Monday, November 18, 2013

What's In A Name?

What's in a name?

Shakespeare's famous quote tells us that names can be many things. For those of us genealogy types, a name is pretty much everything. It is the link by which we discover and track our family, generation after generation. But sometimes, those names aren't so rose-like and sweet.

One of my usual databases to keep tabs on is Google Books. I enter many of my "main names" and brick walls every once in a while to see if there are more appearances in the digitized books. I use all the usual search tricks: last name only, within quotes, with a location or collateral name. Most of the time, I see the usual suspects. And that's the problem: it's the usual suspects.

Part of the reason I have difficulty, and then frustration, finding names is simply the names themselves. I haven't blogged very frequently about my pre-Revolution families, mostly because I haven't had the time and means to search in depth. I can find them on censuses and plat maps and sometimes old county histories. But darn, if their names don't hang me up! Here are some of them:

My big brick wall is Asa Spencer. So far so good. He'd be easy enough to find, if he weren't an alien, dropped into 1810's Vermont.

Asa had a son, and probably a brother, called Waterman Spencer. There are way more results for "Spencer Waterman" than there are for Waterman Spencer.

Asa's second son is my ancestor Wright Spencer. Way more results for "Spencer Wright," right? Right.

There is another Vermont Wright Spencer - not mine - who had a son Demon Spencer. What would possess one to use that name? Never mind.

My Wright Spencer had a son called Washington Spencer. Imagine all the results having "Washington" in a search. The head spins. He was actually Washington Irving Spencer, like the author. Sigh.

Wright Spencer's grandson, my great-grandfather Edward, married into the Frederick family. Try searching for William Frederick and his father Richard Frederick. The databases love to give me "Frederick Williams" and "Frederick Richards."

I have a William Thomas with a son George. You can do the flipping.

Then there's Jacob Countryman. Who knew how popular "countryman" is as an adjective? Me!

I won't even start with the 12 - yes, 12! - tree members called Thomas Allen. Every family for three generations in my tree had a Thomas Allen.

C'mon ancestors! 

I'm sure you named children after a wife's family or a revered ancestor or a geographic location. But didn't you know that 200 years later I wouldn't be able to find you!

I'm just thankful for not having many Smiths.

Have any fun/frustrating names? Or good search tips? Or a connection? Let me know!

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© 2013 Sally Knudsen