Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Rose by Any other Name…


Anyone researching the Pennington family or many other surnames will run into problems with names.  There is a lot of wonderful research out there by a lot of good genealogists…but they can’t help you unless you learn a bit about your ancestor.

Let’s say that someone wrote me and said that they are descended from Levi Pennington…in my database alone – I have twenty two Levi Penningtons, seven of those who married Eliza’s or Elizabeth, a few married Alice’s and Rachel and even an Amanda.  The earliest one in my database was born abt 1767 and the latest born in 1898.  My database only includes Group 7, 12, 30, 31, & 32 and usually only if they came out of Ashe County, North Carolina.  If I look further into the John French Master File – there are fifty Levi Penningtons.  So, if you happened to write me looking for information on Levi Pennington I would probably reply that you needed to be more specific.  What I mean by that is give me a year range, a location, name of wife if known or children if known…something more than just a name.   If it is a female it is even more important.  While I have twenty two Levi’s….I also have almost thirty Elizabeth Penningtons. 

Two other names that have caused problems mostly because of their spellings are Micajah and Benajah.  I have seen multiple spellings of each name.  I’ve seen Micajah as Mikager, Macajah, MCkaga and even listed as Mac because they weren’t real sure how to spell the name.  Benajah is mostly listed as Benagah – but then you get some well-meaning soul who thinks that it is supposed to be Benjamin – I have four Benajah’s in my database but also six different Benjamin’s.

No part of the name can really be discounted.  If you have the opportunity to get the middle name – make you make a note of it.  Sometimes middle names were not used in the earlier time periods, but in the 1800’s, they seem to be quite common.  That middle name is sometimes a clue as to what the mother’s ancestry might have been.  Note the siblings of your direct ancestors and who they married and their children…don’t be surprised if you find a marriage between cousins – that is much more common than one would necessarily want. J 

Nicknames can also be very important.  You will sometimes find a Polly in one census and Mary in the next and most times they are the same person.  Libby, Eliza, Beth, Lizzie are all common nicknames for Elizabeth.  Peg is a common name for Margaret, Billy or Bill can sometimes be more commonly used that William.   A John can be a Jonathan in once census, listed as Jn in another document and Johnny in something else.  Be especially careful with anyone listed as Jesse or Jessie or Frances and Francis…Jessie is usually a girl and  Frances is also a female name.  If you have done enough research through names using census records, tax records or other types of documents – you will think you have learned every possible nickname out there…until you find one that is completely different.

So if you have looked in all the places that you think your ancestor should be…look again.  Consider misspellings that might be rooted in phonetically spelled names or just someone who had poor handwriting and spelling skills and the name was transcribed differently.  If you are asking someone for help…tell them everything you know – don’t just ask if you have a Levi in your database.  One might be the recipient of a lot more information if you frame the question correctly and if you are willing to look at other avenues of pursuit.  Sometimes the name is not spelled the same…or anything close to what you think it should be!