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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Family History Mission: Thoughts on Names

No. 27

Note: You can do a Google search for "A Family History Mission" to see all the previous posts in this ongoing series. You can also search for "James Tanner genealogy" and find them.

When you are very young, you may think that your name is unique. As you grow older, you often realize that many other individuals share your name. In my case, when I was a teenager I visited the Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia and saw a tombstone with the name "James Tanner" near the entrance to the cemetery. I still remember my surprise in seeing my name in a prominent place. Even though I now recognize that the Tanner surname is quite common and that the name "James" is one of the most common names in English, it still surprises me to see my name in a document or somewhere else.

While working at the Maryland State Archives, I ran across this entry in a probate file. This particular record was from the early 1900s. It is a very common misconception that people with the same surname are somehow related. This may be true for very unusual surnames, but the name Tanner is an occupation-derived surname and is very common in England and other places in Europe. Many genealogists, including those with considerable experience, make the mistake of concluding that a person with the same name is (or could be) a relative. If a person has ancestors who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints back in the 1800s and has the Tanner surname, it is very likely we are related. But if a person has the Tanner surname and their family came from a part of the United States other than New England and New York and Rhode Island, it is very unlikely that they are related.

While working in the Maryland State Archives, we take the original documents and prepare them for digitization. One of the things we also do is to record the main name of the document so it can be identified in a database of the potential images. This means we read through the documents for names. This results in many discussions about how to decipher the handwriting and guessing at the names. We find quite a few unusual names, for example, back in the early 1800s in Maryland, one popular girl's name was Achsah. I have no idea how it was pronounced at the time. But it is a Biblical name, Achsah was the daughter of Caleb, a prince of the tribe of Judah. She was the only girl in the family and had three brothers (1 Chronicles 4:15). She became the wife of Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. Othniel became one of Israel's judges.

We had to replace our camera this past week since it was making so much noise we could not stand it. FamilySearch sent us a new camera and I installed it in less than an hour, not including the time it took us to find shims to level the camera. 

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