data

As your data collection grows, you should begin to see patterns emerge. You may notice a growing number of occurrences in a specific time period or in a specific geographical location. As you notice these patterns, keep track of them and your thoughts in a To-do List. This is a critical phase where can start documenting your analyzed data into lists, charts, graphs, and maps. You can also begin working on family reconstruction, diving deeper to make connections to people in your data collection, and fleshing out specific family groups.
During analysis, keep an eye out for:
  • Variations in spelling over the years and through descendants
  • Migration patterns as families moved from place to place
  • Possible missing data caused by erroneous transcriptions

Synthesizing Data

Once you start to analyze your data, you will automatically start to draw your conclusions about the name. Can you identify:
  • the meaning of the name (is it matronymic, occupational, patronymic, topynomic?)
  • the origin of the name (this is where your maps come in handy!)
  • how, why, or where variants originated
  • distinct patterns in migration

Publicizing the Study

Publicizing your Name Study typically starts in the study's infancy (to gather interested researchers) and continues on through the life of the Name Study. You should 'advertise and advocate' for your study in as many places as possible to help maximize the study's exposure, and to help grow the number of contacts and amount of additional information that those contacts can contribute. You should consider:

Responding to Inquiries

As an ONS Coordinator, it is important to recognize that you will be seen as the center of genealogical research for your Name Study. While members may not be interested in the entire Name Study itself, they may have questions on people or families with that name and may contact you for more information. Even if you are not currently working on the specific individual or family, it is very important to respond to the inquiries and try to suggest areas of research that they may pursue. This may even lead to you receiving additional information for your study, and helps with Publicizing the Study.

Publication of Results

Arguably the most important part of your study is through the publication of your research results. While data collection and analysis will never be complete, and will change from year to year, or even day to day as new data is found, it is important to publish the results for your study.
Here on WikiTree, publication is done through multiple methods:
Outside of WikiTree, you may consider:
  • Publishing your own newsletter
  • Publishing a book
  • Creating a dedicated Name Study website

Preserving your Research

The great news, is that since most members will store their data and results here on WikiTree by creating, sourcing, and categorizing profiles - the hard part is taken care of! WikiTree is committed to preventing the information that we are growing together from being lost. See Protecting Our Shared Tree.

For any offline research and data sets, make sure consider how to preserve your information. In the best case scenario, members will pick and choose multiple items to help safeguard their research:

  • Routinely back up data to:
  • Create multiple photocopies of any essential hard copy records for storage in multiple locations, or digitize by scanning to your computer
  • Providing copies of data to other organizations, such as Local Study/Genealogical Centers, Genealogical Societies, or the Guild of One-Name Studies

Name Study Resources and Inspiration

Helpful WikiTree Pages

  • Help:Editing Tips#Tables - Tables are created by using the 'pipe-syntax' and substitutes pipes (|) for HTML. The pipe-symbol is usually found above the 'Enter'-key (shift + \). Here is an on-line converter that takes text input from Excel, CSV, and other formats and generates pipe syntax tables.
  • Help:Recommended Tags - This page is for advanced members. Many members only need to use the formatting options that are available in the buttons above an editing box, but this page provides some extra HTML and CSS options to help with styling your Name Study information.
  • Help:Free-Space Projects - The main Name Study page and all of the individual research pages for one name studies are free-space projects. Simply use this form to start a new Name Study Research Page.
  • Category: Descendant Studies - Descendancy research can be an efficient way to find descendants of ancestors (such as distant cousins).
  • Category: Family Brick Walls - When it comes to family trees things are rarely straightforward. Families often disappear between one census and the next; records are lost or destroyed through mishandling, fire, war, and flood; and sometimes the facts you do find just don't make sense. [Kimberly Powell; Thought Co.] Can your Name Study help break down a brick wall?
  • Category: Surnames - Family Histories are centered around a specific family group. While they are similar to a Name Study, they do not encompass the global research of all people with the same name.
  • Category:Notables - Do you have any notable members in your Name Study?
  • Category:Migration - Does your Name Study have any specific migration patterns?

Related WikiTree Projects

  • Project:DNA - The DNA Project provides a way to organize those who are most interested in how WikiTree integrates DNA test results on the limbs we share on WikiTree.
  • Project:One Place Studies - "An OPS researches the residents of a particular place by gathering a full range of historical records, memorabilia and stories that mention those individuals, and analyse them to gain insights into the social and economic workings of that place...and would generally have as its aims to identify local families and analyse issues like occupational structure, life expectancy and geographical mobility." [Society for One Place Studies]

Example WikiTree Name Studies

Other Resources


  1. GUILD OF ONE-NAME STUDIES. "One-Name Studies". One-Name.Org.
  2. Editor: Shankland, Anne. 2012. "Seven Pillars Of Wisdom" The Art Of One-Name Studies. London: Guild of One-Name Studies.
  3. GUILD OF ONE-NAME STUDIES. "Seven Pillars Of Wisdom". One-Name.Org.

Comments: 14

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FYI, the link for occupational surnames in the Synthesizing Data section doesn't work quite right. To link to the Occupational Surname section on that page, it should be:

The same issue exists on the project page as well:

posted by Bob Moon
Thank you, Bob. The link has been updated.
Is there a way for posting messages to all members of the group?
posted by Rob Wilson
Hi Rob

Unfortunately, not really. We do have a Discord chat available if you're interested. You can find out more about that here:

posted by Amy (Crawford) Gilpin
Hello, thank you for collating this wonderful introductory article to starting the name study here on WikiTree. I was wondering what seciont "Membership" is meant for? Is this a list of all researchers being part of the team, or is this intended to list all profiles being part of the study? My assumption is the first option. Thank you, Sven
posted by Sven Elbert
Yes, it is meant to be a list of researchers helping with your study.
posted by Amy (Crawford) Gilpin