Branches and Leaves (2)

What’s in a middle name? In the world of genealogy research, the name some refuse to utter can actually be quite helpful.

Let’s examine…

•    MAIDEN NAME: I’ve encountered many instances where the children’s middle names are in fact the maiden name of their mother. This helps solidify that I have the correct person in the death or veteran records searched. If I knew that John Smith and Mary Miller had a son name George, how can I confirm that the George Smith on the death certificate I locate was the son of John and Mary? Well, when I see that his full name lists George Miller Smith, I have more confidence that I’ve made the correct family connection.

•    IN TRIBUTE: Many times, children’s middle names were chosen in honor or tribute of a beloved family member (grandparent, aunt, sibling who passed). For example, my great-grandfather, Roy Leon, was likely named in honor of two relatives: his paternal grandmother’s family name of ROY and his maternal grandmother’s middle name of LEONE. This is only a guess, but it helps make connections where previous ones had not existed in my search.

•    JUNIORS AND SENIORS: Middle names can help distinguish John Smith, the elder from John Smith, Jr. In those cases, the middle name would be identical. However, how do you figure out who is who when they show up in search results as adults? For instance, what if John E Smith and John E Smith are both listed in the 1901 Philly city directory at different addresses? You’d have to do further research to confirm who lived at which residence. It can be tricky, indeed. On the other hand, if the father is John E. Smith and his son is John P. Smith, then the puzzle pieces fit together much easier.

•    MIDDLE NAME PREFERRED: I’ve discovered that plenty of my Irish ancestors used their middle names as their preferred name. Three generations of Michael Francis all went by Frank. This usage does lead to genealogical confusion sometimes. I know that my 3 times great-grandfather was known as Thomas, but was that the first name on his birth certificate or did he go by his middle name? Would that explain why I have yet to locate him in marriage records or on ship manifests?

This is not to say that every middle name has meaning. Perhaps the parents simply couldn’t agree on a first name so they used both. Why is my great-grandmother’s middle name Violeta when I can’t find any connections to a Violet in my research? Maybe they just liked purple.

There are plenty of us in this day and age who adamantly dislike, or outright despise, our middle names. Before you start cursing your parents for choosing an unusual or embarrassing middle name, just know that future family historians will be quite grateful for the specificity.