Overview of the
RootsWeb Surname List (RSL)

RSL Tree column


What is the RSL?
How to Search the RSL
How to Submit Data for Inclusion in the RSL

If you prefer to learn about things by doing instead of simply reading about them, and if you have access to the web, you might want to mosey over to http://rsl.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/rslsql.cgi and poke around...


The RootsWeb Surname List (RSL) is a list or registry of surnames (at the time I write this, there are more than 977,000 surnames that have been submitted by more than 194,000 genealogists, with additional names arriving at the rate of more 700 a day). Associated with each surname are dates and locations, and information about how to contact the person who submitted the surname. If you are researching a family with the same surname, in the same area and similar time frame, then you might find it useful to contact the person who submitted the surname to share and compare notes. Do be realistic: If you're researching Woodbury in Alabama in the 1800s, a person with info on the Woodbury family of England in the 1600s isn't likely to be of much help. I mention this because some submitters have withdrawn their data from the RSL due to the flood of e-mail they've received, much of it as off target as the example I just gave.

What does it cost? There is no charge to participate.

If you'd like to have your surnames included in the RSL, there is a submission form on the web at http://rsl.rootsweb.com/cgi-bin/rslsql.cgi   If you do not have access to the Internet, directions are included in Section III

If you see a surname listed that interests you, especially if there is a good match on dates and locations, contact the person who submitted the surname. If you're accessing the RSL via the interactive search on the web, all you need to do to learn how to contact the submitter is to select their nametag, listed at the end of each surname entry. Otherwise, you'll need to order the individual address from the mailserver, as described in Section II. All the addresses listed are fairly current (verified within the last twelve months) and the best we currently have on file. There's no need to contact us about a bad address; if the submitter doesn't resurface with a valid address before the annual verification process, their data will be dropped from the list.

New surnames are posted to other resources than the Internet. They are posted to rsl-update (an Internet genealogy mailing list -- to subscribe, just send the message "subscribe" (without the quotation marks) to rsl-update-request@rootsweb.com) and to soc.genealogy.surnames.global (the USENET genealogy newsgroup devoted to surnames) and alt.genealogy (a general purpose genealogy newsgroup). The first day, the new A surnames are posted, the second day the new B surnames, etc. (The full RSL is simply too large to be posted in such a manner.) The databases accessible via e-mail are typically updated a few days later.

Section II describes how to check the RSL for your surnames of interest. Section III explains how to submit your data for inclusion.


If you have access to the World Wide Web via NetScape, Mosaic, Lynx, or most other web browsers, visit the URL:

and you can query the RSL for individual surnames, click on the submitter's nametag to be shown the submitter's contact information, etc.



There are two ways to do this. One is simply to use the form on the web at It will guide you through the process and get the niggling details right, and you can skip the remainder of this document. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way, via e-mail, if you do not have access to the Internet. In which case, read on...

Please read this section carefully before submitting data. We receive a gazillion messages each month having to do with the RSL, and I and the other folk who prepare the data for inclusion in the RSL sometimes get cranky about the time wasted by obviously improperly formatted or otherwise inappropriate submissions. (You'll do fine as long as your submission looks a lot like the examples below.) And if the presentation below is too confusing, the one in the HelpDesk FAQ may suit better.


Send new entries and contact information to us at one of the addresses listed at the end of this note. See below for format information. Please follow these guidelines:


If you are submitting data for the first time, we need one or two lines of address information indicating how you can be contacted. The format is fairly flexible, but should include a short nametag (less than eight characters, all lower case) and at the very least your name and e-mail address. Most submitters also include their postal addresses, but that's not required. If the selected nametag has already been taken, we'll conjure up a new one. Feel free to suggest alternate nametags when you send in your data.


In the same message as the "How to Reach You" information, include one line of data for each surname you are submitting. What should the surname entries look like? Each entry should be on one line, and should consist of five parts. Entries that don't contain at least one date and location will not be added to the database. The five parts are:

  1. The name of the family, in mixed case (Smith not SMITH or smith).

  2. The earliest date for which you have information about the family. (For instance, the birthdate of the founder of the family, or the year he or she first showed up in the records.)

  3. The most recent date for which you have information about the family. (When the last person with that surname died or skipped town, for instance. Use "now" if you know people of this surname that are still around -- yourself, for example. It's up to you whether a woman is considered under her maiden surname, married surname, or both.)

  4. The migration of the family. For instance, if my ancestors started out in Virginia, moved to Kentucky, then on to Missouri, this would be VA>KY>MO,USA. If I still have room (remember, all fields should fit on one line -- the long Keithley entry in the example below is pushing the limit), then I add some county information to further distinguish the family: OrangeCo,VA>KY>GentryCo,MO,USA. A list of most of the most common abbreviations can be found at http://helpdesk.rootsweb.com/codes/ or just spell out the location in your submission, and the person who does the final data entry will put in the proper abbreviation, if any.

  5. The nametag of the submitter. This is so you can be found in the address list. See discussion above for how to select one.

The RootsWeb Surname Index is rather oddly computerized. There aren't any firm restrictions on the presentation of the data, but do try to use something like the format suggested above and illustrated below.

Here are a few sample entries (my own, funny thing):

 Bell         1780  1940 OrangeCo,VA>KY>GentryCo,MO,USA karen
 Carr - see Kerr (karen)
 Keithley    c1750  1923 DEU>PA?>MD>RowanCo,NC>BathCo,KY>FloydCo,IN,USA karen
 Keithley    c1750  1923 DEU>PA?>RowanCo,NC>KY>StCharlesCo,MO,USA karen
 Kerr         1760   now HuntingdonCo,PA>VenangoCo,PA>IA,USA karen
 Kicheli - see Keithley (karen)


Your surname(s) will continue to be listed in the full RSL (the one on the mailservers and web) for a year. At that time, you'll receive a form letter checking whether you can still be reached, and whether your data is still current. If you're still there, then your data remains in the RSL for another year, after which you receive another form letter, etc.


Where do you sent your data so it can be included in the RSL? If you do not have access to the Internet, you may e-mail it to rsl@rootsweb.com