Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Swapping Names - First, Middle, Nick

Did people in the past swap their names on a whim?  "This year I'm Nona but a few years ago I was Winona.  My middle name was Elva but now it's Alva.  My husband was Evert (or Everett depending on how he felt like spelling it) but now he's Reed."  (Yes, I know spelling variations abound in old records and some variations are the result of others writing the names, but the changes I see with these individuals are from real name to nickname, from first name to middle name.)  All the name changing that people did a hundred or more years ago wouldn't work now -- at least I don't think so.  Our names make us legal these days.  They appear on a birth certificate, marriage certificate, social security card, and driver's license.  If the names don't match, we might be someone else.  But a hundred years ago it wasn't so. 

I'm still searching for Alfonzo F. Gerner's last wife, Nona Alva Gerner.  

Nona's obituary appeared in the July 31, 1950, Butler Eagle and lists these individuals as relatives:
  • daughter Mrs. Aldean Stoops of Petrolia, R. D.
  • daughter Mrs. Ethel Serafine of New Kensington
  • daughter Mrs. Irene Daugherty of Apollo
  • daughter Mrs. Dorothy Jordan of Bruin
  • daughter Mrs. Winifred Daugherty of Apollo
  • son Arthur Covert of Butler
  • son Delbert Covert of Butler
  • sister Mrs. Mabel Miller of Pittsburgh
  • sister Mrs. Velie Creighton of Cleveland, Ohio
  • brother, Harry Mendenhall of Cleveland, Ohio

From that information I surmised that Nona may have been married before to a man whose last name was Covert (based on the names of her sons) and that her maiden name may have been Mendenhall (based on her brother's surname). 

I thought FamilySearch might find Pennsylvania marriage records for any of the daughters if I used a first and maiden name (I tried Covert) in the names fields, then added a married surname in the box for spouse's name.  I did not ask specifically to search Pennsylvania marriage records.

Keep in mind that my real goal is to find marriage information for Nona Alva (possibly Mendenhall Covert) and Alfonzo F. Gerner.

The first daughter I searched for was Aldean Covert + spouse's surname Stoops.  The search engine ignored Stoops and turned up Aldine Covert in the 1910 U.S. Census.  Her parents' names were recorded as Reed E. Covert and Winona Covert.  Her siblings included Ethel M., Stella I., Dortha L., Mildred A., and William A.

Hmmm.  Aldine seems like a spelling variation of Aldean.  Is Nona a nickname for Winona?  The only other name on this census record that corresponds exactly to the names in Nona's obituary is Ethel, but Dortha and Dorothy are close.

The next search was for Ethel (Covert) Serafine.  The results were also for the 1910 census.  The search for Irene (Covert) Daugherty and Dorothy (Covert) Jordan yielded no helpful results.

But when I searched for Winifred (Covert) Daugherty, I found this in the 1920 U.S. Census:

Winifred Coovert with parents Evert R. Coovert and Elva Coovert and siblings Irene, Dorothy, Arthur, and Delbert Coovert.

Could Evert R. Coovert be the Reed Covert who appeared in the 1910 census?  Could Elva Coovert be Winona Covert from the 1910 census?  Keep in mind that in Nona's obituary her name was recorded as Nona Alva.  Elva could be spelling variation for Alva.  Others in the family group are the same names as listed in Nona's obituary.

My last search (for now) turned up the following marriage results:

Elva W. Mendenhall, born 1878, and spouse Evert R. Covert, intention to marry on March 21, 1895.  Unfortunately, the record with an image shows an application for a license to marry, a marriage license, and parent's consent for an underage child to marry, but not a duplicate marriage certificate. The other record shows no image but indicates that it records a marriage.

My next steps will be to search marriage records for Nona Alva Mendenhall Covert and Alfonzo Gerner; a death record and/or burial information for Hattie Slagle Gerner; and a death record for Evert/Reed Covert.  Then I'll have to work on Alfonzo's possible wife Geta/Meta from his WWI draft registration card.

And I thought it would take a few minutes to add a child to FamilyTree and a few more minutes to add sources.  So much for speedy family history!  Names -- first, middle, nick -- can be such challenges sometimes.  (Of course those aren't the only challenges with Nona and Alfonzo.)


Copyright © 2009-2015 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.


  1. There seem to have been periods where it was fashionable for people to use their middle names. In my Coleman family, one census had them listed as Mary A., Samuel J., William E. and Thomas H. Ten years later, they were Addie M., Jones S., Edgar W. and Hartwell T.! At least it gave me their middle names, which I wouldn't otherwise have found.

    1. Hi, Linda. I've noticed that in the early 1900s people seemed to change their names around. Maybe because I'm more familiar with my own direct-line ancestors and their children it's easier. I've grown to know them as I progress backward. I feel like I'm jumping into this family in the middle, so to speak. But you're right, I wouldn't have the middle names if they hadn't changed them through the years.

      Thanks for visiting, reading, and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

  2. My great-grandfather, Watson Emory Webster, changed his first name to a totally different name for some reason. Sometime during his life, he decided to go by Frederick Emory Webster.

    1. Doesn't that just seem so strange, Jana? At least he kept two names the same and changed only his first. But for at least one of my ancestors, I wonder if he changed all of his names simply because I can find no evidence of him coming to America or of his parents living in Germany. Sometimes our ancestors challenge us.

  3. I have several people in my line who flip-flopped between first and middle names in the census. And I think you can safely assume you found your answer about the Covert name.

    The last time we bought a house, I was shocked to read my list of aliases. Every form my name has appeared in has become an ALIAS - even some mindless misspelling on a bill. Our names may be legal, but we're still going to be somebody's headache in the future when they try to find us in old records.

    1. Hi, Wendy. It's happened in my direct line ancestors and their children, too, that flip-flopping of names. I agree, I think I've found Nona and her first husband, but the there's a surprise in the next post about Nona and Alfonzo.

      And those aliases. I sometimes need to search online to find individuals who have become "lost" and I'm always surprised to see a list of a dozen aliases. I hope not to be a headache to someone in the future because I'm recording everything now, but of course, if everything I record now gets lost -- good luck to my descendants!


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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