27 April 2012

It's Not Unusual

Genealogists, professionals and hobbyists, are always thankful to find an ancestor with an unusual name. John Jones and Mary Smith may have led interesting lives but distinguishing them from every other John Jones and Mary Smith can take a lot of time. Some of that time will be spent researching people not related to you in any way. Crista has a great video about sorting out people with the same name:

(more after the jump)

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With common names we're prepared to question everything until we're sure we have the correct person. We look at their family, their birthplace, their occupation, anything that will distinguish them from others with the same name. With unusual names it's easy let our guard down and assume the first person we find is the one we're looking for.
On my own tree I thought Eusebio Bernal was an unusual name. Bernal is neither common nor rare but I have yet to meet or hear of another Eusebio outside of my family. Unfortunately there were two Eusebio Bernals with a lot of similarities.

 Birth date              Aug. 14, 1896           Aug. 13, 1895
 Birthplace             Mexico                      Mexico
 Immigration         1919                         1918
 Death date            1970                         1974
 Death place           Brownsville, TX          San Antonio, TX

Of course I didn't realize any of this when I started researching and latched on to the first one I found (left), the wrong one. Luckily I didn't get very far with the other Eusebio before I figured out my mistake. Once I realized my error and stopped kicking myself I did a happy dance. Within a few minutes I found the indexes for my great-grandfather's baptismal record and marriage record for his parents, the right ones ;-)
You may think some of these given names are unusual but try doing a search on Ancestry.com, leaving the surname blank, with any one of these:

 Kunnigunda or Kunigunda
 Mazella or Mozella or Mozelle
 Zilpha or Zilphia

These are much less common but still not one of a kind:

 Washington District of Columbia or Washington District or Washington Columbia

These are not uncommon names but while these people were living in the same house they are probably pretty easy to find on census records:

 Blondette and Brunette (sisters)
 Early and Burly (the Byrd twins)

What unusual names have you added to your tree? And are you sure you have the right one?

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UPDATE: By popular demand ;-)


  1. I got really confused when both of my great-grandparents had a "Lorenzo Dow" and "Dottie Dimple" in them. was sure I was combining the siblings of both...but I have enough documentation to prove that all 4 did in fact exist. (Lorenzo Dow was a VERY popular name between 1850 and 1890. Dottie Dimple, while less common, was still quite popular.

    1. Lorenzo Dow was a popular preacher and Dotty Dimple was a character in a popular children's book (by Rebecca Sophia Clarke). I think nowadays when a child is named after someone they just choose one name to use. Seems in past they used the WHOLE name. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin,... it's a little strange to see those names attached to Smith, Bateman or whatever but I guess that was the convention back then.

  2. Of the first list I have five of the names, of the second, none, but I have a Cansada, very close. It's still the common names, both surnames and given names that give me headaches. Way too many Johns and James.

    1. If I ever get one of my families straightened out I'll have to do another post on names. Each family used the same 6 or 7 names (William, James, Ellen, Jane, etc.) for their children. It's fine for the daughters whose children wind up with a different surname but for all the sons... Grrrr.

  3. @Christie, If you didn't know already, here's the reason for the popularity of Lorenzo Dow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorenzo_Dow

  4. I've come across Thankful, Record and Increase a few times.

  5. Zerubabbel, Grizzel, and Kunigunde are my three favorite genealogy names thus far. Some of the uncommon names are uncommon outside the family, but trying to distinguish between several cousins named Tolford Duram can still be difficult.

    I have an ancestral line that consists of 6 Robert Grays in a row. And finding John, Sarah, or William Smith's births in England? It hasn't happened, even knowing the exact dates and names of parents.

    1. I feel your pain. My 5th and 6th great-grandfathers are John Jones ;-)

  6. First cousins so many times removed - Return Richard Hill, George Washington Hill, Return Jonathan Hill and Reason Clapp.