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Outside your geographical comfort zone? Some tips to help in a one-name study.

In my own one-name study, I have been to different countries both virtually and in person to conduct research.  The effort to date has been primarily in the Channel Islands, pre-confederation Newfoundland, Canada, England, a very little bit of France, and some beginning research in the United States. I am fortunate to have a reasonable degree of fluency in French, which I have used quite a bit in old Jersey documents, although the Jersey dialect itself, known as Jèrrais, is definitely beyond me.  Thank goodness a lot of old documents followed the Norman tradition of “standard” French.  

The Ruby project presents quite an interesting experience for those who have not strayed far from home in their one-name study research.  It is unlikely that any version of Ruby has its origins in the United Kingdom, despite a longstanding presence in southwestern England and in parts of Ireland.  Preliminary reading suggests that for both these areas, the origin of the name is likely French, as in, de Roubaix.  MacLysaght[1] suggests that the Ruby name has been in evidence in Cork since the 17th century.  A contemporary surname mapping system ( ) shows a relatively low incidence of de Roubaix today in France but gives geographical clues as to its origin for further research. 

The UK version of Ruby has perhaps the most straightforward path for those accustomed to research with UK surnames.  Research in other English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, or the US will demonstrate that some Rubys emigrated from Ireland or England. However, in North America, the emergence of Ruby as a surname from Germany, France, the Ukraine (Galicia), Poland, Hungary, and variously defined eastern European regions is seeming more dominant.  Learning history, geography, and social history through genealogy is, to me, one of the greatest benefits.  Each surname and family history becomes a microcosm for the patterns of human development and migration.  As we travel along with the Rubys, for example, I anticipate learning about upheavals in eastern Europe; influence of unique religious movements on emigration to North America; cluster immigration patterns; how geopolitical environments influence/determine genealogical records and information; how different emigration destinations impact occupations, religion, culture, and more. 

Perhaps you sense a bias on my part to multinational research! As an individual with several ancestral lines with multiple generations in Canada, family history research for me has always involved going abroad.  In my own blend of ethnicities, one can find Swiss, English, Scottish, Irish, French, and however one would categorise Jersey Islander. This is still narrow in that it is all western European.  Along the path of my own family history, I have picked up a number of strategies to research new countries, regions, and cultures.  I hope this helps to calm anxieties about researching your surname outside your home country or region:
v First, put aside your home country filter.  Don’t try to find the exact equivalent in another governance structure of what happens to record a birth in your country. This leads to the most important tip: Prepare by finding overview information that is aimed at genealogical research.  A great and free source of this is Family Search research wikis.  While these vary in depth of content, it is always a first stop.  Search by country, region, province, county, or state from this main page:
v If you are already a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies, you have access to a research wiki on the website (you must be logged in) at this URL:  This is the A-Z index.  Again, wikis by nature are voluntary contributions and information will vary.
v Do a google search to see if you can find a country-level site that is an overview of research in that geographical area.  Be sure to weed out less than credible-looking sources.  An example of a site for France, entitled The French Genealogy Blog, is far more than a blog and hosted by a certified genealogist:

Second, consider whether language is a total barrier. As the Ruby study is a group project, we are fortunate to have people with different language skills, but this is not always the case in a one-name study. 
v Google for sources that translate commonly used terms for genealogical records in different languages.  An excellent resource can be found at:  Once you become familiar with the type of record in a particular country, this may be all you need to start.
v Make your own cheat sheet of terms you define, by getting translations in the language of your choice.
v Don’t dismiss tools like Google Translate. All of us remember the early days of electronic translators that were laughable if you knew the language at all. These tools have advanced quite a bit and can be particularly useful for small passages of text that are repetitive in nature.  Recently, I did a test of a small piece of text in French from 1800s. I did a rough translation myself and then used Google Translate.  For my goal of extracting genealogical information, the electronic translation was fine.
v FamilySearch wiki provides pages on a number of different languages, not focused solely on genealogical terms but general basics that may come up in genealogical research. An example for German is here:

Finally, if you intend to do a lot of research in one country, my advice to researchers whether in one-name studies or your own family research, is learning the context of the country, the region, the state, the province.  This will save you so much trouble and avoidance of missed opportunities.  Knowing the history is essential but don’t feel you have to do a PhD in the topic!  There are many overviews in book form or through credible sources on the Internet.  Historical timelines are particularly useful reference tools – if you have a theory about an ancestor it may be disproved or confirmed by a quick look at a timeline.  An obvious example is the potato famine in Ireland – if you are searching for someone who you think emigrated to Boston, USA, and it matches the timeframe of famine emigration, this is a confirmation.   In every region of the world there are major events that impacted the lives of ancestors. Knowing the history will provide you with the context for further research. 

Bonne recherche!     Glückliche Forschung!     Szczęśliwe badania!             Щасливі дослідження!

 From the Ruby Team


[1] MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999. p. 262


  1. Interesting to read about the new study. As it happens a lot of work was done on the surname Ruby by the late Peter Reed of Bromley, who died in 2015. He left his papers and computer files to the SoG, and I processed the files on his behalf, I seem to recall sending a CD to the SoG around early 2016. There are 10 FTW files for branches of the Ruby surname in different parts of the UK (& Massachusetts USA), also an Access database containing tables of UK census info 1841-1911 and US census, UK births & deaths 1837+, ships passenger list data, and a table of wills which seems to be post-1858.
    I presume all of this is available via the SoG though I haven't searched their catalogue to see if it's been accessioned. If not I still have it all on my computer.

    I guess the team might like to see this data, or would this spoil all the fun!?


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