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Genealogy and Family History

How to Begin

What To Do First

About Names

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Although we rarely question the names given to us at birth, in genealogy, you can never assume that the names used today are the same as those used in the past.

Changes in both surnames and given names may range from small variants to totally "new" names. These changes may be attributed to:

  • spelling practices over time;
  • errors in transcribing or interpreting names from handwritten records;
  • names written as they were heard by the recorder;
  • choice of a more "localized" forms (e.g., anglicized name);
  • adoption of "new" names thought to be more desirable;
  • names imposed by authority or law.

You will discover names through family conversations and inscriptions in various records. When recording names, document exactly what the source contains and not what you may know the name to be. You should record most, if not all of the variant names and the transcription errors found in online indexes. For each name, record the source along with your thoughts or suppositions in accompanying notes.

Be wary of jumping to conclusions about the ethnic origins of particular names. Names that "sound" English or Scottish may belong to ancestors who were of German or Irish descent. If your ancestors belonged to a distinct group (Scottish, Jewish, Spanish, Huguenot, etc.), get to know the naming patterns associated with these groups. Generational naming patterns can be of vital importance in establishing family relationships within and between generations of a family. Consult Names to learn more about them.

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