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Resources for researching your ancestors and your family history


All names have meanings, and every person and place has a name. In researching our family history, we may come across a name for a person or a place that we want to learn more about. This section will provide an overview of just some of the books and online resources available for researching the names of people and places.

Personal Names

Personal names are important in family history research, because they are one of the most important ways we can identify our ancestors. Knowing what a name means can give researchers a sense of where the family came from and what may have been important to them.

To find books and other resources about personal names from a particular language, place, or religion, try doing a subject search in the BPL’s online catalog using the following format (quotes included): “Names, Personal -- [language, place, or religion]”.

For example:
"Names, Personal -- Chinese"
“Names, Personal -- Great Britain”
“Names, Personal -- Jewish"

Sometimes, searching for a language instead of a place, i.e. Russian instead of Russia, will yield better results. Searching for both the language and place may also turn up more results.

Geographical Names

Geographical names are another important thing to keep track of in family history research. Knowing the meaning behind a geographical name and where it came from can provide important information about the history of a particular place.

To find books and other resources about geographical names from a particular location, culture, or language you can try doing a subject search in the BPL’s online catalog using the following format (quotes included): “Names, Geographical -- [location or language]”.

For example:
"Names, Geographical -- Boston"
"Names, Geographical -- England"

"Names, Geographical -- French"
"Names, Geographical -- Maine"

If this method doesn't work, you can also try doing a keyword search using combinations of "place names", "geographical names", and the location or language you are researching.