Finding your heritage – what’s in a name?

Finding your heritage is a rewarding and fulfilling activity but is likely to throw up a few surprises along the way. You may think that you know the names of your family members from of the past.

However, when searching for your ancestors using online databases then it is important to remember that they may not have been recorded under the same name as you expect.

Of course, you must be wary of the spellings of names. Be willing to adapt and rethink your searches to allow for these spelling variations.

What is also important, and may be something you have not thought of, is the possibility that one of your ancestors chose to go by another name than their given one.

It would not be uncommon for a person to adopt their second name as the one they were known by. This would be particularly frequent if they had been named after their father.

Using their second name would be a sensible way to distinguish themselves.

There is also a possibility that a person would be known by a nickname, rather than their actual given name.

When officials recorded these details, it would be commonplace for individuals to use the names they were known by rather than the actual name they were given at birth.

Of course, this can throw up some confusion when trying to match up individuals to other records and details you may have.

Another potential pitfall regarding names, is the duplicity you can find within the same family.

It would not be uncommon for parents to use the same name more than once for their children.

If the family suffered a tragedy of losing a child, then they may well have used the same name again for the next baby they had.

Be aware of duplicate names when finding your heritage

There is also the issue of family traditions regarding naming their children.

It may be traditional for a man to name his first son after his father.

However, if this was a family tradition then two or more brothers could all name their children after their father. This means you could have two or more cousins born around the same time with identical names.

This is where the more details you can add to an individual’s profile the better. There are no details too small about a person’s life and achievements. Any one thing could be used to identify one person from another.

Two different pronunciations of the same name can also lead to two records being filed. This can mean one family name is divided into two by the history books.

A helpful tip to use when searching databases is to include wildcards in your search.

This could be leaving out the surname of a person and just searching with their first name, and a known detail such as occupation or date of birth.

Rather than having search results with many people of the same name, you can identify your family member using other details you know about them.

It is not always an easy task. Be persistent and use logical thinking. It will help you dig further into your history and develop you family tree.

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Key points to take away

  • Be willing to adapt and rethink your searches to allow for these spelling variations
  • Be prepared that you could find several individuals within your family history with the same name, so you have to distinguish between them using other information such as spouse’s name or children
  • Perhaps a member of your family history didn’t go by their given name, so identifying their chosen name will be a key victory for you to continue your search.