Friday, November 27, 2009

What's In A Name? Open To the Possibilities

The "Maybe's" Of It All
I love patterns, and lucky for me, there are plenty to be found in genealogy.  It's so satisfying to find them in my research notes, database reports, or spreadsheets.  It may not give me an answer to a problem, but it can give me something quantifyable to look at maybe leading to some circumstantial evidence for a line that I'm stuck on.  One type of pattern that I like the most is naming patterns.  There are all sorts of naming patterns, and I have yet to find one in one of my lines that follows the official naming pattern "rules," but I do seem to find patterns within my family lines' given names.

 Don't Forget the Brothers and the Sisters
My maternal grandfather's surname is Blacketer.  Because it's a unique name, especially the further you go back in time, it's a pretty easy name to trace.  However, what makes this line so difficult is the given names.  Come again?  Well, to say it's a big family is an understatement, and apparently everyone just absolutely adored each other.  Hence, they named their children after their siblings, uncles, aunts, and the like ~ a lot.  Furthermore, many migrated with each other causing generations of those with the same exact names within the same age ranges to be living near each other!  Nothing's ever easy, is it?  In's family trees, you can find many branches of this family ~ both sourced and unsourced.  Furthermore, on the surname message boards, you can find many confused researchers wondering, "Are we related?"  So, one day I decided to "figure them out," dilligently following each line, going from the "bottom up" then the "top down."  I already knew who the progenitor of my line was, William Alexander Blacketer from Scotland, I knew all of his children, and I knew how I connected to William.  This took time, but I don't think that it was particularly hard.  The main thing that I saw that other researchers may have overlooked was collateral lines ~ their ancestor's brothers and sisters.  They hadn't followed those lines, so that when another Blacketer "popped up" where their ancestor's line was [which relatives tend to do], they hadn't any idea if or how they were related.  To me, though, the Blacketer surname is not like the surnames "Jones," "Williams," or, God forbid, the dreaded "Smith," so I didn't feel too particularly intimidated.  Although, one thing that struck me while doing this research and again once I was done with the research was the given name patterns.  Interestingly enough, they exist in my line even today.

Can a Curse Be A Blessing?
My grandfather's name was James Wesley Blacketer.  He was my Gran's husband ~ you remember my Gran, right?  Well, they named their first born son James Wesley, and he named his first born son, James Wesley, a first cousin of mine.  Want to take a wild guess as to what my first cousin named his first born son?  Bingo!  Bob.  Just kidding.  He named him James Wesley. [And aren't my descendants lucky that I've got this part figured out?  Your welcome.  It was my pleasure.]  What was an unpleasant task was figuring out all the other branches ~ both close and distant.  The curse, if there is one, in this family is the replication of given names.  However, the curse is also a blessing in this case because it happens frequently.

The First Ones
To give you an example, I decided to take my grandfather's name and search my "Blacketer" database for the name "James Wesley," "James" as a first name or a middle name, and "Wesley" as a first name or a middle name.  Keep in mind, however, there are plenty in my database that don't have a middle name recorded and there are plenty of "J." and "W." middle initials.  Also, I looked up the earliest recorded James and the earliest recorded Wesley because I was curious as to who the first American Blacketer's in this family were with these names.

As They Moved West, Westley Lost a "T"
The oldest Wesley was actually a "Westley."  Born in 1771, William Westley was the son of William Alexander and Rachel Mary (?) Blacketer.  [Accck! Another Mary.]  William Westley had 10 known brothers and sisters and the next brother down from him is my 3rd great-grandfather, David Blacketer.  Also, this Westley named a son of his Wesley M..  [Will wonders never cease?] Interestingly [but not surprisingly], there's only one other William Westley [with this exact spelling] that I have found, and he was the brother of my 1st great-grandfather Harrison Blacketer.  The stats on the name Wesley are as follows:

[3] Wesley Blacketer
[1] Wesley M. Blacketer
[4] James Wesley Blacketer
[1] John Wesley Blacketer
[2] William Westley Blacketer
[1] John Wesley Blacketter

Let's Name Him "James" So the Name Will Never Die Out
The oldest recording of James in my Blacketer family is James Blacketer born in 1801.  He was the son of my 3rd great-parents David and Mary F. (Cox) Blacketer.  [Oh look, another Mary.]  This James also had a son named James born in 1833.  Well, if they were worried about the name "James" dying out in the Blacketer family, they needn't have worried.  Here are the "James" stats from my Blacketer database.

[8] James Blacketer
[1] James A. Blacketer
[1] James D. Blacketer
[1] James P. Blacketer
[1] James T. Blacketer
[1] James W. Blacketer
[1] James William Blacketer
[4] James Wesley Blacketer

Of Course I'm Not Sure...
So, you might be wondering, "Are you 100% sure that they were all named after the original James and/or Wesley?"  And the answer is, "No.  I can't be sure."  However, it's interesting to notate, to look at, to ponder, and to analyze.  You can take this information and add it to other information such as migration patterns, and together they might yield some interesting results.  My grandfather's name, James Wesley, probably wasn't the best name to look at.  The progenitor of the family, William Alexander, probably would've been better.  So briefly, here are the stats on the name William:

[23] William as a 1st name
[1] William as a 2nd name
[4] Willie [may or may not be a nickname for William]

Coincidences Do Happen...
Let's face it, though, these could all be coincidental, right?  Perhaps the most convincing of all is the number of times the generations have the same group of names.  For example, William and Rachel's children were as follows: Henry Burrell, John, William Westley, Elizabeth, David [my 3rd great-grandfather], Nancy B., Rachel, Keziah, Norman, Mary "Polly" [another one, yay me!], and Jane.  The following is a summation of their children's names ~ the one's that repeat [Also, I am missing 3 of the children's lines]:

[5] John
[3] Elizabeth
[3] William
[3] Thomas
[2] Rachel [named after Rachel Mary?]
[2] Nancy
[2] Jane
[2] Mary
[2] David
[2] Jonathon
[2] Henry [1 as a first name; 1 as a middle name]
[2] Wesley [1 as a first name; 1 as a middle name]
[1] Alexander [not repeated, but is the middle name of William, the progenitor of the line]

Keeping Your Mind Open...
Could you imagine going to Grandpa William's and Grandma Rachel's for Thanksgiving with all these kids with the same names?

"Hey, you, John #4.  Quit hitting Thomas #2." 
"And William #1 quit pulling Elizabeth #3's braids."
"And John Henry quit feeding the dog turkey!"
"No, not you, John #'s 1-4 or just plain Henry!  I mean John Henry!"  

[Yowzer!  Nope.  I couldn't imagine that nightmare...]  Furthermore, these names repeat more and more down the lines.  So when they migrated with each other, it was hard to keep up with all of them.  Moreover, my grandfather James Wesley and my Gran seem to have given some of the same names to their children: James Wesley [already mentioned], David, John, and...Mary [Goodness me!]  Of course, you have to be careful with this thinking.  Why do I say this?  Does anyone remember my Gran's name?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Why, it's...Mary, of course! [Rolling eyes heavenward.]  The whole point of all this is that it's probably a good idea to keep an eye on the names in your family ~ to keep your mind open to the possibilities...


  1. I certainly concur on the brothers and sisters lines - the uncles and aunts they become... great places to find missing children from your folks you are trying to find.

    Thanks for a very interesting post!
    I love good family ancestor stories!


  2. Years ago, my cousin Mary married Thomas. Mary's parents were Marianne and Thomas; Thomas's parents were Mary & Thomas. Before the wedding service began, the priest asked out of curiosity how many present were named Mary, Marianne or Tom? I swear half the church raised their hands! Then he asked how many of these were married to each other, and only about 1/3 put their hands down. Everyone got a big chuckle over that.


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