Are you continuing to hit a genealogical brick wall searching for an elusive ancestor? Here are 4 unique tips that may help!
One of the things I love about genealogy is the fascinating variety of names and the many forms that one particular name can take. One memorable name that I encountered recently was Cadwallader Slaughter, often shortened to Cad Slaughter. What a name! It’s a delicate science using names to determine the identity of one person, or distinguishing between many people. Here are the most significant things to remember about names in your genealogy research.
Tip #1: Pronunciation is More Important Than Spelling
Before the standardization of spelling in the twentieth century, people spelled names according to how they sounded. As long as a name was pronounced correctly, it often didn’t matter which letters were used to spell it. The less common a name was, the more likely it was spelled in a variety of ways. A name could be spelled one way at the beginning, and another way at the end of the very same document.
Naturally, the vowels are the most changeable parts of a name. I recently did a project on the Van Wormer family of Albany County, New York. Not only did I observe that the “Van” part was optional, but I also found the following spellings for Wormer: Wurmer, Wermer, Wirmer and Warmer. Another example was the Rhodus family of Madison County, Kentucky who also went by Rhodes, Rhodis, Roads, Rodas, Roders, and Rhoads. I’ve heard families say “My ancestors belonged to the branch of the family that spelled their name this way.” While that could be true, a researcher must keep an open mind and not be hasty to reject other spellings. Other factors such as who they associated with and where they lived should be considered in determining the identity of an ancestor.
Tip #2: Names Evolved From Their Old World Origins
The United States was populated with immigrants from other countries with their own name traditions. As they settled into their new life, they often modified their names, whether to blend in to their local culture or just to suit their personal wishes. For example, we had a hard time finding the parents of my ancestor Margaret Wire until we realized that they spelled their name “Quire.” This name had originally been “McGuire” when their ancestors had emigrated from Scotland. Again, paying more attention to the pronunciation of the name than the spelling helped us keep an open mind and recognize all of the possibilities.
Tip #3: Nicknames and Abbreviations Might Not Resemble Birth Names
A genealogist must be aware of common nicknames and abbreviations for common birth names in order to determine if they are dealing with the same person. Here are some related names that I often come across in my United States research:
- Mary, Polly, Molly, Maria, Marie, Mariah
- Anne, Hannah, Nancy, Annie, Ane, An
- Margaret, Peggy, Maggie, Meg, Marge, Marguerite, Daisy
- Elizabeth, Bettie, Betsy, Eliza, Lizzie, Beth
- Eleanor, Nellie, Ellen, Ellie
- Frances, Fannie, Veronica, Fran
- Jane, Jenny, Janet, Genevieve
- John, Jno., Johann, Ian, Jack, Ivan
- William, Wm., Bill, Liam, Will
- James, Jas.
- Henry, Heinrich
- Peter, Patrick
- Francis (male), Frank, Franz
- Robert, Robt., Bob
Tip #4: Multiple Computer Searches Are Necessary for Your Elusive Ancestor
In this day and age with our computer search capabilities, it is more important than ever to consider every possible way that a name could have been spelled. A Google search for “Rhodes Madison County Kentucky” would not yield the same results as “Rhodus Madison County Kentucky,” and valuable websites would be missed. Multiple searches with different spellings are critical to gather as much information as possible. One important note: the asterisk (*) is often used as a wildcard when one name ends in several different ways. For example, “Rho*” and “Rod*” were two search terms I used with the Rhodus family on certain websites. However, Google does not treat the asterisk in the same way. While it may be used in place of a word or an initial, such as “John * Smith” for a man who used different middle initials or names, Google does not recognize the asterisk as a replacement for letters within a name. (See our previous blog post on Google searching for more tips.)
So, what’s in a name? Merely the identity of your ancestors! Remember to keep an open mind, consider all of the possibilities, and enjoy the wonderful variety of names in your genealogical records.
As a professional genealogy research firm, our genealogists are experienced at providing expert research for your elusive ancestor. If you’re ready to make progress on your family history research contact us today to request a free quote.
james w turner says
When I try to print an article, the top of each following page is blanked out by your “contact us” logo! get rid of it!
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
Hi James. I’m glad to hear you’d like to print and save some of our blog articles, and apologize for the frustration you’ve experienced. One work around you can try is to highlight the text of the article you would like to print by clicking and dragging your mouse so all of the text is selected, then right click your mouse on the screen, select ‘Copy’ from the dropdown menu, and then open a Word document and paste the selected text into a word .doc for printing. Give this a try and see if it works for you, and if you have any questions, feel free to reach out.
Kathrine Finley Melton Heineck says
Would like to trace my very ancient Scot ancestors. Know back to Bp John Finley in Dumlaine Scotland 1300’s. Can you help? I said come come Kg Mac Beatha and Gronch lines but left no descendants I understand.
Amber - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
Hi Katherine, I will have a member of our Client Solutions team reach out to you to discuss your research goals. Someone will be in touch with you shortly. We look forward to assisting you!
Kamrun nahar says
It was a very good post indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Will surely come and visit this blog more often. Thanks for sharing.
Beth Harrison says
Thank you – be sure to subscribe to our blog to get each post delivered to your inbox!
I’d want to trace my ancestry back to Scotland. Back to Bp John Finley in Dumlaine, Scotland in the 1300s. Can you assist me? I stated come on Kg Mac Beatha and Gronch lines, but I assume there are no descendants.
Beth Harrison says
Hi Silvia, thank you for reaching out. This is something we can assist with. We want to make sure you have the best possible research experience, and that begins by matching you with the most appropriate research project for your goal. To get started, please complete this form to request a free quote, and a member of our Client Solutions Team will reach out to you.