Importance of Middle Names in Genealogy Research Wednesday, Dec 30 2015 

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.

Irish Pride Today and Every Day Tuesday, Mar 17 2015 

A view from atop Blarney Castle

A view from atop Blarney Castle

The Irish blood flows through my veins though I’ve never visited the actual villages or hometowns of my ancestors.  I traveled to Southern Ireland about ten years ago, but at the time, I hadn’t started my genealogy research. As such, I didn’t know that my Deenys originated from the Donegal/Derry counties of Northern Ireland.  That just gives me one more reason to return to the stunning Isle and walk the paths that my great-great grandparents did.

Though there were Deenys (and Deeneys) aplenty in Philadelphia and Boston during the time of my great-grandparents immigration, I have yet to find a direct link to the ones who were here before my relatives arrived.  Many of us remained in England and Ireland and some Deenys made Iowa their home. *Sidenote: I haven’t connected the Philly area Deenys to the Iowa Deenys as of yet.*

I love the language, land, and mystic history of the Celtic people though I must admit that my taste buds were the last to adjust during my trip.  I grew up with a solid pride for my Irish heritage even though I knew quite little of the country my ancestors once called home.

As Americans celebrate “St. Patrick’s Day” I join in by wearing green, listening to my favorite Celtic music, and adorning myself with a flashy shamrock necklace.  The celebration doesn’t end there, because my journey to find my Irish roots continues.  I’ve lived over thirty years as a proud descendant of Irish immigrants and know that my pride will only grow the moment I understand the ones who came before.

Unlocking Doors in My Genealogy Research Monday, Feb 9 2015 

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland - circa 2004

Photo taken in Dublin, Ireland – circa 2004

My genealogy search stalled once again due to employment necessity, or a lack thereof. Given the fact that I cannot quickly look something up without it turning into a few hours of family history research, I pushed it aside until I had ample time to focus on this project.


If you’ve read some of my earlier blog posts entry, you know that I’ve encountered one locked door after another with the Smith side of my family tree.  I have yet to find substantial proof of our rumored Native American lineage and the numerous marriages/remarriages of my great-grandfather and his father leave me searching for months on end.


So, you can imagine my elation when I found an “unlocked door”! Thanks to new documents available on FamilySearch, I found numerous obituaries for some of my Smith relatives in Michigan; my great-grandmother and her mother-in-law being two of the findings. I have not found my great-grandfather’s obit nor that of his father, but my search continues with renewed hope and focus that with a little determination, patience, and refocus, I’ll find those whom I seek.


Have you encountered similar struggles? If so, how did you overcome them?


Happy searching from one family detective to another!

The Strength of My Female Ancestors: Working in the early 1900’s Friday, Jul 25 2014 

Recent developments in my professional life have me pondering how I would’ve survived in the 1900’s. I seek a career that fills both my bank account and my artistic spirit – two goals not easily achieved simultaneously.  As I grow more and more picky about job choices, I consider my female ancestral relations. These women were employed as housekeepers, seamstresses, office clerks, and factory workers.

I’ve made mention in prior posts that history was never my favorite subject during my years of schooling.  It  just wasn’t that interesting to me – all the dates to memorize, names to know, and facts to remember.  It all seemed so impersonal to me.  It’s only since I started along the genealogy path that I wish I knew more about not only American history but other nations as well.  I wish I knew what the socio-economic state was in Philadelphia in 1899 or understood why my ancestors emigrated from Ireland before the famine.  What prompted their decisions and choices?  I’m intrigued about the resilient women in my history but also all the others who experienced struggle, grief, and poverty, whose names are known only to their descendants.

My great-great grandmother, Elizabeth, had three children to provide for at the turn of the 20th century after her husband died young.  The widowed Irishwoman owned the homes she lived in and worked as a seamstress in 1900 and housekeeper in 1910.  I can only imagine that she must have dealt with incredible challenges to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothes on her children’s backs.  It’s her story I long to tell.  Her experiences I yearn to know more about.  She’s a mystery to me, and I’m excited to delve into her history.

The strength, determination, and perseverance of my female ancestors puts my circumstance into much clearer perspective. So, when I complain about not finding an “ideal” job or missing a day of fun with my visiting family members, I think about the women who came before me and the difficult times they lived through.


Happy searching!

3 Tips for Genealogy Info Overload Tuesday, May 20 2014 

Overwhelmed with the amount of information in front of you and which branch of your family tree to focus on first? You’re not alone!

Before you stop the search altogether, take a breather and try the following:

  • NARROW YOUR SEARCH: Starting broad can lead to an overload of information.  Pick one branch and keep the search focused on that individual and their immediate relations.  Try alternate spellings of the last name and re-examine the records you already found for them.  You might just find a new connection in a census record that you overlooked the first time through.
  • BE NEIGHBORLY:  When you hit a roadblock in your search for a common surname (talking to you Smiths and Millers), step back and research a neighbor listed on a census record.  They could likely have been an in-law, cousin, or friend.  For example, it turns out the witness on my great-great grandfather’s Naturalization record was a neighbor.  In searching the name of the witness I found new details on my direct ancestor.
  • CHANGE IT UP: Don’t use only one website or genealogy software program.  When you rely too heavily on one, sometimes you can get frustrated at seeing the same records again and again.  Move over to a different site, like one with more specific type records.  For example, search a cemetery records/grave listing website or one that stores a collection of newspapers.  I’ve found this tip very helpful in my own searching.  I found an obituary listing in a 1899 newspaper that contained my ancestor’s address and listed him as a member of a fraternal organization – the former a confirmation and the latter information to me.

In summary, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with information overload.  Instead of getting frustrated, try a different tactic.  You just might create a crack in that roadblock!



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