September 19, 2008

What's in a Name?

We've probably all experienced it - our ancestor's name badly mispelled on a census record or other document. You know - the one where ROWLAND becomes ROWLIN or ROWLAN. Assuming we know what our ancestor's name was (Rowland) and we can correct that in our genealogy program.

But what if there has been an actual name change? How do we deal with that? How do we record each generation if the surname keeps changing? What if the name changes depending on the mood of the individual? Let me give you some examples.

one of my ancestors was the illegitimate son of Maria Bradt and Isaac Van Valkenburg. He always used the surname Van Valkenburg (with variant spellings including Falkenburg) in New York records. So that solved one problem as to whether he was Isaac Van Valkenburg or Isaac Bradt.

When Isaac was a grown man, the Revolutionary Waricon broke out. He went to Upper Canada (present day Ontario) as a Loyalist, and there he began consistently using the surname Vollick. His sons used both Vollick and Follick. His grandsons did the same - some descended from a son using Vollick, switched to Follick. Some descended from a son using Follick switched to Vollick. Others remained faithful to their father's version (either Follick or Vollick) What do we do in this type of scenario?

I chose to use the surname most frequently found for each individual. However I made careful note of each record and copied the surname exactly as rendered in that record. This allows me to see easily that a man used, for example, the surname Vollick 20 times out of 25 records found, but also was recorded in those other 5 records as Follick, Valck and Valic. You are also being faithful to the original record and not changing it to suit your idea of what is "correct"

If you have ancestors going back to the Dutch settlement of New York (called New Netherland) in the 17th Century, you will eventually end up with the patronymic system of naming.

Then you're in for a lot of fun, as a man might use his patronymic in one record, his occupational surname in another, his commonly used nickname in yet another and after the English took over and ordered everyone to adopt a surname - a name you've never encountered before! This is a very complicated naming era and I will talk about how to handle that in another post.

1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

Oh cousin I needed this post?

Besides my McEntee/MacEntee conundrum, I am dealing with DeWandelaer, DeWandelear, DeWandelaar, and DeWanderlear as well as Wandelear.

Not to mention other Van names with multiple variations.