Part 3: Index Searching Secrets: Understanding Variations of Given Names
by Brenna J. Corbit and Mary Ellen G. Heckman
Just when you are beginning to understand surnames, you have to consider variations of given names. For example, when you are searching for a Pennsylvania German ancestor Sarah Smith, you not only have to consider the German Schmidt, but also have to search for the diminutives Sara, Sallie or Sally.
Our ancestors often used these variations when giving recorders information or when filling out forms. This may not be a problem with common names, such as Patrick being Pat. But it can be bit confusing when Mary becomes Polly, Margaret becomes Peg, or Martha becomes Patty. But the variations become more complex.
I have also seen different variations for Southern U.S. African American names. For example, Amanda can be Minder and Matilda can be Tlithia or Tea. And then there are Anglicized versions for immigrants’ names. Franz Wagner and Giuseppe Vitale coming off the boat from Europe in 1910 are most likely going to be Frank and Joseph in a 1930 census record. But then what do you do with given names that have no English variants?
The Polish names Bolesław, Czezława, and Szczepan have no English equivalents but for some reason usually become William, Celia and Steven, respectively. Also keep in mind Latin uses of names when searching baptismal registers. For example, the Polish immigrant Jan Gil was baptized in the Catholic Church register in Austrian occupied Poland as Johannes Gil, and when he settled in Berks County he became John Gil.
Also keep in mind the uses of middle initials and middle names. Mary R. Kendig in one record may be Rebecca Kendig in the next, or in some cases R. M. Kendig or Rebecca M. Kendig. I know, it gets confusing, just keep comparing record to record.
Also, names change over different periods. For example, Jennifer doesn’t really start to be used in England or the U.S. until the 1930s, so when you see “Jenny” in 1940 or earlier documents, it almost always is a nickname for Jane. Moreover, be aware of earlier abbreviations of names; for example, Jas and Wm are James and William.
Also, look at the name carefully. One such example I have found was the diminutive for the Spanish name Soledad, which may have been Solly, but recorded phonetically as the English Sally. I have also seen the male given Jewish name Sol become Sally in a census record, which caused the census taker to incorrectly mark the gender as female.
Lastly, sometimes records will have nicknames, which have nothing to do with the given name. In these cases, it is best to compare records, such as comparing a family of names from census to census. Sometimes, age and gender is a clue to who is bearing the nickname.
You may also want to try truncation (*) and wildcard (?) searches. H*ry will search for Henry and Harry, or H*nr* will search for Heinrich or Henry. Refer to the previous article “Index Searching Secrets: Using Truncation and Wildcards to Search for Your Ancestors.”
To gain a better understanding of names among different groups, refer to ethnic genealogy guides in The Yocum Library, such as Polish Roots or Italian Genealogical Records. You may also Google a name to see the various diminutives or refer to online guides.
Here are several we have found:
Behind the Name: http://www.behindthename.com/
English diminutives of male given names: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_diminutives_of_male_given_names
English diminutives of female given names: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_female_given_names
Polish given names:
Abbreviations for English given names: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Appendix:Abbreviations_for_English_given_names
Africanisms in African American names in the United States:
Recommended Web Sites!
- Internet Public Library . The “Reading Room” is interesting. Books, magazine, journal links and much much more.
- File Extension Resource. Ever wonder what those extensions mean on a file? Check this site out for thousands of extensions, what they mean, and what programs open them
- The Purdue University Online Writing Lab ...MLA guidelines in research papers, and citing all sources from a single book to government ...
- New York Public Library's Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 640,000 images digitized from the The New York Public Library's vast collections, including illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints, photographs and more.