Monday, March 4, 2013

Gerner, Garner, Gardner:  Surname Variations or Not?

Can it be?  Can names vary so widely that the same individual would be identified by the surnames of Gerner, Garner, and Gardner?  I would not have thought so but after some census searching, I'm beginning to wonder.

I finished searching all the FamilySearch Pennsylvania probate records with "G" surnames that are available online and did not find Christian Gerner in any of them.  Where else to search? I can't give up so easily.

I decided to search census records on Heritage Quest (HQ), a resource that is available for home use from my local public library.   I like HQ for some kinds of searches.   It doesn't search name variations but that can be done on FamilySearch or Ancestry.  However, Heritage Quest does allow me to search by first name only if I choose.  I can request a wide search through all census years and all states, or I can narrow the search to a specific year or a specific state.  If I ask for a state search, the results are broken down by county and when I click on one of the counties, the list is broken down to individual names with the township where each lived.  A first name search works well if the given name is not as common as John or William.

In the image to the right you can see the results of my search on "Christian" in 1860 in Butler County, Pennsylvania.  (You can enlarge the image by clicking on it.)  Look way down to the second name from the bottom and you'll see "Christian Gardner."  The Christian in this census was 40, was born in Prussia, and lived in Fairview Township.  The age and residence correspond with the information I have from a death notice about Christian Gerner.  Could they be the same man?

In the 1880 census I found Christian Garner, 20 years older, living in the same location.  Hmmm.

I looked at the 1860 census results to see if any of the family names were the same and if so, if the ages corresponded to those in the 1880 census.

I've listed the results of three census years in chronological order.

This is what I found in 1860 for Christian Gardner:
Christian, 40, born Prussia
Elizabeth, 37, born Prussia
Emma, 13, born Prussia
Frederick, 11, born Prussia
Isabell, 9, born Prussia
Charles, 7, born Pennsylvania
Christena, 6, born Pennsylvania
John, 4, born Pennsylvania

I next searched for "Gardner" in the 1870 census and found this:
Christopher, 50, born Prussia
Elisabeth, 45, born Prussia
Frederick, 21, born Prussia
Elisabeth, 19, born Prussia
Charles, 17, born Prussia
Christopher, 16, born Pennsylvania
John, 14, born Pennsylvania

This is what I found in 1880 for Christian Garner:
Christian, 60, farmer, born Prussia
Elizabeth, 56, wife, born Prussia
Charles, 27, son, born Prussia
Lizzie, 29, daughter, born Prussia
Christian, 25, son, born Pennsylvania
John, 23, son, born Pennsylvania

I see that the names and ages of some family members correspond through the years.  But is Christian Garner the same man as Christian Gardner and Christopher Gardner?

Because a township is a fairly large geographic location, I thought it would be helpful to know if this Christian/Christopher's neighbors were the same/similar from census to census.  I thought knowing that would help me know whether the surnames were name variations for the same man or if they were different men.  I'll share the results of that search in another post.

Oh, that elusive Christian!  And I still don't know for sure that he's mine!


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