Surnames and Genealogy – Get the Best Methods for Searching Your Family Last Names: Family Tree Magazine Podcast Episode 93

By Lisa Louise Cooke

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In this episode:

Your Host: Lisa Louise Cooke

Lisa’s book is available at Family Tree Shop: Turn Your iPad into a Genealogy Powerhouse

News from the Blogosphere with Genealogy Insider Diane Haddad

Top Tips:

David Fryxell is back to explain how an unusual surname can be an asset when researching your family history. And he’s got 6 strategies for using those oddball names to your advantage from his article, “The Unusual Suspects,” available in the Jan/Feb issue of Family Tree Magazine. Get the digital issue here.


  1. Count on the Cluster
  2. Go for the given names
  3. Consider geography
  4. Cast a spell
  5. Find the game changers
  6. Research extinct surnames


101 Best Websites

Anna Fechter of takes us on a tour of the Rootsweb Surname List website.

Family Tree University Crash Course

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but for the family historian, names are vital to our research – and often just as thorny! Nancy Hendrickson returns to the Family Tree University Crash Course segment to share some tips on the best methods to research your family’s trickiest last names.
Nancy’s tips for distinguishing between people with a common name:
  • Go to Google first
  • Use search operators such as quotation marks to denote exact phrase that must be in all search results
  • Add the word Genealogy to increase the chances that the website containing other keywords will be genealogy/family history focused
Favorite Tools:
  1. Surname distribution maps – Learn more about them from the FamilySearch Wiki
  2. US Board of Geographic Names (click Search Domestic Names)
  • Search for your surname
  • Things named with that name

From the Publisher’s Desk with Allison Dolan

Allison talks about how she uses spreadsheets to keep her genealogical research on course.  Allison’s favorite resources for surname origins:

  1. Dictionary of American Family Names from Oxford University Press, searchable on
    Fun tool to look up facts about a name: meaning, distribution, places of origin (example: Riesenbeck).
  2. Behind the Name
    Great for looking up surnames and given names by country/ethnic background, “Unpuzzle” name mysteries; e.g., figure out the native spellings of a name that’s been garbled or the spelling Americanized
  3. American Surnames by Elsdon Smith
    An interesting reference book on the origins of surnames – helps you understand how your ancestors got their surnames, cultural influences.

Listen to Lisa Louise Cooke’s podcast, The Genealogy Gems Podcast in iTunes and visit her Web site for great research ideas, podcast episodes and videos.