Surnames are the key to genealogical research.What is a surname? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a surname is a name borne in common by members of a family. Because surnames are the name shared by members of a family, they are the natural starting point when beginning to research your family origin. But it is far from an exact science since over the course of one's life, an individual's surname may actually be spelled in different ways, surrendered at marriage, and sometimes changed for other reasons. So if you want to find your family's history, you need to learn to search effectively for your family surnames.

 As you begin looking for individuals with a specific surname, the first thing to remember is that the spelling of one's name hasn't always been as strict as it is now. In times gone by, people worried less about consistent spelling; William Shakespeare, for example, signed his name at least 6 different ways on his various plays. So don't be surprised if you discover that a simple name like "Hardy" was spelled "Hardie", "Hardee", "Hardey", and "Haredy" by different relatives, sometimes in the same immediate family.

While this may certainly complicate one's research, it may also help overcome a brick wall as you try alternative spellings that produce approximately the same name when pronounced out loud.

Another consideration to understand is that names brought from other languages into English can be even more confusing as immigrants struggling just to understand a new language felt pressure to 'assimilate' by converting their traditional family name into one that was more 'American. For example, "Longacre" and "Longenecker" are variant names for the same family.

When researching surnames, the best tactic is to look for similar consonants; the vowels often tend to shift and change. That is the principle of the Soundex searching system, which can help you discover ancestors you might otherwise have missed.

One useful strategy is to keep a list of surnames you are looking for. You can list whole lines or specific individuals you're searching for. When you're talking with other genealogy researchers, ask them about your family names. Look them up in various indexes to historical documents. When you keep your eyes open for a family last name, you may be surprised at the treasures you find.

You're not alone in searching for your surnames. At, you may find other researchers who have discovered important branches of your family tree. A single new link can help you discover thousands of ancestors and entire new lines. Home of the original online family tree, can help you find your family's place in the world. A single new link can help you discover thousands of ancestors and entire new lines.

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