Ancestors' Given Names

If you have gotten even a little into your family tree research, one of the more interesting aspects is ancestors’ given names. There can be good and bad points in such research.

If the ancestor had an unusual first and or middle name it can help narrow down your search. But not always. I had an ancestor with my husband’s family I searched and wasn’t getting anywhere, yet the name was ‘William Henry Harrison Smith’. You would think with those names, even a surname of Smith, and knowing the time frame, it would be easy. Wrong, as it turned out, there were many baby boys of Smith families who named their baby ‘William Henry Harrison’ after the US President of that era who died April 1841 while in office.

Many given names traditionally were handed down; grandfather to father to son. This also went for the female side.

The traditionally given names generally run as popular during certain time periods. In the 1700s and early 1800s, for females, the popular given names were: Mary, Jane, Elizabeth, Sarah, Anna and Emily. Not to say there were not some unusual female given names such as: Malvina, Fidelia, Missouri, Permilia, Keziah, Charity, Verena, Tempy, or Appolonia.

Then you have ancestors with given names that appear to be surnames, so that can be mixed up at the time. If the given name was from a family surname, sometimes records reverse and list that given name as a surname, not it is very confusing. Example: the given name was ‘Musselman’-a family surname but the real surname for the ancestor was ‘William’ – the names get reversed.

So to help you need to check all various combinations. Also, switch first and given names around. Some ancestors preferred their middle name to use rather than the first name.

If you have an ancestor using just initials and no name written out, yes that can be hard. Check as many records and documents as possible, usually, there is at least one with the full names given. Examples would be city directories, military records, death certificates (not obits), Wills and land deeds.

Using just given names, especially those not as popular, more unusual instead of a surname can help in locating the right ancestor. I have found it a successful method many times.

Photos: Baby Names, Names for girls; and popular male-female given names in 1914.

Related Blogs:

Unusual Given Names

Getting Names Correct

Middle Names

< Return To Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.