Monday, March 25, 2024

When an Ancestor Changed Their Identity


Grandfather comforting granddaughter
Grandfather Comforting Granddaughter

Kris Williams of Ghost Hunters fame releases a genealogy video about every month in partnership with  Like many of you, I was introduced to Kris on the SyFy Channel as part of a Ghost Hunter team in their quest to either find or disprove the existence of spirits.

While Kris is a beautiful woman, her attraction to me was when I heard her say she has been interested in genealogy for many years.  I love hearing those words from young folks.

In her 26 March 2012 video, “Genealogy Graveyard Hunting”, Kris talked about searching for the tombstones of her ancestors in a cemetery in New Hampshire.  While she didn’t mention the name of her Ancestor in the video the camera focused on the tombstone of James P. Osgood twice.  I assumed that he is indeed Kris’ ancestor and after a quick check on Ancestry, I found that to be the case.

The story she told caught my attention in two ways.  She distinctly heard the steps of an unseen person throughout the search for the tombstones of her ancestors.  Her boyfriend heard them as well from his location on the other side of the cemetery.

I have heard footsteps, felt touches, and heard words from unseen sources in my forays in cemeteries while searching for my ancestors in the United States.  Without exception, stopping and paying attention to them has resulted in finding the very tombstone(s) that I hoped to find but had all but written off as not being in the cemetery under my feet.

By coincidence, a number of those experiences were also in New Hampshire while I was on genealogy ‘vacations’ with big research agendas and limited time on-site.

Most of these trips would have ended with total or substantial failure had the tombstones not been found.  They were the last clue available to me in the particular ancestral quest.

The second item that caught my attention was the name of her ancestor, James P. Osgood.  I was working on the extended family of my Burgess line in the weeks previous to Kris’ video.  James P. Osgood’s name had been among the names I had added to my database with one significant difference:  James P. Osgood was the Also Known As (AKA) name for Robert Luce Robbins in my research.

Could my Robert Luce Robins, AKA, James P. Osgood be the same person as the man in Kris’ story?  It only took a few minutes of searching to find another confirmation of that fact.

The memorial for James P. Osgood on Find-a-Grave tells his story.  Robert Luce Robbins left Maine with my cousin Mary Belinda (Luce) Spalding and her child along with two sons from his first (current) marriage.   They eventually settled in Southern New Hampshire, where he was known as James P. Osgood.

You and I can imagine any number of reasons why he changed his name and one of us may be right but I haven’t found the truth of the story yet, or at least the truth in a well-documented record.

It doesn’t matter that much to me. He was the second spouse of my 5th cousin 4 times removed, Mary Belinda Luce Spaulding.  It isn’t a close relationship.

His name change does matter to his descendants, like Kris Williams.  How were they supposed to find him when he started life with a different name than the name known to his descendants as witnessed on his tombstone?

I have been fortunate in my ancestral quest to not encounter direct ancestors who changed their name like Robert Luce Robbins/James P. Osgood.   Or, have I encountered them and not realized it when I hit my own ancestral ‘brick walls’?  Probably not, but who knows?  I do have a few Black Sheep ancestors, (thank heaven in their case or I never would have found them without their law-breaking records) and a few others that seemed timid about broadcasting their existence to anyone else.

What are the stories about your name-changing ancestors?  How did you find them?  What was the process that you used?  How long did it take?  Did you also hear footsteps or enjoy some other genealogy serendipity in resolving the puzzle?

If the stories I’ve heard from others about their name-changing ancestors can be considered the ‘norm’ they yes, you did enjoy similar nudges and shoves serendipitously.

Here is to learning to listen and then acting on the prompts that we receive in our ancestral quest

© Lee Drew 25 March 2024