Genealogy

At one time or another everyone will become curious about their family heritage. Perhaps this is why the subject of genealogy has become so popular today. Together with my uncle Robert Looper, and cousin Laurie Scarpace, we developed a huge database containing over 11,000 individuals, dating back to 1480, all linked together.

My alternate website at breeze.org contains all the information in two different formats, and is fully searchable. One presentation was created by the Progenitor software which generated a small number of large pages, and the other generated by Kith & Kin which created a huge number of very small pages. Unfortunately both of these companies have ceased to exist so I cannot update the content, but one of these days I'll either search out some new software that can generate family tree sites from gedcom files, or I'll write something myself.

Historiography

Until about 1100 A.D. most people in Europe had only one name (This is still true in some primitive countries today). As the population increased it became awkward to live in a village wherein perhaps 1/3 of the males were named John, another sizeable percentage named William, and so forth.

And so, to distinguish one John from another, a second name was needed. There were four primary sources for these second names. They were: a man's occupation, his location, his father's name or some peculiar characteristic of his. Here are some examples.

Occupation

The local house builder, food preparer, grain grinder and suit maker would be named respectively: John Carpenter, John Cook, John Miller, and John Taylor.

Location

The John who lived over the hill became known as John Overhill, the one who dwelled near a stream might be dubbed John Brook or perhaps John Atbrook.

Patronymical (father's name)

Many of these surnames can be recognized by the termination - son, such as Williamson, Jackson, etc. Some endings used by other countries to indicate "son" are: Armenian's - ian, Dane's and Norwegian's - sen, Finn's - nen, Greek's - pulos, Spaniard's - ez, and Pole's - wiecz. Prefixes denoting "son" are the Welsh - Ap, the Scot's and Irish - Mac, and the Norman's - Fitz. The Irish O' incidentally denotes grandfather.

Characteristic

An unusually small person might be labeled Small, Short, Little or Lytle. A large man might be named Longfellow, Large, Lang or Long. Many persons having characteristics of a certain animal would be given the animal's name, examples: a sly person might be named Fox; a good swimmer, Fish; a quiet man, Dove; etc.

Family Patterns

In addition to needing an extra name for identification, once occupational group found it necessary to go a step further. The fighting man: The fighting man of the Middle Ages wore a metal suit of armor for protection. Since this suit of armor included a helmet that completely covered the head, a knight in full battle dress was unrecognizable. To prevent friend from attacking friend during the heat of battle, it became necessary for each knight to somehow identify himself. Many knights accomplished this by painting colorful patterns on their battle shields. These patterns were also woven into cloth surcoats which were worn over a suit of armor. Thus was born the term, "Coat of Arms".

As this practice grew more popular, it became more and more likely that two knights unknown to each other might be using the same insignia. To prevent this, records were kept that granted the right to a particular pattern to a particular knight. His family also shared his right to display these arms. In some instances, these records have been preserved and/or compiled into book form. These records list the family name and an exact description of the "Coat of Arms" granted to their family.

Interest in heraldry is increasing daily. This is especially true among people who have a measure of family pride and who resent attempts of our society to reduce each individual to a series of numbers stored somewhere in a computer. In our matter-of-fact day and age, a "Coat of Arms" is one of the rare devices remaining that can provide an incentive to preserve our heritage. We hope you'll agree that it is much more than just a wall decoration.

If you are interested in a more in-depth study of the subject, may we suggest you contact the genealogical department of any fair-sized public library. We especially recommend the "Dictionary of American Family Names" published by Harper & Row and also "The Surnames of Scotland" available from the New York Public Library as excellent sources on the meanings of surnames.

Resources

There are many sites on the web to help you get started in your own family search. Use some of the links on the right to research your surname - you'll be surprised to find out how much information is available for you to discover. I hope you'll enjoy researching your family as much as I have with mine.

Alternate Site

Visit my dedicated genealogy site.

  • breeze.org • Site home page.
  • gedcom • My family gedcom database file.
  • Progenitor • Large pages with many names, gendex searching with alternate views of the data.
  • Kith & Kin • Small pages with few names, loads quick. Surname and Timeline lists.

Resource Links

Some helpful links to get you started with your own genealogy searches.

  • genealogy.org • Search for all sorts of records and data to find your family.
  • usgenweb.org • The US Gen Web Project - Keeping Internet Genealogy Free.
  • cyndislist.com • A comprehensive, categorized & cross-referenced list of links that point you to genealogical research sites online.
  • genealogy.com • Check out their Top 10 Things to do to help you get started.
  • ancestry.com • Touted as the world's largest online family history resource.
  • genealogybank.com • Exclusive newspaper archive for family history research.