Lessons in Genealogy–Having the same family name through the generations is crazy!

My mother-in-law does genealogy, and sacrificially has been looking up dead relatives for numerous family trees for a long time.

Since I am on my way to a family reunion in IOWA, I thought it would be fun to share some of her findings with my folks.  I wasn’t planning on getting very involved, but asked if she had a project with which I could assist.  Well, she needed to organize her files, and handed me stacks of papers from my family line.  

Of course, I had to read most of the entries to compile each name into the proper folder, and I was hooked before too long.  I had given her a good bit of starting information years ago, and she had made some progress in adding to it and entering it on her computer data base.  However, not much had been done to move further back into history than the records I had handed off to her.  (Those take my dad’s family back to mid-1600’s.)

In the hard copies, I saw a few things that I could help clarify, and a contact email for someone who had done a good bit of research on the sibings and spouses of my direct ancestors.  I suggested that I could enter some of that into the database, and we decided that that would be helpful to sort out possible conflicting information. 

I had found one relative with six wives listed–some of which were variations of the spelling of the name, while others were names with no other reference in the paperwork.  After several hours of work (so much for a brief morning of breezing through the files and getting them in order!), some of which was almost going in circles to verify certain birthdates, I made a very exciting discovery!

One of those six wives with a random last name, but a maiden name that was traceable, had been previously married and wed my relative a few months after being widowed!  Shortly thereafter, I found another of those wives was the wife of the son of the man in question, who had the same name as his father. 

The funny thing was, the son’s wife’s name was very similar to his mother’s name–close enough that with the nicknames and variant spellings and translations from German to English, these could have been the monikers for the same person.   The problems were as follows:

  • The first woman (the wife of my relative) died in 1750
  • She had 10 children before leaving Germany to come to America, and only 4 came with the family
  • Several other children were listed in various reports with the same names as the ones who perhaps died, attributed to the same father, but with birthdates 20 years later than their namesakes (and some of them after the matriarch had passed away)

Before I made my discovery, I even asked my mother-in-law if a man might cause a new wife to take the name of the dead spouse, just as he named his new children after the deceased ones.  (She said no, and looked at me strangely!)

I found the experience a bit like I imagine gambling to be like.  I was on Ancestry.com, which is a place for people to submit their genealogical findings to share with others.  Once I found my family line, I could select a name–see birth and death  and marriage dates, spousal information, and details on the children.  Of course, each name clicked opens up numerous new people that can be added to the pedigree chart, and I found myself almost getting lost in a detective’s quest for more information.  One more person might answer this question, but that of course leads to more questions.  The next entry is sure to turn up something valuable (and once in awhile, I did hit the jackpot!)

 Aside from the multitude of same or similar names running though a family, human error in entering data (census information, transcription, carelessness), and pet names and derivations that are crazy-making, it was quite a sense of accomplishment to organize the information (a small bit out of many folders) and actually contribute to some clarifying of the data.  I do think that I will encourage my daughter that her child-on-the-way needs to have a unique name, and not be Robert III!

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