Surname Genealogy Strategies: My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Last Names to Research

Surname Genealogy Strategies: My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Last Names to Research

What's the most annoying last name to research in your family tree? Not the ancestor or relative whose name it is, but the name itself. Mine are: Frost, because searching the web or old newspapers and books brings up weather reports. It's also among the more-common names in my...

What’s the most annoying last name to research in your family tree? Not the ancestor or relative whose name it is, but the name itself. Mine are:

  • Frost, because searching the web or old newspapers and books brings up weather reports. It’s also among the more-common names in my tree. I once got all excited because I thought my third-great-grandfather had served in the Civil War, but after some research, I had to conclude that the soldier was someone else’s Thomas Frost.

    Another Thomas Frost, a mail carrier, was arrested for not delivering the mail, which would be in character for my Thomas (I’ll have to tell you more about him sometime). But I’m pretty sure that’s a different guy, too.

  • Thoss, because newspaper and digitized book searches result in a flood of matches with the word “those,” and Google tries to give me results for the name “Thomas.”
  • Koop is very common. Also this family was huge and repeated first names, making it difficult to determine whether and how I’m related to a given Koop.

On the other hand, several surnames make my genealogy research a little easier: Ladenkotter is unusual enough that just about every record I’ve found with it is for a relative (this post has a picture of the tree I sketched just from FamilySearch’s German birth and marriage records for Ladenkotters). Depenbrock and Birkmeyer are distinctive, not too common, and not easily mistaken for other words by search engines.

Our next webinar, Surname Genealogy Research Strategies, will help you tackle tricky surname issues, such as misspellings, variants, common last names and names that are words. You’ll also learn how to take advantage of the benefits of unusual names.

The hour-long webinar with Family Tree Magazine contributing editor Nancy Henrickson is Thursday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. Eastern. Get your questions ready, because you’ll have a chance to ask them.

Find out more about our Surname Genealogy Research Strategies webinar in Family Tree Shop.

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  1. Any Dutch name that is a patronymic in New Amsterdam. When England took control in 1664 and mandated use of surnames – some family members took their occupation or where they were living as a surname, some used the patronymic as a surname and in the Lent family, one son kept the patronymic "Riker" and siblings used Lent or Van Lent. Another family adopted surname "Cranckheit" which has ten spelling variations as I have found on records of time frame, and then early Dutch language did not have letter C, so the name is seen with K spelling. Makes researching tedious, but interesting. Gladys

  2. The most annoying name I have is Till. To make matters worse even the records are a hassle since the name has been listed as Pill and Hill. Luckily that branch of my tree started in the USA in the early 1900’s and stayed essentially in one place. This helped me find misspelled names.

  3. One grandmother’s maiden name was Poor. Very hard to use a search engine with 🙁

    Other grandmother’s maiden name was Arthur. Searches at genealogy sites frequently return men who have Arthur as a first or middle name [such as Arthur {Last Name} or {First Name} Arthur {Last Name}], even when I put Arthur in a search field that specifically says [Last Name].

  4. Like your name of Koop, I have a Roop in my family; what I get is Troop, which brings up every reference in World Wars I and II. Yikes! The easiest has been McConocha. Although I’ve found a couple misspellings, it’s unusual enough to easily find.

  5. My paternal ancestors came from a region along the border between Rhineland and Westphalia in Germany that honored farm names. If a man (or his wife) inherited a named farm, he took the farm name. Even if I find the right previous name, is he really my ancestor genetically. In marriage records of my great grandfathers siblings at least 3 of them changed surnames.
    Mary

  6. Try Cash for a surname. Every time I try to search newspapers for that I get hundreds and hundreds of hits for ads "cash sale" or any phrase concerning money. It doesn’t seem to matter what name I put with the last name of Cash. It’s like it’s ignored. Two other pain in the neck names are William King and White. And when I try to search for Richard Wagner who is NOT the German composer all I get are hits for the composer.