A One-Name Study (ONS) is a project researching all occurrences of a surname, as opposed to a particular pedigree (ancestors of one person) or descendancy (descendants of one person or couple).

A one-name study may concentrate on aspects such as geographical distribution of the name and the changes in that distribution over the centuries, or it may attempt to reconstruct the genealogy of the lines bearing the surname. A frequent aim is to identify a single original location of the name, especially if the name appears to derive from a place name. (But for many names, for example those indicating an occupation like Butcher, or a patronymic-type surname such as Peterson, there will not be a single origin.) Some one-namers also run an associated DNA surname project to assist the analysis of origins.

The objective of a one-name study is not just the collection of data; collection is a means to an end. The one-name study aims to research the genealogy and family history of all persons with a given surname (and its variants). As part of this, it attempts to ascertain such things as,

Reconstructing all families, that is, assembling all the people with the given surname into pedigrees, is not a required part of a one-name study, although some researchers who choose a reasonably rare name are able to do this. This is particularly true for UK families, where almost complete vital records for the 19th and 20th centuries are available, as well as censuses for the period 1841-1911; such resources may not be available for other countries. It is important that a Guild registered one-name study takes a worldwide approach, but the difference in ready accessibility of data across countries will temper what it is possible to achieve.

Note that according to the five principles of one-name studies accepted by Guild members, studies registered with the Guild are global in scope, though they can be organised in any way and undertaken to any timeframe.

There is much scope for co-operation between one-namers and other genealogists and family historians, and many one-namers are also engaged in more conventional pedigree hunting of their other ancestors. Many drift into a one-name study as a way of eliminating alternatives when researching a particular ancestral name. A co-operative effort between people studying the same surname bears much fruit, and they have a good chance of discovering new relatives, depending of course on how common the name is.

It should be borne in mind that information about living individuals should be treated with great care, for both legal and ethical reasons.

Long thin blue line © Guild of One-Name Studies 2012 This page was last modified 23 Mar 2012, 23:45
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