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Genealogy Help from Appalachian Spring Village

Researching Family Names

We often have family names that are rather ordinary and don't give a clue as to where our ancestors came from.

Some of our ancestors may have Americanized their names when arriving at an immigration port.

They may have taken a new name that meant something to them, or perhaps they adopted the name of the town they came from instead of a family name. (This is especially common among Norwegians.)

Or, an immigration port official may not have known how to spell a name and guessed at the spelling.

The immigrant, perhaps not knowing how to spell, continued the misspelling.

To find out where your ancestors may have come from, try the following.

  • First, look up their names in a dictionary or surname directory to see what they mean. You may be able to find clues as to the origin of the name or find a translation from a different language.

  • Second, search local records to see if groups of immigrants from particular countries arrived in a part of the state, county, or country you're concentrating on. Locate them in a census record and try to identify their country of origin.

  • Remember:


    Remember that the early censuses always have a hard copy index, alphabetized by surname, and then by first name of the heads of households.

    These indexes usually cover the entire state and are easy to search.

    You can find them in most large public libraries and genealogical societies. The indexes are also available at the

    Online Geneolagy Library.


    Military Organizations that Supply Markers for Members:

  • Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)
  • Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) - Veterans and Descendants of Union Civil War Soldiers
  • Sons of Confederate Veterans
  • Department of Veteran Affairs/Headstone or Marker Program
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars
  • AND

    Abbreviations on tombstones can also be confusing.

    The most often used are:

  • d/o -- daughter of
  • m/o -- mother of
  • s/o -- son of
  • f/o -- father of
  • w/o -- wife of
  • R.I.P. -- Rest in peace


    Several people have asked about Native American tribes with unfamiliar names.

    A good online source for locating information about tribes is's Native American Tribes page.

    This site gives you valuable leads on where to start your search.

    To find a tribe's original and current landholdings, visit Native American Online.

    This site also has extensive links that can be of great assistance.


    The key to conducting research on Canadian ancestors is knowing where to start.

    One of the best places is the vital records office for the province in which the family lived.

    Although these records may not go back very far (the 1850's at the earliest), they can be useful for finding death certificates of original pioneers.

    Below is a list of sites you may want to check out:

    Canada GenWeb Project

    Provincial Archives of New Brunswick


    GenWeb of Quebec

    Newfoundland and Labrador GenWeb

    Saskatchewan GenWeb

    Alberta GenWeb

    Manitoba GenWeb Project

    British Columbia GenWeb

    Yukon GenWeb

    NWT (Northwest Territory) and Nunavut GenWeb Project

    If you can't find what you're looking for, check with the GenWeb host. Do you have some genealogy knowledge to share or have a question?

    You can Write to me!

    Include your first initial and last name and put the word GENEALOGY in the subject.

    I'll try to use your contribution in a future column.

    (Please note that these columns are written several weeks in advance so publishing it will be delayed accordingly.)

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