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Wilthew distribution

October 8, 2011

The third edition of the GOONS handbook recently dropped through the door, and I took it as a chance to take a step back from my study and (i) to have a look at some sources I hadn’t yet got round to or considered and (ii) to pull together some of the sprawling sets of info/data I’ve recently collected from archives / online / correspondence with people in the UK / Mexico / New Zealand and elsewhere.

A couple of sites I hadn’t looked at before can help provide some idea of the distribution of a surname, either across a single country (eg the United States) or across a range of countries worldwide. They are obviously limited to where data is available from, and some concentrate on a limited number of the ‘most popular’ surnames, but they can be useful in helping you to identify where you might start to focus any searches for primary genealogical sources.

World Family Names Profiler is a useful site which allows you to search on a surname across data from 26 different countries worldwide (mostly in Europe and North America, but also in Oceana and Asia). It will then display the results in a colour coded map format, split down to country level and then region/state level so you can see where your surname is mostly commonly found according to the available data.

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, Europe

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, Europe map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

The database has been put together by researchers at the UCL and University of Liverpool, and data has been included for over 300 million people from 26 countries (which together have a total population of 1 billion, so whilst not able to provide a complete picture of surname distribution, it does give you a broad overview which is very useful). The database has identified 8 million unique surnames, far in excess of other comparable sites. Data has been collected from publicly available telephone directories or national electoral registers, sourced for the period 2000-2005.  Its sister-site, GB Family Names Profiler (which unfortunately was unavailable for searching) lists its sources of UK data as including data from Experian (who amongst other services collect credit-rating data) and data collected by the ESRC from the 1881 UK census.

The Map returned for distribution of the family name ‘Wilthew’ in Europe [above] shows a distribution which largely matches what I have found in the GRO indexes, parish registers and other sources. The majority of Wilthew’s still reside in the north east of England (mostly around Newcastle, Sunderland and County Durham), with a few families in south eastern and the south west of England, Yorkshire and Scotland.

The map is also returned with a summary of data, highlighting countries, regions and cities where the most results have been returned from. You can also zoom in the map further to look at specific regions (counties in the UK and US). Hovering over a county will highlight its name, especially useful in densely populated areas such as London.

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, UK map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, UK map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

I already know from the data I have collected from written genealogical sources that Wilthew’s spread out to the US, Australia, New Zealand and Venezuela in the 19th century. I can link each of these emigrations back to the north-east England branches of the Wilthew’s, except the Venezuelan Wilthew’s which am sure (and even more so now, after some very helpful information provided by Hugo Wilthew in Mexico City) can be traced to the London branch of the Wilthew’s from the early 19th century.

There aren’t many Wilthew’s in Australia/New Zealand, and certainly this site hasn’t picked up any data from these countries on this family name. It also doesn’t include any data from Mexico or Venezuela, where Wilthew’s can also be found. But the United States is covered, highlighting the distribution across the country as a whole…

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, US map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, US map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

… and also at County level for each state…

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, US regional map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

World Family Names Profiler: Wilthew, US regional map: Screenshot permitted courtesy of World Names Mapper, Saturday, 8 October 2011,

This certainly seems to match the data I have already collected, but also (when I get to that stage) will help greatly in focussing where I might want to focus research overseas if I need to travel myself, or engage the services of a professional researcher on the ground.

One interesting point to note, and this could indicate issues for all such sites in how they define what is meant by a ‘family name’, is that there doesn’t appear to have been any data on any Wilthew’s in the states of Florida or California. However, I know from contact with Hugo Wilthew in Mexico, that there certainly are some Wilthew’s of Mexican/Venezuelan descent in Florida. It is  interesting to note that Hugo’s full name follows the Mexican (or Hispanic?) tradition of including two family names – your father’s family name, followed by your mother’s maiden name. So, for example, an Alfredo Enrique Wilthew Porras would consider himself a Wilthew following Mexican traditions (and of course, he is a Wilthew – and on US official documentation might lis his name as ‘Alfredo Enrique Wilthew’). However, data collected from sources in the United States (or the UK) might list his family name as being ‘Porras’, thus incorrectly omitting him from the collected results for that surname. This is conjecture for the reasons that Wilthew’s ain Florida etc have not shown up – it could equally be that for these States sources of data were less readily available in general, but is a point worth noting.

That said, this site provides a really useful overview, with links to related data on the cultural ethnic and linguistic origin of surnames at the UCL’s Onomap, and also provides information on commonly appearing forenames which might be associated with that family name.

The MapYourName site unfortunately did not return any results for ‘Wilthew’. It does collect data from a similar number of ‘individuals’, for the United States, Australia and most of Western Europe, from sources including electoral registers, tax files, telephone directories and commercial databases. However, it only ‘maps’ the most common 60,000 family names identified -which certainly doesn’t include that which i am interested in!

With slightly more success, the GENS-US site did identify and map the distribution of the Wilthew name in the United States.

Wilthew distribution in the United States according to Gens-us.net

Wilthew distribution in the United States according to Gens-us.net

It is interesting to see that this closely matches the information returned by World Family Names Profiler, but does include some additional pointers to the states of Florida and New York.

The Gens Project was initiated in Italy by:

“a team of graduates in Humanities at the University of Genoa – Italy, who have specialized in history, demography, statistics, archive-keeping and librarianship” 

… unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any information on the site about where they collected their data from, how it was organised or what limits might have been used in identifying surnames.

Overall, these sites can be really useful for providing you with a rough overview of the geographic distribution of any name (with varying results). this can help you identify where your research might take you, confirm patterns identified in other genealogical sources and also help to decide where you could/should focus your research in the future.

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