Are You Sure That Is How to Spell Your Ancestor’s Name?

Portraits of my Starbird ancestors hang on our wall on the landing at the top of the staircase. Over the years I have chained the family back from Martha Jane (Starbird) Richmond (1836-1905) to Robert Starbird (1782- ) to Moses Starbird (1743-1815) to John Starbird (1701-1753) to Thomas Starbird (1660-1723).

photo of the Starbird family

Photo: Starbird family. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

All of them lived in Dover, New Hampshire, at some time in their lives, and by the 19th century several of the Starbird lines were living in Gray, Maine.

Looking in the deep Historical Newspaper Archives of GenealogyBank, I can quickly find multiple Starbird articles from across centuries of American history.

Enter Last Name

For example, here is a probate notice regarding Catharine Starbird, widow of Moses Starbird, published in 1838.

article about a probate proceeding involving Catharine Starbird, Portland Weekly Advertiser newspaper article 1 May 1838

Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 1 May 1838, page 1

Here is an article about John Starbird (1742-1802), who served in the Continental Army. Both he and his brother (my ancestor) Moses Starbird (1743-1815) fought at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

article about John Starbird, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 30 December 1779

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 30 December 1779, page 3

So far so good.

Their name was “Starbird” and I am finding “Starbird” articles in the old newspapers.
Good. This is straightforward.

FamilySearch recently added to their site the “England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008.” Great—an index to all of the births in England. I thought: let me search there to see if I can determine where in England the Starbird family came from.

This should be easy family tree research.

Bang.

screenshot of a search on FamilySearch for the surname "Starbird"

Source: FamilySearch

What? There was only one “Starbird” birth in all of England, going all the way back to 1837?

How could that be?

Looking deeper into GenealogyBank, I found this old obituary notice.

obituary for John Starboard, Weekly Eastern Argus newspaper article 26 April 1805

Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 26 April 1805, page

This is for a son of John “Starboard” from Gray, Maine.
Oh—that’s it.
The name could have been spelled “Starbird” or “Starboard.”

When I think of it—I pronounce both words exactly the same way.

Enter Last Name

So—let’s do a quick double-check in the FamilySearch index to British birth records with this new spelling.

This time the search results were zero.

Zero “Starboard” births and only one “Starbird” birth—what is going on here?

I can find a ton of “Starbird” references in America but none in Britain.
Is there another spelling of the surname?

I have seen where some genealogists have suggested that Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, was the son of Edward Starbuck (1604-1690) who was also from Dover.

Would Thomas really have changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?

Alfred A. Starbird, author of Genealogy of the Starbird-Starbard Family (Burlington, Vermont: The Lane Press), looked at this—especially since another Starbird historian said that Thomas Starbird had changed his name from Starbuck—but concluded “nothing has been found to support this claim.”

The title of his book gives us another variant spelling of this surname: “Starbard.” So, I tried that spelling in the FamilySearch—again zero references.

So—what about the spelling “Starbuck”?
I repeated the search, and that spelling produced over 5,000 English birth records.

Is it that simple—Thomas simply changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?
Would that be a logical name change?
Is there another explanation?

Have any of our readers found a record proving who the parents of Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, were? If so, I would like to know.

Do you know any current men named Starbird or Starbuck who are willing to take a DNA test? That might be the only way we find the answer to this question.

What say you?

I’d be interested in your comments.

Related Ancestor Name Research Articles:

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Ship Passenger Lists

Newspapers routinely published passenger lists of passengers coming to and leaving from America.

Here are just a few examples of the thousands of passenger lists published in newspapers that can be found in GenealogyBank.

Newspapers routinely published not just lists of immigrants coming to America but also regularly published passenger lists of American’s going overseas; American’s returning home to the US and American’s traveling within the United States by ship.

Notice in this example from the Irish-American newspaper, The Shamrock (17 Aug 1816) – published in New York City – that these passengers left from the port of Sligo, Ireland on board the brig Juno and landed in New London, CT. There they boarded the “sloop MacDonough” which in turn set sail for New York City – where they arrived on 16 August 1816.

This pre-1820 passenger list tells us that these immigrants landed twice on their trip to America, that they took two ships to finally reach their destination – an alert that their names will appear on two different passenger lists. Once on the passenger list for the brig Juno that landed in New London, CT and again on the passenger list for the sloop MacDonough that landed in New York City.

Notice also that this passenger list gives the hometown or county of origin of each passenger. Critical information that is almost never given in the Federal post-1820 passenger lists.

Tip: Passenger lists were not collected by the government until 1820 – these early lists can be difficult if not impossible to find. Newspapers are a terrific source for Colonial passenger lists.

Click on these links to see a few examples of the thousands of passenger lists, published in newspapers that can be found in
GenealogyBank.

Passenger Lists of Columbus, GA
3 April 1894. Steamer Queen City.
Columbus (GA) Daily Inquirer. 3 April 1894.

Passenger Lists New Orleans, LA
20 February 1869.
Steamship Crescent City. From New York City.
Times Picayune. 20 February 1869.

23 October 1872. Steamship Saxonia.
Left New Orleans for Hamburg (Germany) by way of Havana (Cuba), Santander (Spain) and Havre (France).
Times Picayune. 23 October 1872. p. 1

29 April 1873. Steamship John G. Meiggs.
Left New Orleans for Aspinwall (Panama); Port Limon (Costa Rica); and Havanna (Cuba). Times Picayune. 29 April 1873. p. 8

25 August 1875. Steamship City of Merida.
Arrived in New Orleans from Vera Cruz, Tuxpan, and Tampico – all ports in Mexico. Times Picayune. 25 August 1875. p. 1

12 June 1848. Steamship Washington. From Southampton (England), by way of Halifax (Nova Scotia).
New York Herald. 16 Jan 1848. p. 2

Passenger Lists Philadelphia, PA
5 Nov 1881. Steamship City of Savannah. Departed for Savannah (Georgia).
Philadelphia Inquirer. 7 Nov 1881. p. 2

13 July 1883. Steamship Niagara. Marine Disaster. Burned off the coast of Florida.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 14 July 1883. p. 1

23 June 1891. Steamship Polynesia. Enroute from Hamburg, Germany.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 23 June 1891. p. 4

10 September 1901. Steamship Alleghany. Enroute from the South.
Philadelphia Inquirer. 10 September 1901. p. 16

Passenger Lists San Francisco, CA
6 September 1871. San Francisco Bulletin. 6 September 1871. p. 3

Click here to download and search the complete 1819/1820 Passenger List for all US ports.
This free resource is a good example of the genealogical content in the historical newspapers, books and documents that can be found in GenealogyBank.

Genealogy Boot Camp – Quick Tips

Genealogy Boot Camp

Here are a few tips that every genealogist should know.

Using an online index

Researchers using an online index sometimes try to tell the computer everything they know about their deceased ancestor.

Assuming that the computer will sort through all of the facts and narrow down the hits to just their ancestor – they will type in the person’s full name, complete dates of birth/death, nicknames and any other facts that might be helpful.

Sometimes – less is more.

What you want to do is try multiple approaches as you interrogate the index.

1. Search on the full name: first name, middle name, surname.
Give it a try and see if it promptly gives you the results you want. This is particularly effective if the parts of the name are distinctive, uncommon words.

2. Not finding your guy? Then – try again. This time search on only the surname. Or – if the first name is distinctive – search on just the first name. 3. Notice that once you have made your initial search you may narrow down your search to only the obituaries, marriage notices or birth announcements.

Click on Obituaries and the computer will bring you only the 55 obituaries – instead of all 2,651 article results for “Starbird”.

This is a handy tool for speeding up your search.

4. Be careful not to narrow your search too much.

It is common for new researchers to only search the “local” newspaper published in the town where their ancestor once lived. That is a common mistake.

Newspapers routinely published information about people living far from the town where the newspaper was published.

For example – Chloe Starbird – wife of John Starbird died in Portland, Maine – but her obituary appeared in the Boston Semi-Weekly Advertiser (16 March 1822) – published in another state. Newspapers routinely published articles about people who lived in other counties; or other states. Their mandate was to fill the newspaper with news every day and to expand their circulation base. So – editors routinely added birth, marriage and death notices for individuals – providing their readers with the news they needed.

Notice that in this same example from the Boston Semi-Weekly Advertiser (16 March 1822) – that there are obituaries for individuals from Portland, Maine; Dublin, New Hampshire; Sturbridge; Shrewsbury; Bolton; New Braintree; Barre, Vermont; Zanesville, Ohio and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Think big – search all of GenealogyBank – then narrow your search by region, state or town.