10 March 2010, Vol. 13, No. 3
Table of Contents
Using RootsWeb
Genealogy Tip
Bottomless Mailbag:
Readers Write In
What’s New: Databases, Freepages, and Mailing Lists
The Darkroom
You Found It
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By Mary Harrell-Sesniak
“Genealogy is not just a pastime; it's a passion.”

What's in a Name? – Naming Conventions and Surname Studies

When you're stuck on ancestry, look to names. They may enlighten or deceive, but in either case, you will learn more, and it can be a fun venture.

Some men in my family were given surnames as given names, as in Macy Malott, a descendant of the Macy family of Nantucket.  And other cousins were named after places, such as a female named Missouri.  We can thank their parents, as these names give valuable pointers to family history.

But this was not the case with ancestor Judge Wick Harrell, shown as J. W. W. Harrell on an early census. After much research, it was apparent he was not a judge, and that Wick was not a family surname.  Rather, J. W., as he was known later in life, was named after William Wick, an early Indiana judge who lived not far away.

Naming Conventions
So how does one analyze a given name?

Since it is more common to name children after family, create a birth order chart. Separate the sons from the daughters and see if the children fit a pattern. Known as a naming convention, many parents selected names in a predetermined order.  Honor was typically given first to grandparents.

Birth Order Chart

Birth order of daughters

Namesake's relationship

1. Dorcas Ann

Maternal grandmother

2. Sarah / Sally


3. Nancy

2nd eldest maternal aunt

This next chart is a typical British pattern of Colonial times, but variations can be found.

Rather than reverse the maternal and paternal selections in the first children, the family might choose to name the 1st daughter and son after one side (maternal or paternal), and continue with the 2nd daughter and son after the other. And instead of honoring parents third, a great grandparent or sibling might be selected.

Naming Convention

Birth Order

Named After the

1st daughter

Maternal grandmother

1st son

Paternal grandfather

2nd daughter

Paternal grandmother

2nd son

Maternal grandfather

3rd daughter


3rd son


4th daughter

Eldest maternal aunt

4th son

Eldest paternal uncle

Notice from the charts, there may have been more daughters, not yet identified. One would have been second in birth order, and the other was likely fourth.

Adjusted Birth Order Chart

Birth order of daughters

Namesake's relationship


1. Dorcas Ann

Maternal grandmother


2. [poss. Mary]

Paternal grandmother

Possibly married or died young.

3. Sarah / Sally



4. [poss. Margaret]

Eldest maternal aunt

Possibly not used, since cousin has this name.

4 or 5. Nancy

2nd eldest maternal aunt


Reasons why children are missing vary – and don't assume they all died young.  A daughter could have married and moved away, or a name might be skipped if a cousin had already received it. If you suspect this, compare data with vital records, and state and federal census records, if possible.

The first U.S. Census was recorded in 1790, and until 1840, only the head of household was noted.

However, columns indicate the number of males and females at various ages. So if you have located 3 females and a census indicates more, add them to your to-do list.  Another clue can be found in 1900, when census takers recorded the number of children born to a mother, and how many were living.

Other Identifiers
Given names can identify a family's religion or country of origin. Two examples are Saint names and the use of double first names in the German culture, as in Johann Daniel and Johann Jacob Mueller.

Some of the many reasons why given names are chosen:

  1. Were surnames or locations used as given names?
  2. Were children named after family, friends or noteworthy individuals?
  3. Was there a particular pattern established by culture?
  4. Can you identify a religion or culture from a name?
  5. Were monikers chosen simply because they liked them?

Surnames can identify noble origins, a clan, occupation (e.g., Blacksmith or Farmer), physical trait (e.g., Erik the Red) and even parentage.

Known as patronyms and matronyms, a child's surname can be based upon the father's or mother's given name.  This practice was common before surnames were standardized in most parts of the world.


  1. Eric Thorvaldsson, AKA Erik the Red, was son of Thorvald and probably had red hair.  His son was named Leif Ericson. (Norwegian and Icelandic)
  2. Geesjie Barentsdochter can be identified as the “daughter of Barent”. (Dutch)
  3. Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci, AKA Leonardo da Vinci, was the son of Piero of Vinci, Italy.
  4. Vuk Stefanović Karadžić (1787 – 1864), was the son of Stevan, and Vuk.  Vuk means Wolf, and was a given name likely chosen to protect him from bad spirits. (Serbian)

Prefixes can also indicate patronymics, such as Mac, Fitz and Ap, all meaning “son of” – so a surname of Fitzsimmons, reveals that there was a son of Simon at some time in your family history.

Surnames that are towns can indicate ancestral origins, and nobility is alluded to by clan names or certain suffixes, such as “ski” common in Polish families.

And don't overlook spelling variations.  As ancestors immigrated, names changed.  Vofs became Voss, M'Donald became McDonald and names with accents or umlauts were modified. In my family, the original Müsse converted to Miesse and even Szczesniak was shortened.

For interesting reading, look to these RootsWeb's articles:

Fleurieu Peninsula Family History Group Inc. - “Family Naming Conventions – Cornwall

Irish NICHOLL Roots: “Irish Naming Conventions

The Johnson/Johnston/Johnstone - “DNA Surname Project: History of Surnames

Naming Conventions of Sri Lanka

Marvin Kusmierz - “Polish Naming Conflicts

Polish Surnames

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Genealogy Tip

By Joan Young

Researching Women Ancestors

March is Women's History Month making this a perfect time to take stock of the too frequently overlooked half of your heritage. It's usually easier to trace your paternal ancestry in that it follows a surname path and can be verified by participation in surname (Y-DNA) testing projects. Your maternal side usually becomes your stumbling block. When you reach the point where you do not know a female ancestor's maiden name quite often family "stories" about Indian Princesses and relationships to famous historical figures enter the picture.
How do you sort the facts from the lore and what tools are at your disposal to research your maternal ancestors when you are at a dead end? Here are a few suggestions to follow.
1) Marriage Records: Since most civil marriage records are held at a state or local level you can use census records and ages of children to narrow down the time frame as well as to help determine the location of the marriage.
2) Tombstone inscriptions, death records, and obituaries often list a woman's maiden name.
3) Search online resources to see whether another family member may have posted family Bible records for your ancestor. Don't overlook online family tree databases as well. I reached a dead end looking for the maiden name of Rebekah KIGER, wife of my great-great-great-grandfather, Matthias KIGER. The answer was found in the private family journals in the possession of two cousins I found through my research. One cousin had a copy of the couple's marriage certificate showing Rebekah's maiden name of LINMEYER. I had been unable to locate any record of this marriage through traditional searches.
4) Church records may include a wife's maiden name. If you don't find it in an index or abstract, try to obtain a more complete record from the church or religious denomination's archives. Check with the local Historical Society if you can't find records through the church.
5) Don't overlook census records for married women as there were many multi-generational households. You may find your female ancestor's parent(s) living with the family. Or you may find them living near-by. Consider neighbors as possible family members.
6) Look at children's given names and middle names for clues. My mother was given the middle name of "Dunn" and all she knew was that she was named for her maiden aunt. My research showed that her aunt's name was Rebecca Dunn BORTON. Further research led to the fact that this aunt's maternal grandmother's maiden name is Rebecca DUNN. Family surnames often carry through the generations as given or middle names. My ancestor, Joseph ROBINSON, had a son who married a SMITH. They named a son SMITH ROBINSON.
7) Since men wrote most wills, owned most of the property, paid the taxes, became naturalized, and served in the military it can be a bit trickier finding the women. However, don't rule out any of these sources as women were often mentioned in deeds (especially if land was sold and a wife approved the sale to protect her dower rights), as an heir in a parent's will, or in pension files for a husband or father's military service. There may be clues lurking in these records.
8) Cyndi's List has links to sites that can help you find, and understand what life was like for your female ancestors.
In a small abandoned cemetery where some of my KIGER ancestors are buried is the grave of a widow of a Revolutionary War soldier: Margaret, wife of Joseph WOOD. Her tombstone, no longer readable, once bore the inscription which fortunately was transcribed at an earlier date: "She went to war, cooked and cared for him." This widow's story and her role in history may be lost to us forever, but this is just one example of a hint about female ancestors' untold stories.
Perhaps your research will yield a maternal ancestor who was ahead of her time and achieved fame or notoriety as an author, artist, educator, entertainer, or political figure. Check out the Notable Women Ancestors web site hosted by RootsWeb which was created and maintained by Suzanne "Sam" Behling. This site is a goldmine of information about notable women. There is even a place where you can submit your notable female ancestor.

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Finding the 2nd Great Grand Uncles

Ever since I can remember my mother and her sisters would talk about their grandmother's half brothers, Galey and Wesley Hughes, who died as children before their grandmother, Ida May Shively, was born.  The only memento of the boys is a portrait of them taken around 1860, when they were approximately 4 and 6.  The children's mother, my great-great-grandmother, Christiana Bender Hughes Shively, never spoke of them, and their story became a family legend. Ida May Shively named her only son, my grandfather, Argale Watts, after the brother she never knew.

I began researching our family tree almost 20 years ago when I was given a copy of our family tree an aunt had prepared for a high school class in the 1940s.  I’ve been happily digging up information and expanding the tree back several generations and also laterally, adding lots of long-lost cousins, but always looking for Galey and Wesley.  The boys had been born in Ohio, and my grandfather's notes mentioned that he thought they may have died in Indiana.  I found Christiana and her first husband, George Hughes in Wayne Co., Ohio, in the 1860 census.  I've looked for death records and cemeteries there but found nothing.  I've found nothing in Indiana, but I knew Christiana and her second husband, Peter Shively, had lived in Michigan and Wisconsin before finally settling in Illinois.  It's a lot of territory but I've persisted.  With a unique name like Argale, I was sure I'd find them someday.

Last week, while looking elsewhere, I wanted to check where George Bender was born but couldn't find the page from the 1860 census.  I had been looking at the Record Search pilot at familysearch.com, so I entered Argale Hughes and nothing came up.  I tried Wesley Hughes with the search area limited to Ohio and the search returned a lot of hits.  As I scrolled through them, off to the right something caught my eye.  In the field for parent’s names there was George Bender and Christiana Shively!  Not the census but a death certificate.  I was flabbergasted.  An Ohio death certificate AFTER 1908?  It had to be a mistake.  The image was included so I pulled it up.  There was Wesley Hughes, son of George Hughes and Christiana Bender, the right age, the right birth place, but with a death date of 1914.

I immediately went to RootsWeb and posted a query for the county where he died, hoping for more information or even better, to connect with his descendants to find out what they knew of the split in the family.  Thanks to the kindness of RootsWeb members, someone pulled all of the newspaper articles from his death (an industrial accident) and his obituary, which listed his children and HIS BROTHER ARGAIL!  He spelled his first name differently, and both brothers seemed to fluctuate between using "Hughes" and "Hughs", which has made them harder to track.  But they are definitely my great-great uncles.  Of course the fact that I was only searching for them between 1854 and 1865 all these years has also been a stumbling block.

I've since found both brothers in the 1900 and 1910 census.  They had 10 children between them so I have a lot of leads to follow up.  I can't wait to share what I've found, and add some substance to the family legend.

Kim Kendall
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Bottomless Mailbag: Readers Write In
Copy Your Completed Census Form

A friend of mine made a great suggestion the other day which we intend to follow. That is, when your census form is all filled out, make copies of it to keep in your records. That way, the next generations in your family, won't have to wait for the 2010 census to come out! We plan on doing this, even going so far as scanning it and saving it on a CD. What a wonderful idea.  I wish we had thought of this with all the prior censuses we've done since our wedding in 1973!

Thanks to Victoria Heighton Firth

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to the others who submitted the same suggestion.]
Locate a Gravestone by Scuffing

A few years ago I travelled to Minnesota to visit cousins. As part of that trip we went to the Chisago Lake courthouse and the cemetery at the Swedish Lutheran Church where ancestors that arrived in the 1850s are buried.

We found the fine red granite monuments of some children of Mans Samuelsson and Brita Stina Petersdotter from Sweden, who brought their family there. It was while I was looking at John Shaleen's family plot that I realized the graves didn't quite come as close to the path as I would expect. Then, I noticed a small triangle of white stone in the grass near the path. I thought it might be a broken fragment of headstone, and scuffed at it with my toe. This pushed the grass back and revealed more stone, at which point my cousin and I got on our hands and knees and pulled away the grass to reveal a stone that read simply "Father". With that we began feeling around in the grass to the right of "Father" and found another buried stone that said: "Mother". Given the depth of grass and grass roots these had probably been buried out of sight for a generation or more. It's possible that cold and frost had partly heaved up "Father", thus revealing enough to prompt my curiosity, as the rest of his stone was fairly well buried.

Though we cannot prove conclusively that these are the graves of John's parents unless we find other evidence, I feel certain that they are. They are not near any other family's plot and the simplicity of the stones is in keeping with a family not yet grown as prosperous as they were later.

My advice is, if a grave isn't there but should be, have a closer look. It could just be overgrown.

Thanks to Laurie Kirby

An Unusual Middle Name Source

My father, at age 88, religiously reads the obituary section of the local newspaper "just to make sure I'm not in it." One day he came across the death of a middle-aged man. The man's father was listed with the middle name of my father's surname, Mansur. Knowing that most Mansurs are directly related, and not knowing this family, he decided to find the connection.
He talked first with the deceased man's wife and got the phone number for the man's mother who still lived in town. He called and asked where her husband's middle name of Mansur came from. She replied,"When he was born the birth certificate didn't list a middle name, so the doctor who delivered him added his last name as my husband's middle name."
That doctor, Dr. E.E. Mansur, was my father's father - my grandfather! Sometimes it's hard to figure out the source of a middle name!

Thanks to Linda Mansur in Nashville, Tennessee

Have a story, question, genealogy resource, or tip you’d like to share with RootsWeb Review readers? Send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editor or of RootsWeb.com.

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What’s New: Databases, Freepages, and Mailing Lists
New User-contributed Databases at RootsWeb


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The Meriwether Family Records website has been updated with records of the Meriwether, Meriweather, Merriweather, etc. family, including Bible Records, Biographies, Births, Book Indexes, Cemetery, Census, Church, City Directories, Death, Diaries, DNA, Family Trees, Famous Meriwethers, Homes, Marriage, Military, Newspaper, Obituaries, Photos, Slave Records, Wills, Deeds and other Court Records.

The Cawthorn, Scott & DeSilva Palmer Family History Website has been updated with military pictures of a grandfather who served in the RASC during WWI and descriptions of an accident of the Upwell Tram in Norfolk, England which involved an ancestor.

If you have a new or substantially revised freepage at RootsWeb and would like to see it mentioned here, send the URL, the title, and a BRIEF description, including major surnames, to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

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Request a Free Web Site Account.

New/Updated Websites by Counties, States, and Historical Societies

CD17C = Colonial Dames of the XVII Century
DAR = Daughters of the American Revolution
HPS = Historical Preservation Society
SAR = Sons of the American Revolution
TTTP = Trails to the Past


  • camtddar — Mt. Diablo Chapter (CA) DAR
  • ilhende2 — Henderson County (IL) TTTP
  • illccsar — Lewis and Clark Chapter (IL) SAR
  • iltttp — Illinois State TTTP
  • kshhs — Hutchison High School (KS) Yearbooks
  • macroyal — Royalston Town (Worcester, MA) USGW
  • mdhcgs — Harford County (MD) Genealogical Society
  • nccivwar — North Carolina in the Civil War - USGW
  • nccrave2 — Craven County (NC) - USGW
  • nciraqwr — North Carolina in the Iraqi War - USGW
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  • ncmexwar — North Carolina in the Mexican War - USGW
  • ncspamwr — North Carolina in the Spanish-American War - USGW
  • nmdonaa2 — Dona Ana County (NM) TTTP
  • nmtttp — New Mexico State TTTP
  • nvcd17c — Nevada State Society CD17C
  • nyafcdar — Abigail Fillmore Chapter (NY) DAR
  • ohwtogs — Wyandot Tracers - Ohio Genealogical Society
  • okcslsa — Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association (OK) TTTP
  • okgarvi2 — Garvin County (OK) TTTP
  • oklogan2 — Logan County (OK) TTTP
  • oktttp — Oklahoma State TTTP
  • txbahps — Boerne Area (Kendall Co, TX) HPS
  • txdensar — Denton Chapter #23 (Texas) SAR
  • txmghs — Medina (TX) Genealogical and Historical Society
  • usghostn — US Ghost Towns - TTTP
  • vasar — Virginia Society Southern Dames of America
  • wakardar — Karneetsa Chapter (WA) DAR
  • wyfremo2 — Fremont County (WY)
  • wyhotsp2 — Hot Springs County (WY) TTTP
  • wytttp — Wyoming State TTTP
  • wywrr — Wind River Reservation (WY)


  • engwasdar — Washington (Tyne and Wear, England) Chapter DAR
  • nswbhs — Blackwall Historical Society (NSW, Australia)

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  • FRAMPTON-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Frampton surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • GARTEN-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Garten surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • HEWITT-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Hewitt surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • KERN-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Kern surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • MEDLEY-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Medley surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • PHY-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Phy surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • READY-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Ready surname and variations in any place and at any time.

  • WRAY-DNA — A mailing list for the discussion and sharing of information regarding DNA studies of those with the Wray surname and variations in any place and at any time.

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The Darkroom

This picture was taken in Rheinzabern, Bavaria, Germany in the mid 1860s.  In the center are my 2nd great grandparents, Fred and Caroline (Nicolaus) Neuhardt and their family.  My great grandmother, Maria Carolina (Neuhardt) Kunz is at the right with a check mark above the head.  She was the only one of her family to leave Germany in 1872 for Erie, Pennsylvania to marry my great grandfather, Philipp Kunz.
Note how all are linked together with a hand touching another person.  I have never seen this before -- nice "touch."

Thanks to Nancy Wendell in Cleveland, Ohio

For a chance to see your ancestor’s photo in the RootsWeb Review, send it to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com. Make sure to include your name and a brief description of the photograph.

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You Found It

I had a great-great aunt whose father was a doctor. When his daughter was born he had been experimenting with a new wonder drug and decided to name her after the drug.

She was named Codeine Grizzle.

Thanks to Randy Eutsler

I think my grandfather could be included with the unusual name group.  I only knew my grandfather as "grandpa Cad or Cas", but on his tombstone he is listed as C.B. Epperly.  This got my curiosity started.  Looking in the Bible of his deceased wife, I found his full name as Casabianca Epperly born 1879 died 1954.  I asked other family member's where a name like that could come from?  One of my aunts said, “Oh that was the ‘boy on the burning deck’."  You can imagine what a mystery this was to a teenager in the "nifty fifties"   Thank goodness that in my later years after computers got popular I was able to do more research on the "burning boat boy" Casabianca.  

The poem by that name was written before 1850 and used in McGuffy's 4th edition Reader for elementary school children.  British poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans started out the first line of the poem with:  "The boy stood on the burning deck.  Whence all but he had fled."  It goes on to tell of his courage to not leave his post with out his father, the Admiral's permission.  The boat is on fire and sinking in the Battle of the Orient.  The father doesn't reply to his calls and the brave boy goes down with the ship.  I assume many in that era considered little Casabianca a hero.  I'm glad my grandfather was named after him. 

Thanks to Barbara Barrett in Mounds, Oklahoma
The Rash

My mother's maiden name is Rash.  As I was researching her family name, I discovered a Fannie Rash which I thought was quite humorous.  As I kept researching I discovered there were more Fannie Rashes than I wanted to believe!  Some were by birth -- others by marriage.  Maybe this was just a common thing back then.

Thanks to Kay Ballard
For the Birds

I spent a summer working as a temp for an insurance company. I did a lot of filing and, of course, found a number of interesting names. My two favorites were Claudie Birdsong and Birdie TuddTudd.

Thanks to Beth in Alabama

Found a funny name or humorous tidbit in old records, or an amusing entry in census, parish, church, or other records? Send these and other genealogy-related humor/humour items to Editor-RWR@rootsweb.com.

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