Naming Patterns May Hold a Clue
Twigs and Trees, July 13, 2000
As genealogists, we always need to use every tool and trick to keep pushing further and further back. In the past we have looked at the origins of some surnames. However, given names can also hold clues to your research as well. And, while not a given name, patronymics give you a little information about the next generation back.
Sometimes we concentrate too much on researching surnames. We become obsessed with understanding the origin of the surname as though that will magically give us all the generations on that line that we are looking for.
Given names can also help you in making those connections through the generations.
Keep All Names in Mind
It is important to search for records that might include a middle name. Marriage records and birth and death records will often have the full name of a given ancestor, but might not have the names of the parents, or the maiden name of a mother. In many instances, I have found where a child's middle name was the maiden surname of the mother. This was especially true in the New England states of the United States.
When researching an English immigrant, who left England as Edward NEWTH and arrived in Pennsylvania as George MORRIS, it was with interest that we discovered he had given each of his four sons the middle name of NEWTH. While my mother and aunt were not given middle names, my uncle was named David Bailey AYER. His middle name, Bailey, was the maiden surname for my grandmother.
An Order to the Names
When I discovered myself researching Scottish lines, I learned that they have a naming pattern for the children:
- 1st son - named for the father's father
- 2nd son - named for the mother's father
- 3rd son - named for the father himself
- 1st daughter - named for the mother's mother
2nd daughter - named for the father's mother
3rd daugher - named for the mother herself
When locating the children in a familial unit, through a census for instance, you will often learn the birth order of the children and then can begin to search for certain names. While this may not always be the case, it is a valuable clue for you to begin searching for others that may be connected to the family.
As your research progresses you may discover other naming patterns unique to a family line or ethnic region. Always keep these in mind as you progress. Such patterns usually were consistent for a number of generations and can be the turning point for you on a brick wall.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.