Ancestry.com, BehindtheName.com, and SurnameDB.com are all resources for researching the meaning of a surname. Each of these databases provides a search bar for users to enter their surnames to get started.
Ancestry.com provides facts about user surnames including history, life expectancy, common occupations and civil war service. The site also allows users to explore links to census records, marriage and death certificates and immigration records. There is also a message board for users to connect with others exploring a particular surname and discover commonalities.
A surname is a part of a personal name passed down through families, traditionally taken from the father. In cases of illegitimacy or inheritance the mother's name may be used. In Western civilizations, surnames grew out of a need to distinguish people by occupation or social class. Surnames typically fall into common categories, such as occupational (Stewart or Walker), topographical (Hill or Ford) and descriptive (Good or White).
Surname research is largely based on educated guesses. It is not possible to determine the precise origins of most surnames. As families spread and grow, common surnames become even harder to accurately track. Some individuals opt for DNA testing to find their origin stories and narrow down their heritage. A combination of DNA analysis, family ancestry and surname research provides the most comprehensive picture of origin and family history.