TSGS Cruiser Blog

Friday, March 18, 2011

"We Can Not Be Related - Our Name Has 2 "p's"


Genealogy is such a fascinating hobby to pursue. We are interested in learning all sorts of things about our ancestors and where we came from. As we start researching some basic truths soon stand out, like: the last names (surnames) are not always spelled the same in records and sometimes the name has been shortened or otherwise changed. Names like "Woodis" might be spelled ~ Woodas, Woodus, Woudes, Wooddis or Woodiss... you can fill in the other 30 or 40 variations! Then you have simple names like Phipps spelled "Fips!" Names that are "Anglicized" makes up a lot of these name changes. One of my ancestors is John Kimble that I finally learned was Anglicized in Virginia in Colonial days from Johann Kimmel. Simpler changes are dropping extra repeated letters: Hermann becomes Herman. Another example might be Westmoreland becomes simply West. Many American families of German descent during the World Wars decided to change their traditional German names to a common English name to avoid others having mixed opinions concerning their home country. Schmidt became Smith, Kliene became Cline, Kasper became Casper, etc.

Besides all of these name problems, you also have people who can not spell: Weatlee = Wheatley; Night = Knight; Mathney = Mattingly. Then, of course, you have "typo" or careless errors in copying names for indexes or transcriptions of documents.

You would think that would be the end of it, but not yet... one of the worst problems is having common names to research like Brown, Smith, Jones, Wood/Woods, or even West. Just think of researching the family of John Smith who married a Mary or Elizabeth (last name unknown) in a county saturated with Smiths! When I was a kid, Dad took me to Christian County, Kentucky and as we were traveling he asked me to count the mail boxes with the name John West (my name)... in about 30 minutes of going down this one road, I counted 12 with my name and saw at least 20 more boxes with the surname of WEST!!!

Bear in mind that location and time might alter how common some names might be. My cousin sent me this message yesterday (that prompted this blog) concerning a reservation for a party room at a local restaurant for us to have an informal LONG family get-together:

"I did put the reservations in my name. I should have used a less common one. We have been in restaurants with reservations that were given to another Jones party. So, we started using our oldest daughter's married name, Elpers. (Our youngest daughter's married name is Smith. Yes, it really is. And, then, of course, our son's name is Jones). The lady at the Log Inn laughed when we said Elpers. That's as common as Jones up that way. The owners are actually named Elpers." - Beverly Justus Jones

The above quote is an excellent example of location affecting how common names might surprise you when you are researching!

Genealogy can be a great hobby, but to avoid some unnecessary headaches try to remember that our family's surnames are not carved in stone (and even if it is, like in a tombstone... it may not be correct or the same). One branch of the family may spell the name one way with the brother's line spelling it differently. If your family "always" spelled it "Woodis" and some other family "always" spelled it "Woodduss" ~ suspect that the two families are probably related!

- Written by JGWest


Alabamahoosier said...

You made me laugh. My father always said we (surname Lacy) were not related to the Lacey's. I wish I could show him some of my records. He would not believe it.

John G. West said...

Alabamahoosier (love your user name): The Lacy/Lacey family is a great example of variations in names that often end up being the same family. Unfortunately, we sometimes have to go back a lot of generations to find a common ancestor. There are a lot of Lacy/Lacey families in Christian Co., KY some married into my WEST family.

Alabamahoosier said...

I also have a John West from Craven County NC whose daughter married Moses Stanley whose daughter married a lacy. Where -- Christian County. I plan to come to your May meeting. We'll have to compare notes.