|The Dictionary of American Family Names is a classic|
The Dictionary of American Family Names, from Oxford University Press, is one of those must-have resources for serious genealogists.
Each entry gives a detailed origin of a family's surname, describing its various meanings, geographical origins, and the context in which it arose.
In fact, the venerable Genealogy Bulletin says "it belongs in every library in America , particularly those who cater to genealogists".
Too bad the danged thing cost hundreds of dollars for the three-volume hard copy set.
Happily though, you can get online access to DAFN absolutely free, using the Surname Lookups at Ancestry.com. You can also use the look-inside-the-book feature at Amazon to search on your name.
It pays to check both sources, as the presentations at Ancestry and Amazon are somewhat different. As far as I can tell, the lookups includes all 70,000+ surnames from DAFN. Even more, you can also look up the etymology of first names...still at no charge. A pretty good deal!
And if that's not enough, you can download an old (circa 1950s) version of the book from FamilySearch, absolutely free.
Don't forget to also check for your family history at NewspaperArchive and Newspapers.com. These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots. And visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.