A new website launched today that I can’t wait to have a look at, it’s Surname Profiler. I say can’t wait because the traffic is so heavy that you can’t get on it. What it will do when you can get on is give you a map of of the prevalence of any given surname across the country, comparing the 1881 with 1998.
You can read more about it at the Beeb, but what it does show is that despite what we think about increasing economic migration, the geographical spread of surnames is not dissimilar to what it was over a century ago — ie yes we know family who’ve gone off to uni and never came back or took jobs in other parts of the country, but the majority of us tend to stay put.
This bears out much of what I’ve found in my own research, that most economic migration took place before 1881. My family, for example, moved from Yorkshire to Cheshire in 1835, while Mrs P’s has lived in the area since the 1700s. (Her great great grandad took himself off to America in 1857 leaving a wife and child behind and married bigamously several times, but we don’t talk about him.)
The only later example I have is my mum’s Scots ancestors who moved south from Falkirk in the mid-1800s. Apart from that, the only person to travel any distance to this area was my ggg-grandmother who was from Kent, but that was because my ggg-grandad had gone there in the 1830s as a worker in a failed attempt to establish a hatting industry there and brought her back with him. After that everyone pretty well stayed put.
All of which tells you why you can’t get on the site because there are millions of us crashingly boring family historians around the globe all trying to get on at once, no doubt crashing it as we did with the 1901 census site in 2002. Still, patience is a virtue and I can wait.