Determine the Nationality of Your Civil War Ancestor’s Last Name

If you’re curious about your Civil War ancestors and where their last name originated, there are a variety of sources to help you track it down.

  • A good starting place is your public library. Good-sized libraries have a book with surnames in their reference section. An excellent title is the Dictionary of Surnames published by the Oxford University Press. It contains 800 pages with 100,000 entries from Europe, Australia, North America, and the British Isles. You can visit the library or call with your question about your name.
  • There are a wealth of links online at Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites. You can browse the names on passenger lists looking for the spelling and country of origin that fits you best.
  • Search on the Internet for your last name. In the search box, put the name followed by a plus sign and the words “origin of name.” It will look like this: McGraw + origin of name
  • Ask family members where they think the family came from and talk to older relatives at family reunions.genealogy search keyboard
  • The search is more difficult for African Americans whose last name may be that of the slave owner. Ask at the library for anything like this title: A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors. How to Find and Record Your Unique Heritage. Check the website listed below where 1860 slave holders and African names are matched and the other one with African American names. Here are two sites to check: List of slaveholders and African names and Site with 50,000 African American surnames.
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