Online genealogy services, such as ancestry.com and publicprofiler.org, can help locate the points of origin of many surnames for a fee. Publicprofiler.org hosts software that can help researchers classify given and family names into groups based on common cultural, ethnic and linguistic origins. Additionally, surnamedb.com provides a free database of surnames featuring a brief history of each name's origins.
Public records can be a valuable source of information. U.S. Census data compiles information on the nationality and points of origin of naturalized citizens and whether they spoke English.
One of the best places to begin researching the origins of a last name, also known as a surname, is to speak with any long-living family members. Research on the family's ancestry may have been carried out in the past, or by other branches of the family, and in general, older relatives are more likely to have knowledge on this. From this starting point, public records and online research tools can be put to use more effectively.