Thursday, November 1, 2007

Naming Traditions

Over the past few years, I've traced the lineages of several of our sons-in-law. My own research long ago passed the stage of 'easy pickings' or in other words, 'easily' found records about my ancestors who lived well documented lives in the same location for generations. Like many of my readers, my current research is focused on my 'brick wall' lines where progress is measured in gaining the hint of a name or location, not in 'easy pickings'.

Working on the lineage of our sons-in-law has allowed me to again enjoy the harvest of 'easy pickings'. I've always been fascinated by family naming traditions and sure enough, the traditions were easy to spot in their lineages.

At times, I've wondered aloud why people living 150 or more years ago didn't use a wider variety of first names for their children. How could they keep all the Elizabeth's, John's, Mary's and George's straight at family gatherings? It seems like almost every family had a very small name pool to shop from. Fortunately for me, I only have a couple of instances of Smith ancestors and one Bennett line. Others of you have been 'blessed' to descend from the wonderful but hard to research, Brown, Jones and Anderson families as well as many other families with common surnames.

Research life isn't as good for someone looking for John Brown or Mary Anderson as it is for someone looking for Americus Dayton Zabriskie. There aren't many folks named Americus Dayton Zabriskie, but John Brown and Mary Anderson share their name with Legions of other people.

In my own lineage, the name David threads through almost every generation. My 2nd great grandfather was the fourth David in a row and the name can be found in almost all of the families of his descendants.

Since we all encounter ancestors with common names, how can we leverage that information to help us find additional lineage? Years ago, I was given a handout in a class that covers the naming conventions found in most western families. I have found it to be extremely useful in my own research when I'm knocking down those 'brick walls'. Hopefully, it will help you too.

"Children were often given the names of grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts. Knowing this can help identify potential parental lines. A first son, for example, might be named after his father's father; the first daughter after her mother's mother; the second son after his mother's father and so on. Subsequent children would probably bear the names uncles and aunts as follows:

1st son = father's father
2nd son = mother's father
3rd son = father
4th son = father's oldest brother
5th son = father's
2nd oldest brother or mother's oldest brother
1st dau = mother's mother
2nd dau = father's mother
3rd dau = mother
4th dau = mother's oldest sister
5th dau = mother's 2nd oldest sister or father's oldest sister

Inheritance factors (such as a rich uncle) could break the pattern. In addition it is not uncommon to find more than one child of a couple with the same given names. This normally occurred when the one of the children died and a subsequent child was given the same name. In the 19th Century in the United States, boys were often given first names like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin in honor of the Founding Fathers."