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21 feb 2022

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Adamthwaite Archive

"The website IS the one-name study!"



About One-name Studies

Our Adamthwaite study is a One-name or Surname Study ... instead of researching just one family line, the aim of this project is to discover more about ALL the people who have ever lived who carried the surname ADAMTHWAITE.  We try to discover more about the meaning and origin of the surname itself, where it is found in the world and how, when and why the name bearers migrated to all those places. We collect and analyse data about distribution and migration and obsessively record every instance of the surname in a huge range of record sets in an attempt to discover everything we can about the people who held our surname.


But a One-namer also goes about family history in a slightly different way to most family historians.  People have asked me "why are all the trees on your website upside down?" and this  is a characteristic of how we approach things:


People researching their own family history usually hope to find out who all their ancestors were,  so they tend to produce 'Pedigree' trees - if you were able to identify every one of your 32 pairs of 4xgreat grandparents, your pedigree would look like a perfectly symetrical inverted triangle or fan shape (rather like this photo of my neighbour's recently pruned apple tree)  with 64 names in boxes across the top row, 32 in the next row, working down to a box containing your name at the bottom of the chart.  But in the real world, although all those 64 people undoubtedly existed (if any one of them hadn't, you wouldn't be here!), actually identifying each and every one of them is very hard work, though finding them can reveal real surprises such as immigrants from other countries and a huge range of trades and social classes.


People carrying out a one-name study, usually have an interest in the ORIGIN of the surname they are studying, and many hope to discover how holders of the surname around the world link together. Depending on the type of surname being studied, they may have identified a number of different lines - each headed by a man holding the surname (or a variant of it).  These 'founding fathers' are usually referred to as the 'Most Distant Known Ancestor' (MDKA) of each line.  

So a one-namer's tree will often show the MDKA at the top of the tree, with all known descendants who carry the surname in generations below (though some of us only continue with a branch as long as the surname continues, so children of married daughters may not be included as the surname will have changed on marriage). These are very MESSY trees ... because some families will have a lot of children who bore grandchildren - others may have none or just one or two.  And some branches will die out altogether long before the rest, or become 'daughtered-out' - an expression which refers to a situation when the only surviving descendants are children of married daughters (hence they no longer carry the surname being studied). There may be marriages between cousins to complicate matters.  But the trees produced are fascinating, as they can show how individual branches moved away from the place of origin of the MDKA, perhaps gradually moving across countries or even continents or making the life-changing decision to seek better opportunities overseas.  The bottom row of these trees shows all the living descendants ... distant cousins who may share tales of the adventures their branch encountered as they journeyed through life, and send photos of their older family members who may bear a striking resemblance to those in other branches of the same line.


People who are into Autosomal DNA testing (atDNA) need to produce a different type of tree altogether to discover the connections with their atDNA matches!  Their trees look more like a tangled ancient hedgerow, as they first have to work backwards to identify those 64 4xgreat grandparents, then work forwards from each of the 32 couples to the present time, producing descendancy charts for every couple, detailing all possible living descendants (male and female, so lots of surname changes!), so the 'hedgerow' has tendrils weaving back down to take root in the earth at intervals along its length, to represent all the potential living cousins.  And again, when a successful connection is made, the discoveries can be hugely exciting and revealing.

Taking a one-name approach can also be a good way to resolve brick walls in your family history research - particularly if they involve a fairly unusual surname.  By collecting all possible baptism, marriage and burial records for the surname in the area where you are searching, and tying them into family groups using census data, it is often possible to work out which is the correct record to fit into your own family tree. This page on my Ravenstonedale website shows how I set about creating the descendancy charts for my one-name studies.


But be warned ... it can get addictive!


If you have a fairly unusual surname in your ancestry and would like to find out more about starting a one-name study, here are some links to give you more information and get you started:

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The Guild of One-name Studies' website provides lots of information about how to go about setting up a study, and by joining the Guild you have access to the informative Journal and other publications, Regional and National seminars and meetings where you will meet lots of helpful and friendly like-minded members.


Pharos Tutors run a range of excellent online genealogy courses from beginners to advanced level on a huge number of topics. All are run by experienced genealogists.  If you haven't tried on-line genealogy courses before, they offer a free trial lesson to give you an idea how it works. Their 'Introduction to One-Name Studies' five week course runs on a regular basis and teaches you about all aspects of setting up and running your own one-name study.


Lost Cousins operates a particularly useful database for identifying distant cousins.  You simply enter your ancestors' entries in the 1841, 1881 and 1911 England, Wales or Scotland censuses (or equivalent in USA/Canada/Ireland) and anyone else who has ALSO entered the same family group will be matched to you - a confirmed cousin at the touch of a button!  And one who may know more pieces of information about your shared ancestors.

Peter Calver who runs Lost Cousins, also mails a Newsletter every two weeks to all members, which always contains up-to-the-minute news about developments in genealogy, and he specialised in 'master classes' on subjects such as DNA and using the best method to search the commercial databases - you can read his latest Newsletter here.  It's free to search and free to join - though if you want to make full use of the facilities you will probably want to pay the small membershp fee!

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