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It's All Relative - The Guild of One-Name Studies

Many people are interested in finding out if individuals who share common surnames with them are related.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Many people are interested in finding out if individuals who share common surnames with them are related. The following experience demonstrates this:


Jeremy Jenkins, a friend of the author, is an Idahoan who descends from a Welsh immigrant that came to the United States in the 19th century. While living in Patagonia, Argentina, Jenkins was surprised to encounter a group of Caucasians living amongst the Hispanics in South America. One of the families shared his common surname, "Jenkins." After conversing with this family, he discovered that they descend from a Welshman who came to Patagonia on the first Welsh immigrant ship "La Mimosa" to Argentina in the 19th century. Jenkins has often wondered if this family, separated by thousands of miles from his own family due to the fact that each of their respective ancestors chose to immigrate to different sides of the Equator, shared a common Welsh ancestor.

Many of us have similar sentiments regarding our own surnames and acquaintances. For common surnames like Jenkins, chances are slim that Mr. Jenkins and the Argentine Jenkins families are related; however, individuals with rarer surnames may descend from common ancestors. The Guild of One-Name Studies is devoted to investigating this possibility and members of this organization can greatly aid genealogists in their ancestral pursuits.

The Guild Defined

The Guild of One-Name Studies main purpose is to study all occurrences of specific surnames and all of their deviants. It focuses heavily on English surnames, but people with ancestors from other nations may also join. At the Society of Genealogist's Family History Show in April 2004 in London, England, Roy Stockdill, Editor of the journal of the Guild of One-Name Studies, gave an accurate description of members of the Guild. He said, after referring to them as the GOONS (acronym for the organization), that those who have attained membership are rather eccentric. They seek to find every reference to specific surnames and all of their variant spellings throughout the entire world. One can imagine the huge collections members have amassed over the years.


Genealogists can join the Guild after they have collected sufficient data concerning the surname they wish to register. The Guild offers three levels of membership, quote:

A. "Surname for which there is a fully constituted one-name society, which publishes a regular one-name periodical or newsletter, researches and collects all references to the registered surname and has collected a substantial body of worldwide data over a period of time.

B. "Surname which the member researches and for which the member collects all references and has accumulated a substantial body of worldwide data over a period of time. The member may or may not produce a newsletter.

C. "Surname for which the member has started a one-name study and has not yet built up a substantial worldwide collection, but fully intends to acquire sufficient data to transfer to Category A or B. The member may or may not produce a newsletter."(Footnote 1)

Web Site

The Guild of One-Name Studies maintains an informative Web site about its organization and objectives, see One of the most useful features is the section listing every one-name study registered by members. Contact information and links to member's Web sites are provided. Always search this list for each of your English surnames. The author has studied the life of Alexander Comberbatch, sailor, of Bristol, England, who immigrated to Barbados in the 1710s. He was delighted to find a Cumberbatch one-name study registered on the site. The link to the Cumberbatch Web site led to finding many ancestors of the West Indies immigrant Alexander Comberbatch.

Collaboration with DNA Studies

The advent of DNA research has provided unparalleled advancements in the field of one-name studies. It's a whole new ballgame now. Persons involved in one-name studies often identify two or more geographic clusters of individuals with common surnames and are able to trace everyone alive carrying that surname back to one of these clusters. Written records may not be able to prove whether or not these isolated clusters spring from a common origin. For example, one group of individuals with the surname "Hiley" lived in Dorset in the 1600s. Another group of Hileys lived in Southern Wales, while a third group lived up north near Halifax in Yorkshire at the close of the Middle Ages. The author is currently attempting to prove which of these groups (there were also other groups) that his ancestor, William Highley (or Hiley) (1724~1795), immigrant to Maryland and Virginia, ties into. After sufficient study in written documents has been completed and living English and Welsh carriers of the Hi(gh)ley surname have been identified, DNA tests may be able to provide the evidence required to prove which of these clusters his ancestor descends from. It may also show whether or not these three groups share a common ancestor.

The Guild of One-Name Studies oversees massive research efforts carried on by genealogists from all over the globe. Whenever you come across a rare surname in your studies, make sure to check the Guild's online list to find out if someone is conducting a one-name study that can assist you. If you suspect that a surname you are studying is rather unique in the world, begin a one-name study yourself. The results are fascinating!

1. The Guild of One-Name Studies, Registration Categories. Internet, available at Accessed: August 17, 2004.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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