A surname table can help you organize your genealogy files, find clues in genealogy records, and make sense of your DNA matches. Discover a simple way to organize 62 surnames for a quick reference guide.
What is a Surname Table for Genealogy?
A genealogy surname table is designed to quickly highlight 62 direct line ancestral names out to your 4th great-parents. The first row features the surnames of your four grandparents, one surname per column. Each row thereafter only features the surnames of your preceding grandmothers for that generation.
When done correctly, you can look at each column and know which surname married which.
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How is This Surname Table better?
When I first created a video about surname tables, I focused on making it easy to create. I moved my ancestors’ surnames from the FamilySearch fan chart to my Google Sheets table.
I quickly had a cheat sheet, but I also created more confusion.
Wrong Surname Table
In the above table, when I compared my surnames in column one (Geiszler), things became confusing in my 3rd GGP and 4th GGP rows.
ERROR ALERT: Peak married Stone and Hoppe married Karslberger
When I mentally shifted the first column to match the 3rd great-grandparents with their spouses, I found big errors.
In the above video, I changed how I arranged the grandparents in the 3rd GGP and 4th GGP rows and it finally worked as I had intended.
So, if you have struggled to make a sensible surname table, I think you’re going to like the modification. (Folks in a recent workshop who had made a surname table before, found this version NEW AND IMPROVED!)
If you haven’t made one before, I know you’ll find it helpful.
How this chart helps me organize my genealogy files
I’m a big fan of downsizing and then organizing my remaining family history files.
There are many reasons why traditional downsizing tips don’t work for genealogists, but my surname table overcomes these hurdles.
Once I know all my relevant surnames, I find new homes for any names not on my chart. I’ll find other researchers or archives to receive those documents, research, and photos.
Then I reduce my genealogy files further by focusing only on the surnames I am actively researching. Again, I’ll find better homes for the materials I have so that other genealogists can access them.
Then I can organize the remaining mountain of items by appropriately labeled surname files.
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How this chart helps me make genealogy and DNA discoveries
The best reason for a quick reference of surnames on a table involves making unexpected discoveries.
I can’t remember all 62 surnames if my life depended on it. Can you?
I mean I have HOLES the size of Dallas and I still can’t remember the surnames like Kouck, Porter, Wright, Havens, and McCarty.
When I’m reviewing documents, like passenger lists, plat maps, census records, and other large name lists, I have my surname table handy. I’m always pleasantly surprised when I discover another set of relatives hiding in plain sight but I previously neglected because I didn’t have my surname table.
This definitely works on DNA matches who have partial family trees or just their surnames available online.
Make your table and see what discoveries you find.
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