Finding Your Roots: Names

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown March 15, 2009 17:24

Think about it. When you meet someone, what is the first thing you do?  You’re right – you exchange names. How about your pet? I’ll bet it has a name. The city you live in, the grocery store where you shop – yes, everything has a name. Flowers, trees – everything. You may even have a name for your boss. Some of you have named your houses and even your cars. Sometimes cars have two names – one when they are working properly and one when they are not.

Imagine that you and I live in a little hamlet in Britain about 500 years ago, and there are three men named John living there. How would you distinguish between them so your neighbor would know about whom you were speaking? Well, this John is a baker, so we would call him John the Baker; that John, living down the road, is a blacksmith, so when talking about him, we would say John the Smith.  Then there was John the barrel maker, so you called him John the Cooper.

It’s not hard to imagine why a man was called Armstrong, Wright, Young, Anderson (son of Ander). It is the same for every language. Where your ancestor lived or how he looked or his occupation – or his talents or failings – determined what your name is now.

One of my genealogy research instructors commented that there were 147 ways to spell Smith, and after checking the Web site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith (surname), I believe him. When I checked the various ways to spell MacLean, I learned there were 89, beginning with Gillean. If you are interested in finding the origin of your name, just Google it and various links will appear and away you go – enjoy! Or not!

Also, we have a great resource in Joan Rutty, our genealogy librarian at the Tuolumne County Library. She suggests several books about names and their origins, including “Family Names and Their Story” by S. Baring-Gould, and “The Story of Our Names” and “American Surnames,” both by Guy Eldon C. Smith.

There are few things more precious to you than your name – whatever it is.

Q.  I’m trying to find out more about my family on my father’s side. The last name is Tuxford. My father was Robert James and my grandfather was Gerald. Could you help me get started with my research into my family tree? Pat Keyes, Sonora

Dear Pat,

I found Gerald, at age 11, in the 1910 Census. He was with his brothers, George, Grant and Le Roy. His father was John A., who was a policeman in Chicago. A good clue for your further research is in the 1870 census, which tells us that John’s wife – your great-grandmother, Margaret – was born in Ireland. Contact the police department in Chicago, ask if it has an employee archive, and start finding out more about your great-grandfather. Then start looking for a place of birth in Ireland for Margaret. Now it gets to be fun!

Q.  I am interested in finding out about the family of John Owen Shipton. He was born April 15, 1854, in Highland County, Ohio (Hillsboro). He died January 10, 1940. We have nothing in our records about his mother and father, and anything else you could find out would be greatly appreciated.

Sara Woods, Sonora

Dear Sara,

I found someone researching this line on Genealogy.com. John Owen Shipton married Emily Jane Penn. His parents were Alfred Shipton and Catherine Simbro. He had four siblings, two of whom survived past childhood: Mary Elizabeth Shipton married James M. Peabody, Emma Prudence Shipton married Spencer D. West, and all three lived in Highland County, Ohio.  Any research done in Hillsboro would be very rewarding – and quick – which doesn’t always happen.

Until next time, good luck with your research!

© 2009, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Isabelle MacLean Drown
By Isabelle MacLean Drown March 15, 2009 17:24
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