The Curse of the Common Surname

The Curse of the Common Surname

We all face brick walls during genealogy research and the one I hate most is having a too-common surname. Unless there is a lot of family lore full of hints, an uncommon given name, or GPS precision as to where they lived, trying to sort out family members with common names can be quite… trying.

Case in point is my 2nd great grand-father James Snyder Brown. The surname ‘Brown’ just so happens to be one of the top 10 most common names, based on the 1990 census. A family line does not produce 1.7 million descendants from nothing so I image eSurnameven back in the early 1800s, the name Brown was fairly common.

I don’t know a lot about James Snyder, or Snyder James as he was sometimes known as (or S.J as recorded on his tombstone). He was born on 30 Oct 1827, some place in South Carolina. His parents and any brothers or sisters are still a mystery. He married my 2nd great-grandmother Mary Ann Walker, a line more thoroughly documented in spite of the common last name, and they had nine children, more or less. I know the family lived in Itawamba, Mississippi for a while, and in 1868 moved to Johnson County, Texas, where died on 11 May 1881. I know that much because I have visited his grave at Center League Cemetery. He died on 11 May 1881.

Brown, S.JIn all honesty, I haven’t spent a lot of time on this line. I’m sure there is more information available today and with DNA testing it is much easier to connect with real family members who may have information I am missing. I’ve also learned a lot of new techniques for breaking through brick walls and sometimes the smallest clue can yield great results.


2 thoughts on “The Curse of the Common Surname

  1. I have similar issues, including Brown. The common surname rankings are a little different in the UK, but not much. I have to cope with 6 of those you have on the top 10 list that you show above. I have to confess that they all get less focus than my more easily researchable lines.

    1. My grandfather was a Gow, which is fairly common in British research. It might not have been so bad had he not changed his name a few times and fudged facts . But that’s what makes genealogy research so fascinating.

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