When I approach a Project, naturally the first thing that I look at is the name of the individual; the given name -- the middle name --and the surname commonly known as the last name. The name of someone can in itself give us information for the research of the individual and can be very interesting.
Different cultures began using surnames at different times in history. Surnames were used for identification often adopting a location, a kinship such as son of someone else or an occupation; therefore a surname might be Odell acquired from a small town in England -- Johnson acquired as the son of John -- Miller acquired because of owning or working at a mill. The use of a middle name was not common until the late 1700's -- many middle names used were the mother's family surname -- when this is discovered it gives enormous clout to the authenticity of a potential grandparent or previous generation.
Most immigrants to the early colonies were English, German, Spanish, Scotch, Irish and Welsh, so understanding the different cultures and their naming patterns has been helpful when researching my projects. The English and Irish believed in honoring their parents and did so by naming their children after them. The first son was named after the father's father -- the second son was named after the mother's father -- the first daughter after the mother's mother -- the second daughter after the father's mother -- this custom can be very repetitious and confusing. The Germans contributed to the repetition and confusion -- I found that most, if not all of the sons had the same first name, frequently Johann, and all of the daughters also, often Anna. Usually they went by their second name Michael and George or Maria and Christina, etc.
I have researched projects that have taken me back to what is called the Midieval times --the 1500s and prior to that-- although some of us would like to be part of a lineage of noblemen or royalty, few records are available to substantiate those lineages, but where there are records that can sustantiate the lineage, the information is exciting.
The records available from the mother country of our ancestors are often more complete than the records from the early colonies, especially in the South where records were destroyed during the Civil War. When I have difficulty finding records or very little information from a number of resources about the individual in the colonies, that tells me something too -- the name is mispelled or modified -- dates or locations are incorrect or they were immigrants, so then I rely on records from the mother country if that has been determined. In the research of a woman, she may have had a previous marriage or is widowed, so the name I have for her is not her family surname but her husband's surname -- and that research takes a little more time.
When I accept a Project, I am tenacious to a fault -- I will not give up until I have exhausted every available resource and theory; I want an answer. In the end though, an experienced researcher may have to rely on circumstances and
common sense -- that if all of the information available, even if it is circumstantial, leads to one conclusion then that is more likely than not to be the correct conclusion. There was this sort of conclusion with a project I researched earlier this year:
I was asked by a friend who was on a committee to restore and preserve a historic chapel in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was asked to research the information inscribed on a stained glass window in the chapel. It was built in 1893 on land provided by a prominent family in the area -- the memorium inscription on the window was the only information available; it was that of the given name, just the middle initial and the surname of two children and also part of the inscription were the words ' by their Mother' who made the dedication to these children -- but there were no names for the mother. Because the inscription was ' In Memorium,' and dedicated 'by their Mother', I had to assume that the children had passed on but that at the time of dedication the mother was still alive. There were no church records and no birth or death records available because the state did not make it mandatory to record births, marriages, and deaths until 1906.
I researched census reports for the area using the surname of the children, assuming that the parents could be in their 30's or 40's in 1893 -- and probably people of means to be able to provide a stained glass window for the chapel -- so I began with the 1850 and 1860 census -- which lead me to a military record and then to a land record and then to information about the family and extended family and then back to the census records for 1880 and 1900. The 1900 census revealed that the mother of this family birthed four living children.
My theory was this -- that these two children were probably the middle two children in this family of six children in total, all having just middle initials in their names -- the first child of this family was born in 1877; the second child was born in 1879 according to the 1880 census -- the third child was born in 1884; the fourth child was born in 1886 according to the 1900 Census -- this told me that there was a five year gap between the second and supposed third child in this family -- that either there were no children born to this family during the five year gap or there were children born to this family during the five year gap but the children had passed on before the dedication of the window in 1893, so they would not have appeared on the 1900 census -- to be included in a census the person had to be living on the day of the census
In addition, it is highly unlikely that there were no children born to this family or any family during any five year gap in this period in history-- children were many and born close together. Therefore, it was my belief that these children were born between 1879 and 1884 but passed on before 1893 and that the stained glass window in the chapel was dedicated to these two children by their mother after they had passed on at an age much too young. I was able to identify the names of the parents and the children, as well as the dates of birth, date of parent's marriage and dates of death for all of them -- I also researched and discovered that the family who provided the land for the chapel and the family from the window were distant relatives and their descendants have ties to the small German community today
The above narration is an example of how I investigate and research a project, but it also gives you an idea of how circumstances and common sense can enter in to a conclusion. My research on this project has not been fully accepted by the chapel committee although it is the only research that has been attempted and offered since 1893
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