Proximity and Progress: Surname Origins

There are always stories in how ancestors meet one another—how they come to be in the same place at the same time. Reading statistics doesn’t affect understanding unless proximity is explored.

Prior to the 19th century, most people married within their class and community. With messy record keeping, and perhaps messier data entry, there can be a lot of variations in the records. And, town names change. Taking a few minutes to decipher a spot on a map also lead to more research clues. Proximity can clear up the mystery of variations as well as express the migration or decisions people made. As villages clustered together, if they were from the same fief, i.e. ruled by the same royal family, then the edges of bordering communities are defined.

In preparing for my family reunion this summer, I have researched my Sebastian surname to origins in Baden, Germany. For the notebook gift to my family, this map illustration shows the oldest branches I discovered, and their locations. By drawing this map with only topology, it is easier to see various points in time. Mountains are hinted at by the patterns in the roads, the Rhine River and Lake Constance (Bodensee) are orienting features. The Black Forest is prominent, though a portion is shown. So far, I have only traced the surname through public databases, so the map will also be easy to update as I discover more data.

Sebastian Surname Origins MapThough the map took many days to draw, having it as a base can allow variations of style and content. Two ancestor families migrated from Switzerland around 1660, and it is not hard to imagine, based on the topology, the kind of journey it must have been.

All of these surnames (Sebastian, Heydt, Hammer, Trautwein, Christler, Jungbluth, Reichart, and Ritzmann) converge in Oberöwisheim, resulting in Jacob Sebastian who immigrated to Milwaukee in 1851.

This map is a great starting point for others to research further, as examining the histories of the various towns, considering the political changes, and exploring the related surnames can keep someone busy for days. —always inspired, Liane


If you like this map, please see others from my portfolio:

Immigration Map 1840-1860

Eras of Evolution in One Neighborhood

If you wish to discuss a commissioned map or illustration, please contact me:



Liane Sebastian wears an editor’s hat, designer’s coat, and artist’s shoes.