Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Family History Hints, Part 11

I grew up in a town of 35,000 people. I do believe I was the only person named Jean Marie Wilcox. But I have an ancestor, Johann Adam Hollaender, who was one of three with the same name, alive at the same time (many others with that name were alive before and after his time as a resident) in his small village of Edesheim, Germany (pop. 200 . . . then, the 1800s, and now . . . or at least very close to the same population today). In "the old days" - the days that we researched for much of Genealogy Roadshow - names were similar or identical among peers in the same location. And we got to figure out who was who. I explained the phenomenon to the staff:

You mean there can be two people with the same name and approximate age in the same town?

Oh, yes! It is quite common to find a name being repeated over and over. Often these people are related in some way, but that connection may go back quite a number of generations; this has confounded genealogists since they started recording family trees. Part of this is due to naming patterns and following traditions such as:
            First son - named for paternal grandfather
            Second son - named for maternal grandfather
            Third son - named for father
            Fourth son - named for father’s oldest brother

OK, so let’s take a patriarch:    John William Jones
            His oldest son is:   Patrick Steven Jones (after his father’s father)
            Next oldest son is:    Joseph Orin Jones (after his mother’s father)
            Next oldest son is:   John William Jones, Jr. (after his father)
            Nest oldest son is:  Peter Andrew Jones (after his paternal uncle)

Patrick has 4 sons as follows:
            John William Jones, II (named for paternal grandfather)
            Artimus Christian Jones (mother’s father’s given names)
            Patrick Steven Jones, Jr. (named for father)
            Joseph Orin Jones (named for father’s brother)

Joseph Orin Jones has 4 sons as follows:
            John William Jones, II (named for paternal grandfather)
            Adam Paul Jones (named for maternal grandfather)
            Joseph Orin Jones, Jr. (named for father)
            Patrick Steven Jones, II (named for father’s brother)

John William Jones, Jr. has 4 sons as follows:
            John William Jones, II (named for paternal grandfather)
            Lewis Carter Jones (named for maternal grandfather)
            John William Jones, III (named for father)
            Patrick Steven Jones, II (named for father’s brother)

Peter Andrew Jones has 4 sons as follows:
            John William Jones, II (named for paternal grandfather)
            Christopher Alexander Jones (named for maternal grandfather)
            Peter Andrew Jones, Jr. (named for father)
            Patrick Steven Jones, II (named for father’s brother)

If everyone stays in the same neighborhood, we now have four cousins, all called John William Jones, II. Around family and the neighborhood, the patriarch may be called “John the elder” while the others are identified as John, Jr. (even though that isn’t his legal title), Willie-boy, Bill, and Johnny. Sometimes these calling names appear on documents; sometimes they use their legal names when signing or completing documents. How do we know which John William Jones, II is the right one?

To complicate matters, we also have five Patrick Steven Joneses - one the eldest (who might be called Patrick Senior), his son (who might use Patrick Junior), and then the three cousins, Pat the butcher, Steven, and P.S. Same problem with legal documents.

Does this happen often? Over and over. And frequently it is the cause for family trees to get all tangled with grafted branches and misplaced limbs. The genealogist has to use extra caution when trying to decipher these issues.

It is also common that, if a child dies, the next child will be given the previous one’s name (if they are of the same sex). So if, in our example above, John William Jones’s son Patrick dies before the next son is born, that child will most likely get the name Patrick. This is also true for female children.

Another not uncommon practice is, when a man loses his wife and then remarries (almost a necessity if he now has small children to care for), the first girl child born to his new wife will be named, in reverent memory, after the previous wife.

Now you see why there are times we have to search and then re-search to make sure we are following the right trees and why people will see the same name over and over and believe they are related when, indeed, the person may be a distant cousin or, possibly, not related at all.


  1. That was very interesting and helpful too! I am the first born to my parents and I am named for my paternal grandfather. I now have a big project to try and determine the rest of my tree. I know one generation back in the mid 1800's named all four of his sons after presidents and his brother named all his sons after famous Baptist preachers of the time. Interesting indeed.

  2. Great post Jean! I was thinking about doing a name study with some of the family names as I realized that there were others in the same town with the exact same names. Should be interesting.