As the family historian, my designated office (the bottom kitchen drawer) is filled with stacks of loose documents, files, records of various ancestors: A collection of names, some more significant than others, but all of some importance to my ongoing search. It is interesting how we recall particular ancestors, whether as a result of their story or perhaps from the unusualness of their name. But having a name different from the norm was often unusual in the 17th, 18th and even 19th centuries.

Being children of the 20th century, we have become familiar with a plethora of names. Bookstores are abundant with the latest on 'new age' baby names. So when I became involved in researching my ancestors, I was struck by the repetition of names. And with repetition comes confusion: struggling to find the correct documentation for each generation of Robert or John or George. Wondering 'was that land record for Robert Sr or perhaps it's for his uncle Robert, no wait...maybe it was his son Robert, or maybe...'

In an attempt to provide some form of direction for my 'Jack' ancestors from Tennessee, I gathered all historical documents together, placed them in order and began writing their story for my book. Feeling quite proud of my research, I began putting Abraham Jack's history to print. As I continued to weave stories through my manuscript, I brought in his son James and then on to his grandson Jeremiah. But then I began finding documents of an Abraham Jack, grandson of Abraham Jack but cousin to my ancestor, Abraham Jack. At that point, I began to feel pressure building in my head, temples throbbing, as I wondered which Abraham Jack I was writing about. 'Was it Abraham Jack of 1689 or 1732 or perhaps 1786'. I suddenly screamed:'These people had no imagination'! Stepping away from my work, exhausted for the rest of the day.

If you become as addicted to genealogy as I, you will soon learn one of the more significant rules: Names are repeated from generation to generation to generation. And if you learn this, the heavenly genealogical doors will spring open or at least crack slightly, giving insight into leads for the next generation of names. With this discovery, you may begin to see a pattern in the naming of children. One guide I recently ran across listed the following:
First-born son is named after the father's father.
Second-born son is named after the mother's father.
Third-born son is named after the father.
Fourth-born son is named after the father's eldest brother.
Fifth-born son is named after the father's second brother or mother's oldest brother.
First-born daughter is named after the mother's mother.
Second-born daughter is named after the father's mother.
Third-born daughter is named after the mother.
Fourth-born daughter is named after the mother's eldest sister.
Fifth-born daughter is named after the mother's second oldest sister or father's oldest sister.

When I read the above formula, I ran to my laptop to immediately compare my own ancestral naming patterns with the formula, hoping to find some enlightenment on how my ancestors named each generation. But what I discovered is what most family historians come to realize: Children typically carried a name from a previous generation but unfortunately, there is no 'real formula' for ancestral naming patterns. Descendants were often named after the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and yes, names were often repeated with each generation. But like my ancestors, the chronology of their naming pattern was often at random. Unless of course your ancestors were the 'Jacks', naming everyone 'Abraham Jack' in order to simplify the name pool!

So what assumptions can you draw from ancestral naming patterns? The clues to the discovery of names of ancestors unknown are right in front of your eyes. The names of your great great grandparents are most likely found within the generations of descendants that followed. And keeping this in mind, may help move your genealogical door open a bit further or perhaps, help kick it in!

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: Ancestry Daily News-4/27/2005))



Comments are closed.