I’m betting that you’re cursed with at least one family line that has a common surname. If not that, then a family where everyone seems to be named James, John, Sarah, Ann, or Mary.
When it comes to how first names are given, the reasons seem to be a hodge-podge. In some families kids are given the name of one of the parents; in others, names that the parents just happen to like. Or, in the case of my family, my older brother was named for my dad and the rest of us got names that our parents thought were neat. Although many of us may not enjoy having a weird first name, when it comes to genealogy research it’s possible that the weird first names may hold the key to a breakthrough. Especially when it comes to women.
In women born between 1800 and 1810, these were the top names:
By the time of the Civil War, there were a few changes:
Unfortunately, if you’re researching a family that has a common surname, it doesn’t help your search to have one of those very common first names. But what if you’re lucky and your family has women with names like:
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. If you’ve found an unusual first name, and your research has hit a brick wall, start searching using the first name.
I have an ancestor named Simeon Hendrickson who married someone named Keziah. I didn’t know anything else about her other than the first name.
I went to Ancestry.com and entered what I knew and what I guessed at. The guessing was a date of birth and Kentucky. I selected the “exact and sounds like” option for her first name. And, as you can see, the system didn’t require me to enter her surname.
Although several thousands hits came up, the top choices were spot-on. Although there were great matches in the marriage records, I felt like digging into the Family Trees would be more productive in terms of finding out more about Keziah (last name now known) Paddock.
Where Did the Search Take Me?
Remembering that nothing in a public family tree is FACT until proven by sources, I now have extensive clues that Keziah’s Paddock family has been traced back as far as the 1600s in England. Fortunately part of this public tree has been sourced, including the christening records for Keziah’s 5th great-grandfather. Unfortunately, nothing further could be found in this particular tree about her mother, Sarah Little.
Fortunately, the Paddock branch was in Massachusetts by 1700 and I’m pretty sure (thanks to great Massachusetts early records) that I can find even more about this family.
What was learned?
1. That I can search Ancestry (and Google) using a first name only, as long as I have other identifying information such as Simeon Hendrickson and Kentucky. In fact, I want to share with you the search I did on Google:
This led to a short biography about Keziah and information about her children, with photographs.
2. That marriage records are great for proving marriage dates but until I can see a copy of the actual record I don’t know anything about who might have officiated or where the marriage might have taken place, i.e. “father’s house”.
3. That Google can be an excellent source for tracking down actual stories and photos about the family.
4. That, according to the public family tree, I’ll probably learn more about Keziah and Simeon if I start searching records in Pottawattamie County, Iowa.
5. That having a weird first name isn’t such a bad idea!