An ancestor is still an ancestor regardless of the name
Perhaps it’s age, or experiences or wisdom, but I see things differently now than I did in my 20s.
Things that once bothered me and caused me to react – perhaps overreact – are often not given a second thought these days. I’ve learned things written in stone, including my ancestors’ names, are not always accurate.
This new laid-back attitude applies in particular to those names found in countless records and on headstones across the Atlantic provinces.
I now consider most names fluid. Of course, there were individuals whose name appeared the same on every record from birth to death, but they were not the norm.
For many people, their names were found recorded in at least two ways. Take for example the name Mary Elizabeth Smith. Her birth record may have appeared exactly that way. In the first census, she might have been recorded as Mary Smith. In her second census, she might be Elizabeth Smith because her mother was also Mary, so they called her by her middle name. By the third census, she was a young lady, and she might have gone by Lizzie or Eliza.
By the time Mary had seen her fourth census, she was probably married. She might have been recorded as Mary E. Jones. After another 10 years and half a dozen kids, she might have given her name as Bessie Jones.
Bessie was all those names but, more importantly, she was a person, perhaps the greatgrandmother of the researcher. Regardless if she was called Mary, Elizabeth, Bessie, Lizzie, Eliza, Miss Smith or Mrs. Jones, she remained the person she was, identified more by the legacy she left behind than the names recorded in history.
The number of individuals with the name Mary or Elizabeth who settled in the Maritimes is astounding.
Their names weren’t unique but the women who bore them were. More specific information is needed to truly identify and recreate this woman who played an important role in the growth of her family. Date and location of birth, names of her parents, siblings, husband and children, the places she lived and her death details create the basis of who she was.
To bring her more in to focus, we still need more. Did she travel, did she play an instrument, did she volunteer, did she work and, if so, what did she do, or did she love to skate, sing or write letters to family? All these details, both large and small, are more meaningful than a name. They etch an image into the minds of those who learn them like no name ever could.
When researching a woman similar to Mary or anyone else in the family tree, and a name is found, how do we know it’s the right name? We don’t; we only know that at this given time in this circumstance this is what the name was. Record it as being the actual name. If further research uncovers a clarification of the name – as in Elizabeth instead of Bessie – use Elizabeth as the given name and Bessie as the nickname.
In the end, names are only like numbers; they help identify the human.
What makes our ancestors fascinating are the facts behind the name.