Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Use the birth name

During the past week or so, because of the blog posts I have written about names, there has been a lot of discussion about how to record names. This is especially true in situations where the ancestor's name has changed from its original. The general rule is rather simple, although, in practice this can be very challenging. The rule is that the primary name is recorded as it was at the time the person was born. Any subsequent name changes or usage, is also recorded and documented.

Names have taken on a degree of importance because so many search programs (search engines) use the name of the individual as the primary search item. This has been carried to an extreme by researchers who are convinced of the "same name = same person" syndrome. Names are only one of the many factors that need to be considered in determining relationships.

What a person was called during their lifetime, often has little or no bearing on the name given to them at birth. Even in these situations, recording the birth name as the primary name is important to maintain continuity with previous generations. There is a considerable amount of confusion among genealogists when individuals in succeeding generations have the same or very similar names. In this regard, the terms "junior" and "senior" are often appended to a name to distinguish between the generations. Unfortunately, many times these generational designations are included as an actual part of the name of the person even when the designation was not given at birth. Confusion concerning which of the similarly named people belonged to which generation is rampant among genealogists. This is especially true with the "junior/senior" designations. In the past, these terms were not used exclusively to designate father and son relationships, but were sometimes used merely to differentiate two people in the same community with the same or similar names, In these cases, the two individuals may not even be related.

Attempts to sort all these similar names out to the proper parties, often results in adding a number to the persons name. I have examples of this in my own lines with a series of ancestors named Garrard Morgan. Usually, they are distinguished as Garrard Morgan I, II, III and IV. Although this may be helpful in sorting out the relationships, it is important to document and distinguish between names added for convention and the actual names given to an individual at birth.

It is also common to see names where the entire name is not recorded. There are instances where the name given to a person at birth included a single letter. For example, I have an uncle whose birth name was "Rollin C. Tanner." The "C." has no equivalent that I have ever found. Sometimes individuals adopted a middle name or initial merely to satisfy a requirement to have a middle name for school, military or other purposes. I have seen instances where the U.S. Army recorded a name using the initials "NMN" meaning "no middle name" and those initials have been subsequently recorded and used by a family historian.

I am commonly asked about which name should be recorded when it appears that there has been a change of name due to immigration or another occurrence. The answer is simple. Record all of the names, but use the birth name, if known, as the primary name.

There is also a tendency to add names to people when those names were never recorded or used during their lifetime. See my daughter's post on Middle Name Creep: A Cautionary Tale.

1 comment:

  1. In an 1834 will my ancestors were designated James the elder and James the younger. Father and son. Solved a whole extra generation I could not figure out.