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Guild of One-Name Studies

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Guild of One-Name Studies
Formation 1979
Purpose/focus The Guild is a charitable organisation dedicated to promoting the public understanding of one-name studies and the preservation and accessibility of the resultant information.
Headquarters London, England
Region served Worldwide
Membership 2,300
President Derek Palgrave
Affiliations Federation of Family History Societies

The Guild of One-Name Studies is a UK-based charitable organisation founded in 1979 for one-name studies.


The Guild developed as an off-shoot of the Federation of Family History Societies. The FFHS was founded on 8th June 1974. By 1977 one-third of the members of the FFHS were one-name societies, and a sub-committee was set up to address the needs of this group. Among its duties was the generation of a Register of Surnames which were being comprehensively studied. The first one-name conference was held at the Grand Hotel in Leicester from 13th to 14th May 1978. Sixty-six participants attended the inaugural conference. A formal resolution was carried unanimously to establish a Guild of individuals engaged in one-name research. The Guild was officially launched in Plymouth, Devon, on 1st September 1979 during a conference hosted by the family history societies of Devon and Cornwall. Within a few months, approximately 200 members had enrolled in the Guild. To qualify for registration one needed to have a significant body of data relating to the given surname and its variants. It was suggested that entries be extracted from current telephone directories, civil registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths, and national probate indexes such as the Prerogative Courts of Canterbury and York. [1]

The decision to call it a guild was partly inspired by the notion that medieval guilds had encouraged professionalism along with mutual aid, as well as by a whimsical desire to create the acronym GOONS, evoking a popular British radio humorous show, The Goon Show, and making a self-mocking comment on the quixotic nature of one-name studies. From time to time there are efforts to discourage use of this deprecating acronym, but it is in widespread use in the genealogical world and difficult to suppress.

As a small organisation, the Guild has no employed staff. The fact that its members conduct some of the world's most ambitious and sustained family history projects with international scope has brought it special standing in the genealogy world. Its development has been mostly harmonious, with only occasional friction over policy or spending. It has co-operated closely with the Halsted Trust, created by legacy, which promotes one-name studies.

While one-name studies have mainly been popular in Britain, thanks to that country's unified and open vital records, the Guild has always officially insisted that every study it recognises should be worldwide in scope, and has sought to cater for non-British studies in its basic methodological advice.

One-name studies

A one-name study is a project researching all occurrences of a surname, as opposed to a particular pedigree (ancestors of one person) or descendancy (descendants of one person or couple). Some "one-namers" may restrict their research geographically, perhaps to one country, but true one-namers collect all occurrences worldwide.

Typically, the researchers will also study the etymology of the surname, and its geographical distribution. Sometimes, especially if the surname is also a place name, they will try to identify the place or places of origin of the surname, employing the normal methods of genealogy.

One-name study researchers are also increasingly making use of online networking services such as Facebook to make connections with other people researching their surname.[2]

The following video by Peter Walker, former Chairman of the Guild, provides further information on running a one-name study:

Membership criteria

The two main requirements of membership are that the member must answer all enquiries and that the member must strive to collect all references to the surname on a worldwide basis. The requirements are not as daunting as they might appear. The majority of surnames registered with the Guild are low-frequency and the number of enquiries received is not likely to be a burden. The collection of data can be be done passively. Many members will for instance start by collecting data from the country where the surname originated, which is often in the British Isles, and then gradually expand their research to include those countries where people with their surname emigrated. Members in North America will sometimes start their one-name study with a large cohort of data from the USA or Canada, and will then gradually expand their research to the country of origin. In practice, anyone who has been researching a specific surname for a reasonable length of time is likely to qualify for membership. DNA project administrators, who typically collect DNA results and associated pedigrees from around the world, are often well placed to register a surname.

Guild DNA projects

A small core of Guild members are combining their traditional documentary research with a DNA project. By the end of 2009 some 200 DNA surname projects were led by Guild members. The majority of these projects are hosted at Family Tree DNA.[3]

Guild members with DNA projects at Family Tree DNA are able to display the Guild logo against their project in the index of surnames and on their project website. To qualify for the logo the surname must be registered with the Guild and the Guild member must be actively involved with the DNA project either as a group administrator or co-administrator. All the surnames registered with the Guild must be included in the DNA project. Guild members are encouraged to incorporate additional surnames in their DNA project which are not included in their one-name study in order to investigate the evolution of the surname and to establish which variant spellings are related. The non-Guild surnames included in the DNA project should be potential variant spellings and possible candidates for surname evolution and not a large grouping of surnames beginning with the same letter of the alphabet. Guild members who wish to display the Guild logo should write to the Guild's DNA Adviser at .

Membership benefits

The principal meeting places of the Guild are its on-line mailing list, the Guild Forum, and its Seminars and Annual Conferences, which are mostly held in England. As an organisation, its principal role has been to debate and distribute advice on methods for one-name studies. Members have collated a wiki of such advice, which is available in the Members' Room.

To meet the concern of members that one-name compilations are often lost to posterity when researchers die and their papers are destroyed, the Guild Archive, an electronic repository for members' one-name records, has been created and guidelines laid down on bequests of digital data to the Guild.

The Guild Marriage Index, a facility to help members find the names of marriage partners and identify from index numbers where post-1837 marriages took place in England and Wales, is likely to become the Guild’s main contribution to the wider field of family history.


The Guild's initial periodical was the Guild of One-Name Studies Newsletter, published quarterly for eight issues from January 1980 to October 1981 on corner-stapled, typescript foolscap sheets under editor Frank Higenbottam.[4]

This was followed by the Journal of One-Name Studies, with binding, also quarterly, from 1982 to the present. Its current editor (2010) is Keith Bage.

The Register of One-Name Studies published annually, lists all one-name studies currently registered by Guild members. The Guild also publishes booklets of advice such as Organising a One-Name Gathering.


At its foundation, the Guild had about 200 members. At present (2010), it has slightly more than 2,300, whose names are presented in a Register published both on-line and on paper. The Register shows that slightly more than 2,000 studies are being conducted involving a total of about 7,850 surnames. A considerable number of early members have retired or died, and their studies, additional to this number, have therefore ceased.

Some 20 per cent of the membership present their findings through a website. Guild members can also publicise their studies through a profile created on the Guild's website. As an indicator of digitised methods, 80 per cent of the members have an e-mail address registered with the Guild.[5]

The addresses of members show the bulk to be living in Britain, but with significant numbers in North America, Australia and New Zealand.

External links


GNU head This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation Licence. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Guild of One-Name Studies".