Using The Family Facts Database

by George G. Morgan 

Placing your ancestors into geographical and historical context is one of the thrills of genealogical research. Our ancestors were not isolated, and they should be more to you than just names and dates on a computer screen or a printed page. Some of the best clues to help you in your quest are the statistical and contextual leads found in a wide variety of places. has compiled a fascinating, searchable Family Facts archive. You can learn about the meaning of your surname, the distribution of people by surname, life expectancy, and much more. You can find this collection of information under the Search tab on the main screen at (toward the bottom of the boxed list on the right side of the page) and there are ten different databases.

Civil War Service
Enter a surname and you will note the numbers of veterans with that surname by allegiance–Confederate, Union, and both. Each of the numbers is a link that Ancestry members can click to display a search results list for all persons by surname in the Civil War Service database.

Immigration Year
Ancestry has statistically analyzed the persons by surname in their New York Passenger Lists database and a line graph is displayed to indicate their findings. You can tell, year by year, how many persons of a surname immigrated to the United States. With uncommon surnames, this graph can help you to perhaps focus your efforts on searching immigration records for a particular period.

Life Expectancy
The Life Expectancy screen consists of a chart compiled by Ancestry from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) of the age at death of persons listed in that database. You may click on one of the year circles to see specifics search results about persons by surname, in alphabetical sequence by year of death. You can also click on the link in the lower right of the screen will take you to the Search the Social Security Death Index screen.

Name Distribution (U.S. and UK)
It is always interesting to discover the geographical origins of a particular surname and the density of the name in those areas. Ancestry has used both the 1891 England and Wales Census Collection, and the 1840, 1880, and 1920 United States Federal Census records to perform analyses of both the United Kingdom and the United States in those respective years. (You can select 1840, 1880, or 1920 from the drop-down list on the U.S. screen to see the respective maps and surname distributions.) This may well help you begin to focus your search for ancestors and relatives in particular UK counties or U.S. states.

Name Meanings
You may enter a first and/or last name to obtain definitions. The sources of the information are A Dictionary of First Names and the Dictionary of American Family Names, both published by the Oxford University Press. Not only are the origins of the names provided, but possible alternate names and/or spellings may be included. You can click on the links to other names to learn more about them as well.

Newspaper Headlines
The drop-down list allows you to select a decade; then, you click on the Update button. You can click on a link by the sample newspaper headline displayed for the decade, or you may click on the link in the lower right of the screen will take you to the Search Newspapers and Periodicals Records screen.

The analysis of the 1880 census for the general public and for surnames shows the occupations of people by surname. Knowing something about the occupations of persons with a specific surname in the 1880 census may give you a clue of other places to look for records, such as land and property records, tax records, and other evidence.

Place of Origin
You will want to trace your ancestors across the ocean to their place of nativity at some point. The Family Facts associated with the New York Passenger Lists database can help you focus on countries of origin based on surnames.

Ports of Departure
You will also want to determine the port from which your ancestor left his or her homeland to immigrate to America. The Ports of Departure screen shows a pie chart representing the primary European ports shown in the New York Passenger Lists database from which immigrants by surname had departed. Be aware that different groups emigrated from different countries in different concentrations at different times, and that the information in this graph may be skewed by the use of the records of only one port of arrival.

The Family Facts collection provides sets of interesting statistics for consideration as you perform your research. You will want to check back here periodically as you perform different types of research. Ancestry continues to update and expand this area for your reference.

Visit George’s website at for information about his company, speaking engagements, and presentation topics. You can also listen to George and Drew Smith’s “Genealogy Guys” podcast at

5 thoughts on “Using The Family Facts Database

  1. I was appalled when I read placed the origin of the name Castellaw as Italy. There is no “w” in any Latin language..Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian.
    This name is from Scotland and is formed by the Norman
    “castel” (castle) and Anglian “law” (hill), thus translating to “Castle Hill”. The word was first used in Scotland in about 1200. As a surname in this family, I’ve found surviving records in the Lowlands of Scotland back to 1504, and he was an adult.

  2. 1. The immigration information is virtually useless to me and can be misleading. All of my ancestral families that I can trace back to their arrival in North America (about half), arrived in the 1600s and 1700s. If you are a newcomer to genealogy, have a similar background and started here, you would be off on a wild goose chase.

    2. Although the American Surnames book is one of my favorites, this surname meanings section is severely limited and simplistic.

    For example, the surname “Ezell” is an old and accepted surname in Britain, and I have never seen one of their sources list it as “origin unknown” or as any form of the German “esel.”

    Another example, the name “Driggers”, which is fairly common in the American South. “Family Facts” listed its origin as “Origin unidentified. Possibly an Americanized form of German Draeger.” However, a quick look at the cenus shows that the first time even a Soundex version of “Draeger” shows up on the US Census is 1810 – a Dreager in Louisiana and another Draeger and two people surnamed Drager in Pennsylvania.

    Still using the Soundex of “Draeger”, the Driggers surname and its variations show up in reasonable numbers from the 1790 census onwards – mostly in the Carolinas and Georgia. Some variation of “Driggers” has been appearing in the colonial/US historical records since the middle 1600s.

    Based on this, I find it highly unlikley that “Driggers” is an Americanized version of “Draeger”. (Auf Deutsch – es it sehr unmoeglich.)

    In the Army, people say to take regulations as a “guide to action.” In genealogy, take compilations as a “guide to further reseach.”

  3. Being a new comer I like these letters and like to save them.

    However putting them in HTML makes it hard to get nice copy without trying to convert the html. I much favor something like Word Perefect.

    Paul Scally

  4. I would like to have a printer friendly version of this article, but none is provided. It would print all of the comments etc. which I don’t want. I had clicked on the printer friendly & comment line. HELP!

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