US Surname Distribution: Where Was Your Family When?

Hammrick Software’s free online tool, U.S. Surname Distribution is an interesting way to examine the spread of your family names across the United States.

Simply type in the last name and choose a census year from among 1850, 1880, and 1920 US Census statistics and 1990’s phone books.

The results are interesting, if not totally accurate as the number spread for the very small populations of your family in areas is pretty small. Still, it was interesting to notice the differences.

All of my ancestors were in the United States before 1850. So I thought I’d take a look at what the charts said for the different names in the same time period of 1850, the earliest year the program offers. Not all names are listed. They currently feature the top 50,000 popular surnames. I tried several names such as Farlin and Close and there was no listing.

Dark blue indicates the lowest concentration of population for that name, about 1 in 10,000 people. Red indicates the highest concentration of population with that name, about 1 in 10 people, with yellow and green in the middle of the colored maps. I’ve showcased the 1850 Census maps for the surnames of Knapp, West, and Anderson.

Knapp Surnames Distribution US 1850 Census MapIn 1850, the Knapp family, descended from Nicholas Knapp (Knap) (c1606-1670), began in Connecticut about 1630. His bother, William, and his descendants spread across the soon to become United States, bringing the Knapp family name and bloodline with them. My core Knapp family ancestors made their way to Illinois and Wisconsin, was determined to embrace the frontier about 1860, ending up in South Dakota. It was a hard time with a lot of violence and attacks, so with his large family, Hans made his way slowly back Wisconsin. In the 1930s, Emma Beatrice (Primley) Knapp brought her 7 children to Oregon following the spread of logging camps and work, and eventually settled in Washington State.

West Surnames Distribution US 1850 Census MapThe West family arrived, we believe, in New York and moved soon after moved to Ontario, Canada. After many years farming there, David West moved with his family, following the path of the Quaker movement, to Raisin Township, Lenawee, Michigan. His sons, Abraham (c1786-1860), Levi (born c1790), Benjamin (born c1782), Jacob (born c1785), and Morgan (c1791-1870) came with him. The West family stayed in Raisin, Michigan, for several generations, marrying neighbors like the Farlins, Bowerman, Westgate, White, de Haviland, and more. As farming became more difficult in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of David’s descendants started leaving Michigan, moving towards more work and hope.

Anderson Surnames Distribution US 1850 Census MapThe Hans Anderson family arrived on American soil from Fredriksvern, Norway, when he was about 7 years old between 1845-1851. They were part of the Lutheran Church movement from Norway to the United States. He and his family began in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, but he moved his family after his marriage to Sarah Olson in 1867 to South Dakota. The Anderson and Knapp family met in South Dakota. Times were tough in those years and the “frontier” of the Dakotas was particularly brutal, so Hans returned to Wisconsin by 1875, where his grandson, Raymond, a school teacher, married Nora Knapp, blending the two families. His many descendants stayed in Wisconsin, though eventually a few spread further afield.

Do these census maps help tell their stories? In a way. We know that all three families began their life in North American basically in the same area near New York. All three families came together about the same time in Michigan and Wisconsin, though some were there long before the others arrived. Their stories speak to the spread of European families across North America, serving as examples of the migration route of all of our recent ancestors.

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About Lorelle VanFossen

Lorelle VanFossen hosts Family History Blog covering her ancestors and related family members. She is one of the top bloggers in the world, and host of the Lorelle on WordPress, providing WordPress and blogging tips for bloggers of all levels. A popular keynote speaker and trainer, she is also editor, producer, contributor, and official disruptive thinker for Bitwire Media which includes WordCast, Making My Life Network, Stories of Our Journeys, Life on the Road, WordCast Conversations, and the very popular WordCast Podcast.
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