If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll notice that on my Surname Saturday posts I generally have the surname meaning and history at the top of each one. Many of these I've been able to find using Ancestry.com's Surname Meanings and History in the Learning Center. You don't have to have a subscription to Ancestry to use this fun feature.
First of all, enter your surname, or your ancestor's surname, into the search engine and click on the Search button. You will generally be given the meaning and origin of your surname, courtesy of the Dictionary of American Family Names. So far, I've been able to find the meanings of most of my surnames, even some o the more unusual Frisian surnames, such as Tuinstra.
Under this section, you can view the name distribution of your surname in the United States, England and Wales, and Scotland, based on census statistics in those countries. You can change the census years to see how the name became more or less distributed over time.
Further down the page, you can view family origin by country (based on U.S. immigration records); immigration information showing statistics and years of immigration; average life expectancy of those with this surname (based on Social Security Death Index data); family occupations and military service (from census records); and links to corresponding message boards.
Keep in mind that this data is highly "U.S.-centric" and all of it appears to be from records held on Ancestry, so there is definitely room for error. Nevertheless, it is a nice way to learn some basic facts about a surname.
Take some time exploring this free feature from Ancestry. What do you think?