Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Common, Uncommon. Too Many, Too Few.

While searching online tonight I've been thinking about the names of some of my ancestors and about my efforts to find them in time and place.

I have some ancestors who have really common names: John Thompson, Emma Nelson, Rebecca Smith, Robert Laws.... You don't find just one or two, you find hundreds. Too many when you just need the one. But the challenge is, of course, to find the right one in the right place, whose age and spouse and children are the right ones. It's too bad the parents of these children didn't think about giving them unusual first names. I think it would be so much easier to find Ebenezer Thompson, Clotilda Nelson, Portia Smith, or Wenceslas Laws....

I have another group of ancestors whose names have pronunciation and spelling variations: Bell or Beall; Bartley or Barclay; Bickerstaff or Biggerstaff - and probably other variations as well. With this group it helps that most of the variations are on the same page if I'm searching an index of transcriptions. And I thank their parents for the less common first names.

Another group of ancestors has surnames that are less common: Fred Gerner, Henry Meinzen, John Froman. With this group I find that the alternate spellings are broad and varied. Gerner appears as Griner, Garner, Gurner, etc. Meinzen can be found as Minsen, Minzin, Mincin, and so forth. And Froman is spelled Fromman, Fromann, Frohman, and Frohmann. Thank goodness for the wonderful inventions of the soundex code and computer searches which automatically pull up many of the variations. Still, the ancestors in this group don't just magically appear. In fact, with this group - these three in particular - it seems that their trails end with them. I know they have parents. I just don't know - yet! - who and where they were.

My last group of ancestors combines a common and an uncommon name: Abel Armitage; Dixon Bartley; Augustine Bickerstaff. Unusual first name, not too common last name. Perhaps one would think that this would be the easiest group to find. But it just isn't so. Sometimes I can search on the first name only if I know the location where the ancestor last was and should probably be a few years later, but that doesn't always produce the records of the ancestor in question. These are the individuals for whom too few records appear.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I love my ancestors' names just as they are. And I enjoy the search. My aging brain appreciates the workout it gets putting two and two together to determine spouses and children - families. My brain likes the challenge of trying to think of the next place to search. Heck, what fun would genealogy and family history be if all the names and dates of my ancestors were handed to me with no effort on my part? And really, with only about 4 years of searching, I've been able to find my grandparents and their families - siblings and children. I've discovered who all of my great-grandparents are and found many of their siblings and children. I know the names of 10 of my great-great-grandparents and some of their siblings. And I've found 12 of my g-g-g-grandparents and information about some of their family members. That's a lot of people to find in just over 4 years.

Common or uncommon; too many or too few. I'll eventually find them all.

What about you? Do you have search challenges because of the names of your ancestors?


  1. The names stand out. In my case a name like Schlaphof [f] means that any you find is probably linked to that one tree. Unique is wonderful in that way. Not so easy when it wasn't spelled right.
    Occupation names are the worst to find. Meyer, mueller Miller, etc with various spelling.

  2. For me, it's the Sigford, which has come down as Sigfrit, Siegfrit, Siegford, Siegfried --- sometimes in the same generation, sometimes generation by generation --- no real rhyme or reason.

    And each family is very proprietary about their Correct Spelling ---Aghhhh.

  3. I've also noticed how the difficulty balances out for uncommon vs. common names: common names mostly spelled right, but too many people have the same name; uncommon names are far more likely to be misspelled to the point that not even Soundex helps. On my side it's Smith and Moore; on my husband's side it's Terrana and Fichtelmann. Oh, well. You're right - searching wouldn't be nearly as much fun if it weren't a challenge.

  4. Nancy, you're a terrific writer. You make every topic interesting!


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