Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A bunch of roses by any other name

One of the perennial topics debated when family historians gather is How do you distinguish among family members with the same name?.

There are lots of ways to approach the problem but sometimes you encounter a situation where you think that barcoding might be appropriate.

When I began to search for our 2xgreat grandmother, I knew that her maiden name was Jane DAVIES and the family came from north Wales. She turned up quickly in the census and everything tallied but the date of birth. I knew Nan was old but she could not have been that old.

It turned out that I had not found our 2xgreat grandmother at all, but our 3xgreat grandmother whose maiden name was also Jane DAVIES before she married John DAVIES.

I was prepared to keep mother and daughter separate in my head, but my concern grew when I encountered another John and Jane Davies of similar age in the same place. I realise that there are lots of very common names in Wales, but the parallels between these couples were worrying.

It was small relief to learn that Jane (the mother) had a brother John who had married a woman called Jane. He probably thought nothing of it, since their brother Joseph had also taken a wife called Jane. And young Sarah's husband was John as well(mercifully, not Davies).

Add a couple more Johns in the next generation (cousins of our Jane the younger) and it begins to look like a naming nightmare.

Of course, when the extended family gathered, the issue probably never arose. Almost all those present would have had another name by which they were usually known to the others. Those unique nicknames would have avoided any confusion. What a shame they neglected to pass them down for the benefit of long suffering family historians in centuries to come.

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