What’s in a name? A hell of a lot of data, it turns out.
Ever wonder where people with your last name end up? Forebears is a website started in 2012 that's dedicated to mapping out mentions of some 11 million surnames, and it'll allow you to further cull them from newspaper mentions, genealogical record sites, and a host of other historical sources from paid sources. It even lists the most popular surnames by country, highlight how many times the last name's occurred in countries, and list off various permutations and spellings of the last name that may have also appeared.
There's also information on what the last name means, in which country you'll find the highest concentration and incidences of people with that last name, and so on. In other words, this is a Wikipedia or a highly expanded Wolfram Alpha for last names.
The whole purpose of the website is to aggregate all the loose information that's located in multiple records sites into one index. And not all the loose information is the same big database of family records. Many of these sites ask you to pay to access detailed records, but when you're just looking for visualized data and quick statistics, there isn't much of anything outside of census reports.
The site even lists links to war records, burial registers, censuses, anything that can basically establish some sort of familial link. But the sheer volume of information it has isn't comprehensive.
For instance, Forebears' information on countries like Vietnam and Guinea, where certain surnames are hugely prevalent, is pretty much off. Searching for Vietnam on the site lists off sixteen other surnames that appear more frequently than Nguyen, even it's practically the most common surname in the country—40 percent of the population by some estimates.
If that doesn't really bother you, Forebears might just be the rabbit hole to peer down if you're wondering where everyone with your name ended up.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.