Odd & Hilarious Names: You Responded with Your Funniest Finds

Last week, we posed this question to our GenealogyBank friends on Facebook: “What’s the funniest name or surname you’ve ever come across?”

Well, your responses were wonderful: 98 of you have commented so far sharing your funniest name finds! We enjoyed some laughs reading these names so much that we decided to compile them into one list to give everyone a chuckle. Some of these people’s names seem too outlandish or funny to be real—but, time and again, you appended messages swearing that this is “really, truly” a name you’ve encountered in your family history research.

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Here is that list of funny names—and thank you all, readers, for sharing these crazy names with us. The parents of these people clearly had a sense of humor! If anyone reading this has more funny names to contribute, please join in on the fun by posting them in the comments section below or on Facebook. (Keep the names family-friendly, please.)

And we couldn’t leave without contributing one hilarious name we encountered while doing research in this 1799 Massachusetts newspaper. Joseph Maxfeld ran an ad announcing the dissolution of his partnership—with a man named Preserved Fish!

ad announcing the dissolution of the firm Fish and Maxfeld, Columbian Courier newspaper advertisement, 1 May 1799

Columbian Courier (New Bedford, Massachusetts), 1 May 1799, page 1

Here’s the list of odd and funny names you shared:

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Meanings of Family Surnames: Exploring Origins of Last Names

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary discusses the origins and meanings of various family surnames, and shows how including the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry.

Ever wonder about the origin of your family surname? If so, you are not alone.

Many people would like to learn about their family surname, but don’t know where to look for more information. Fortunately, historical and modern newspapers frequently have articles about last names. Look for these articles in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Crispin’s French Origins

Many newspaper articles discuss the meaning of specific surnames, such as this 1871 piece on the surname Crispin. The patron saint of shoemakers was St. Crispin, which is derived from the French term “crepin,” which means a shoemaker’s last (mechanical form in the shape of a foot). (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last.)

article about the family surname Crispin, Massachusetts Spy newspaper article 8 September 1871

Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 8 September 1871, page 4

Other historical newspaper articles discuss the etymology or nomenclature of surnames, which is the study of their origins. Where did particular names come from? How were they assigned? Is there a special meaning behind them? All of these are interesting components for your genealogical research and can lead to a deeper understanding of your familial roots.

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The First English Surnames

This 1893 newspaper article reports that the first English surname was adopted in the reign of King Edward the Confessor of England, who ruled between 1042 and 1066. If correct, this first surname was probably for a nobleman and most likely established to carry on hereditary rights (titles, and later property).

article about various firsts in history, Bay City Times newspaper article 30 June 1893

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 30 June 1893, page 1

This 1823 newspaper article also reports that surnames were first adopted in the 11th century in England, and “for the distinction of families in which they were to continue hereditary.”

The old news article notes that the term “surname” came not from the word “sire,” but from a French concept indicating a super-addendum (or additional name added to one’s religious or Christian name). Of course, surnames weren’t just required for Christians, but for every culture and religion.

Origin of Surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Patronymics and Matronymics

As human populations grew, there needed to be a system to identify individuals. Each country chose their own method, and within a society, a religious group or individualized group, some might have chosen their own unique system.

One early naming identification method was to associate a son’s surname with a father’s first name, and a daughter’s with her mother’s.

This is known as patronymics and matronymics, and if you ever come across a person with just one name, this is called mononymics (usually associated with rulers or famous individuals). See Wikipedia’s article on patronymics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patronymic.

A Look at Surnames around the World

Depending upon cultural customs, a specific spelling or pattern for the name was designated.

In most cases the surname was modified, but in some cases the name was constructed differently. In some parts of Asia for example, the surname is given first, rather than last—and in other places, another word is inserted to indicate the family relationship.

Hebrew: One culture where you will find examples of this practice of word insertion in names is with the Jews. Hebrew names are often expressed with the use of “ben,” meaning son of, or with “bint,” meaning daughter of.

article about Jewish surnames, Rhode-Island American newspaper article 4 November 1823

Rhode-Island American (Providence, Rhode Island), 4 November 1823, page 1

Ireland: Watch for names such as Fitzgerald—the “fitz” indicates that someone was the son of Gerald. According to Behind the Name’s website, this particular surname came from the Anglo-Norman French and was introduced to Ireland at the time of William the Conqueror. See http://surnames.behindthename.com/name/fitzgerald.

Netherlands: Dutch patronymics can carry on for several generations. The Dutch Wikipedia explanation is that a “Willem Peter Adriaan Jan Verschuren would be Willem, son of Peter, son of Adriaan, son of Jan Verschuren.” See Dutch surnames at http://surnames.behindthename.com/names/usage/dutch.

Poland: A common way to express a son’s last name is by the use of “wicz” at the end. Correspondingly, “ówna” or “’anka” may be used for an unmarried daughter, and “owa” or “’ina” for a married woman or widow.

Wikipedia’s article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polish_name gives the example of a man with the last name of Nowak. His unmarried daughter would use Nowakówna and his wife or widow would use Nowakowa.

If you encounter a name ending in “ski,” the person is a male. If you see “ska” at the end, the person is female. There are many other variations, including “wicz,” “owicz,” “ewicz,” and “ycz” which can be added to a name, along with diminutives (similar to calling someone “little” as a pet name). See About.com’s article at http://genealogy.about.com/cs/surname/a/polish_surnames.htm for more examples.

Scandinavia: “Son” or “dotter” or “dottir” is a common addition for boys and girls names, and there are slight spelling variations from country to country. Although most of Scandinavia no longer practices patronymics, you may still see it in Iceland.

Examples: a daughter of a man named Sven might use the surname Svensdottir, and Leif Ericson, the famous Norse explorer, has a name that identifies him as the son of an Eric (Erik the Red.) See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leif_Erikson.

Naming People in Norway, National Advocate newspaper article 28 November 1828

National Advocate (New York, New York) 28 November 1828, page 2

Spain/Portugal: Although it doesn’t mean son, “ez” (Spain) and “es” (Portugal) are used to indicate males, such as with the names Gonzales or Hernandez. See the article on Spanish patronymics at http://spanishlinguist.us/2013/08/spanish-patronymics/.

Wales: Over time, there have been several variations of name usage in Wales. Sometimes you’ll find that the surnames of children were an unmodified version of the father’s name. A son Rees might be named James Rees. Another option related to the terms “ap” (son of) or “verch/ferch” (daughter of). The name Madog ap Rhys would be interpreted as Madog, the son of Rhys, and Maredudd ferch Rhys would be Maredudd, the daughter of Rhys.

To complicate matters, a name might indicate if a woman were the first or second wife of a man, or a widow.

For an in-depth explanation, see Tangwystyl verch Morgant Glasvryn’s article “Women’s Names in the First Half of 16th Century Wales (with particular attention to the surnames of married women)” at www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/welshWomen16/.

These are just some of the many types of matronyms and patronyms that you might find while researching your ancestry, so be sure to investigate your ancestral countries further.

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Naming by Association (towns, physical attributes, etc.)

We can thank the practice of taxation for other methods of assigning surnames, some of which are attributed to the English poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381.

See “The English Poll Taxes, 1377-1381” by George Redmonds, 28 March 2002, published online by American Ancestors.org at www.americanancestors.org/the-english-poll-taxes-1377-1381/.

In order to keep track of who owed what taxes, names were recorded on the tax rolls in a variety of ways. Some people were associated with their villages, others by trades or occupations, and others by distinguishing features or attributes such as a very tall, or blind, man.

Most Common Surnames by Country

If you are stuck on the origins of your last name, consider the commonality of names in specific places.

Most of us are aware that Smith and Jones are among the most familiar U.S. surnames, but what about other countries?

Wikipedia’s article List of the Most Common Surnames in Europe has an interesting list, some of which I’ve included below. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_most_common_surnames_in_Europe.

  • Belgium: Peeters (meaning the rock, similar to Petros, Peterson, Peters, Perez)
  • England: Smith (a tradesman)
  • France: Martin
  • Germany: Miller
  • Greece: Nagy (meaning great) or Papadopoulos
  • Ireland: Murphy or Of Murchadh (a personal name meaning descendant of Murchadh or “sea hound/warrior”)
  • Italy: Rossi and Russo (red-haired)
  • Luxembourg: Schmit (blacksmith, metal worker, equivalent to Smith)
  • Netherlands: De Jong (equivalent of Young)
  • Northern Ireland: Wilson
  • Norway: Hansen (son of Hans)
  • Poland: Nowak (meaning new man)
  • Scotland: Smith
  • Spain: Garcia (means brave in battle)
  • Sweden: Anderssen (son of Anders)
  • Wales: Jones (of Medieval English origins, derived from the given name John, which in turn is derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan/Johanan)

Genealogical Facts a Surname Might Reveal

Be sure to include the origins of your family surnames in your genealogy research, as they may reveal intriguing clues about your ancestry:

  • Country of origin or hometown
  • Occupation
  • Parentage
  • Physical and mental attributes
  • Religion

An example in my own research is the surname Exton. This family came to America from Euxton, England, an obvious spelling variation. And my maiden name, Harrell, has Norman-French origins. Although a legend, Madame Marie Harel or Harrell is thought to have been the creator of Camembert Cheese in 1791. This is a family favorite of ours today, so perhaps there is a connection!

Genealogy Tip: don’t forget to consider spelling variations in your surname research. My earlier blog article Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings provides some examples of how names change over time.

Resources for Researching Surnames

Related Family Surname Research Articles

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Ancestral Name Searches: 4 Tips for Tracing Surname Spellings

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary explains that ancestral surnames may have been spelled differently in the past—or been completely different altogether—and provides tips for searching for these ancestral name variations.

Earlier this year, I asked some Facebook friends to help with family research on surnames. This type of research can be tricky; some ancestral surnames had spelling variations—or were completely different names.

My friends answered with a range of responses: some reported minor spelling changes in their ancestors’ surnames, while others told of rather dramatic aberrations. After all, who would ever correlate the Bedenbaugh family with the name “Pitebag,” the Cal family with the name “Carroll,” or the Von Der Burg family with the name “Funderburg”!

My Question about Researching Surnames

This was my original Facebook request, with my friends’ replies summarized in the following chart:

I’m looking for ancestral surnames with many alternate spelling variations. For instance, Smith can be spelled Smyth or Smythe. Harrell can be Herrall, Horrall, Herald, etc. Also, looking for names of emigrants that were Americanized. Thanks in advance!

From Surname Variations / Comments
Cindi S. Amick: Emig, Emmick, Emmigh, Amig, Amik
Angela H. Ammons: Amonds, Emmons, Almons, Aman. Ammonds in Germany; Americanized to Ammons.
Jim B. Becherer: My “Becherer” ancestor changed it to Baker, although there are records where he was Becker and his tombstone is Bakar.
Cindi S. Bedenbaugh came from a Pitebag. That’s another one that has always been curious.
Victoria N. Calley, Colley, Collier, Callie, Cally, Colly
Judi C-T. Carroll, Carrell, Corall, Coral, Cal
Marge I. Cilley, Celley, Cealy, Seley, Sealey, Selley, so on, so on
Judy J-L. Cosky: Coskey, Kosky, Koskey, Koski, Koskie, Cuskie, Cusky—came across my ancestral name spelled all these ways on various documents.
Judy J-L. Deegan, Deagan, Dagen, Degan, and Deegen
Cindi S. Dominick, Dominy, Daming, and the oldest variation on this name that I could find: Durnermubhor?
Mary H-S. Ebling, Ebeling, Hebling, Eblinger
Sandy G. Finkenbinder: My grandmother was a Finkenbinder. It started in Germany as Fintboner, Finkboner, Finkbeiner, Finkenbeiner, Finkenbinder.
Cindi S. Fulmer, Folmer, Follmer, Volmer, Vollmer
Mary H-S. Harrell, Harel, Herald, Herrald, Horall, Horrell, Horald
Tammy H. Henney, Heney, Hanney, Hanny, Henny, Heaney, Haney…started as Hennig
Cindi S. Krell, Krelle, Crell, Crelle, Krehl, Kreil, Kreel, Creel, Crehl
Jim B. Langendoerfer: Within the space of two pages, the same census taker for the 1860 Census for Wayne County, PA, listed the four Langendoerfer brothers as: John Longdone, Winesdale (actually Wendell) Langerford, Jacob Longendoff, [and] Nicholas Longendiffer. He probably spoke to each of them on the same day along the same stretch of road. He never realized they were all saying the same name.[Cindi S.] It was a cold day and a little nip helped the census taker make his rounds…lol
Mary H-S. Miesse, Measey, Mease, Mise, Meise, spelled as Mȕsse in Germany
Leanne L. Ouderkerk: Ouderkirk, Oudekerk, Oudekirk, Oderkirk, Odekirk from Holland to New York mid 1600s
Monica C. Peats, Peets, Peetz, Pietz, Peet, Peat, Pyatt, Piatt…
Lisa F. Penny, Penney, Pinny, Pinney
Jessica R. Shultz, Schultz, Shulse, Shultze, Sholtz, Schulse…
Heidi N. Smith can also be an Americanized version of Schmidt, Schmeid, Schmitt, etc.
Mary H-S. Smith, Smyth, Smythe
Tammy H. Sweezey, Sweazy, Sweasey, Swazy, Swazey, Swasey, Sweezy, Swasy. From Germany via France.
Trish W. Von Der Burg family (Funderburg, Funderburgh, Funderburk, etc.)

So Which Surname Spelling Is Correct?

Although some genealogists may disagree, I believe the correct answer is: “most of them!”

Names morph, or change, on documents for a variety of reasons. Obvious reasons include ignorance (simply didn’t know the correct spelling) and sloppiness (typographical and handwriting issues)—but more complex reasons include other considerations.

In general, Old World names (given and last names) are, more often than not, converted from one spelling to another over time. Sometimes this evolves from alphabetical considerations, and other times from pronunciation or Anglicization issues.

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1) Alphabetical Conversions

Alphabetical conversions occur when a letter from a foreign alphabet doesn’t exist in English—such as ones with accents or umlauts (ȕ). An example from the chart is the name Miesse, which was spelled in Germany as Mȕsse. In 17th and 18th century church and civil records, this name is predominantly recorded with an umlaut, but English-speaking settlers had to convert the ȕ to “i,” “ea” and “ie.”

2) Surname Anglicization for Legal Reasons

Families might deliberately change or Anglicize the spellings of their surnames. Sometimes this occurs in daily practice (not formalized), but at other times during a court filing.

An example in the Sesniak family occurred when the name was legally changed from the traditional Polish spelling of Szczesniak. As my husband Tom explains:

On first try, nobody could pronounce or spell our last name, so my father had it shortened. Uniquely, he kept the same pronunciation by dropping two zs and a c. Although it broke all family tradition and upset the grandparents [who did not join in the court filing], it was the right thing to do. They were rooted to their Polish community, but it was only a small part of America. Although they never lost their ethnic pride, my parents’ family immediately went from being Polish to Polish American.

3) Name Pronunciation Dilemmas

Whenever a surname is pronounced differently from what its written form would suggest, expect to find spelling variations—such as this example from my Irish ancestry.

Our family Bible recorded the name as Hoowee—causing some Fisher family cousins to doubt its authenticity. After visiting Ireland, we discovered that the name is spelled both as Hoowe and Hoowee in records.

photo of the name "Hoowee" spelled in the Mathias Fisher family Bible

Photo: the name “Hoowee” spelled in the Mathias Fisher family Bible. Source: in the possession of Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

Why it was changed, we’ll never know—but after discovering it is often pronounced “Who ee” rather than “How,” my theory is that the version “Hoowee” was chosen because it better reflected the correct pronunciation.

4) Recording Considerations

When examining records, always consider who recorded the information.

Was there an enumerator or interviewer—or did a family member write the information in original handwriting?

If a spelling variation came from a family member, perhaps this person was not very literate. If it came from an enumerator, the name might have been written the way the enumerator heard it (phonetically or otherwise). Or perhaps a spelling was altered to reflect a personal cultural background.

Enumerator name variations are commonly reported by census researchers. (See the Langendoerfer example in the chart.)

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The Ellis Island Myth

One of the most written-about American experiences is the arrival of immigrants to Ellis Island—but one of the most incorrectly repeated statements is that names were changed (or Anglicized) upon arrival at Ellis Island.

photo of the Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, c.1904

Photo: Immigrant Building, Ellis Island, New York Harbor, c.1904. Source: Underwood & Underwood; Library of Congress.

This widely repeated myth is easily dispelled by focusing on the steps undertaken when passengers arrived in the port.

During the interview process, immigrants’ names were verified to see that they matched the names recorded on ship manifests, which had been created in foreign, not American, ports. If there were exceptions, it would arise if an immigrant disagreed with the recorded spelling.

(For an in-depth explanation, see the New York Public Library article at www.nypl.org/blog/2013/07/02/name-changes-ellis-island,)

What Are Your Family Spelling Variations?

If you’ve only uncovered 1-2 spelling variations for your family surname, I hope this article will inspire you to find more—and to consider reasons how and why they changed.

Please share your surname spelling examples with us in the comments section.

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8 Genealogy Tips for Tracing Female Ancestry

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, to celebrate March being National Women’s History Month, Mary provides practical tips to help you search for your female ancestors.

You know that age-old expression, What’s in a name? Well, it means absolutely nothing if you can’t find your female ancestor in any of the records—much less her maiden name.

Since the majority of “dead end” ancestor quests are for women, I’d like to share some overlooked avenues for breaking through those genealogy research brick walls, in honor of Women’s History Month.

photo of the B. F. Clark family

Library of Congress Photo: “Family of B. F. Clark, 219 N. 4th Street” www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ncl2004002862/PP/resource/

(Note: all of the newspaper articles used to illustrate this Blog post come from GenealogyBank’s online Historical Newspaper Archives.)

Tip #1: Know All of Your Ancestor’s Identities

This tip suggests that when searching the women in your family tree, you need to search for every name she ever went by, whether it be a formal first name (given name) or an informal nickname.

Most women, including myself, have multiple identities, depending upon the context.

Someone might have a pet name within the family, a formal name on a birth record, and might also gain a new name in a religious setting. And a woman might also go by one spelling as a child, and then choose to spell her name differently as an adult.

Nickname References and Examples

  • Abigail: Abbie, Abby, Gail, Nabby
  • Adeline: Addie, Aline, Dell, Della
  • Clementine: Clem, Tina
  • Henrietta: Etta, Henry, Etty
  • Margaret: Daisy, Greta, Madge, Maggie, Mamie, Marge, Margery, Peggy
  • Roberta: Berta, Bertie, Bobbie, Bobby, Robbie, Robby
article about Daisy Walker, Freeman newspaper article 20 March 1909

Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana), 20 March 1909, page 4

Tip #2: Search All of Your Ancestor’s Titles

Titles aren’t always formal. They can be applied according to the role one takes in the community, and vary from situation to situation. Take, for example, Mary Jane Smith, a popular neighborhood mom in Atlanta. It’s possible some genealogical records only call her Mama Smith, whereas others might name her as Mary Jane Smith.

article about Mary Jane Smith, Marietta Journal newspaper article 4 June 1985

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 4 June 1985, page 6

Ancestor Title examples:

  • Aunt, Aunty, Sis, Mama, Mother, Grandma, Grannie, Nana
  • Goodwife or Goody Jones (a Puritan title)
  • Miss America
  • Mrs. Peabody, Mrs. Juan Moreno
  • Nurse Miller
  • Widow Channing
article about the Puritans' use of the terms "goodman" and "goodwife," Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper article 4 July 1937

Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 4 July 1937, page 5

Tip #3: Search for Pseudonyms

If a woman wished to compete in a man’s world, she typically used a pseudonym.

Many people have heard of Louisa May Alcott, who wrote the beloved novel Little Women. However, few know that Louisa used the pseudonym A. M. Barnard to publish a series of “potboilers” that were thrilling Gothic stories.

book review of Louisa May Alcott's book "Plots and Counter-Plots," Dallas Morning News newspaper article 26 September 1976

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 26 September 1976, page 5aaa

Tip #4: Search by Her Initials

Many assume that men are more prone to be recorded by their initials, but it is common for women also, depending upon the circumstance.

Competing in a Man’s World

Female authors and artists very often use initials to compete in a man’s world.

Mary Jane (Olmstead) Stanton was a suffragette and author who appears in records under the name M. O. Stanton. In this 1890 newspaper article, written when Stanton was involved as a founding member of the Woman’s Press Association of the Pacific Coast, some women were referred to by their initials (Mrs. E. T. Y. Parkhurst), others by their own names (Mrs. Sarah B. Cooper), and one by her husband’s name (Mrs. Sam Davis).

Woman's Press Association, San Diego Union newspaper article 9 October 1890

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 9 October 1890, page 2

Official Government Records

Official government records, such as patents, are sometimes recorded by the inventor’s initials—so if you search only by the obvious names, you’ll miss them.

  • The invention of the modern form of the rolling pin was patented by C. Deiner (Catherine Deiner) 17 March 1891 under U.S. Patent 448,476.

Tip #5: Incorporate Cultural Considerations in Searches

As a country of immigrants, we shouldn’t be surprised that name spellings vary from country to country, or that a bilingual family might interchange names according to the cultural setting. A woman might be called by her Old World name in the family setting, and recorded in other ancestry records by the more common American spelling.

For example, an ancestor named Mary might also be known as: Maria if your family came from Spain; from the Netherlands, as Marja or Maaike; and if your female progenitor was Welsh, she might also be recorded in records as Mair.

article about Marja Rufa, Duluth News-Tribune newspaper article 11 February 1909

Duluth News-Tribune (Duluth, Minnesota), 11 February 1909, page 3

Research Considerations

  • It can take several generations before Old World names are Americanized.
  • American and foreign versions were often interchanged, depending upon the cultural setting.
  • Names are typically recorded differently in English-speaking newspapers than in foreign-language editions.

Tip #7: Search Multiple Sources for Marriage Records

There are more ways to prove a marriage than almost any other event—but many sources for marriage evidence are overlooked. Some will not be found on the Web, so think creatively if you haven’t been able to locate a woman’s maiden name or marriage record.

Marriage Record Research Suggestions:

  • Bibles
  • Biographies
  • Cemetery Records
  • Church Books and Minister’s Records
  • Church Newsletters
  • Civil Registrations (courthouses)
  • Consent Affidavits
  • Courthouse Records
  • Death Certificates
  • Diaries
  • Divorce Decrees
  • Engagement Notices
  • Frakturs (form of artwork common with the Pennsylvania Dutch; see “Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage”)
  • Immigration Records
  • Journals
  • Land Records
  • Marriage Banns—or Publishing of the Banns (see “Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers”)
  • Marriage Bonds
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Marriage Licenses
  • Marriage Permits
  • Naturalization Papers
  • Obituaries of Family Members
  • Orphan Court Records
  • Pension Files (widows)
  • Probate Records
  • Town Histories
  • Town Records (prior to civil registration)
  • Wedding Showers
  • Wills
article about marriage permits, Cincinnati Daily Gazette newspaper article 16 July 1878

Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio), 16 July 1878, page 3

Tip #8: Enter “Maiden Name” as a Search Engine Keyword

When I discovered this last genealogy research tip, it was a real “Aha” moment!

If you are looking for a maiden name, use “maiden name” or “maiden name was” as keywords in your search. Notice how many results were returned when I tried it in the GenealogyBank search box:

  • “maiden name”: over 125,000 results
  • “maiden name was”: almost 35,000 results

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search page for keywords "maiden name was"

Now incorporate those keywords with a name search, and see what you find! When I entered “Sarah Furman” “maiden name,” this record identifying her as a Strickland appeared—a fantastic research find listing her 260 offspring!

obituary for Sarah Furman, Boston Post-Boy newspaper article 22 February 1742

Boston Post-Boy (Boston, Massachusetts), 22 February 1742, page 3

Yes, finding all the genealogy records for your female ancestors can be tough, but employing these eight research tips—plus a little patience—might turn up some solid results for you in your family history searches.

Please share with us in the comments section any successes you’ve had from using these tips, and any additional methods you’ve used to find the females in your family tree.

New DNA Ancestry Study Reveals We’re All Related?!

It’s nice to think that everyone is related—but as genealogists we have known that would be difficult to prove. Now science is proving that theory is correct.

illustration for DNA study showing that everyone on the planet is related

A new DNA study shows that everyone alive on the earth today shares common ancestors only 1,000 to 2,000 years ago.

What?

“Group Hug!”

Wow—what is this study telling us?

It is saying that we are all related and that science can prove it.

How is that possible?

With every generation the number of our ancestors doubles. We have 4 grandparents; 8 great-grandparents; 16 2nd-great-grandparents, and so forth.

But as we go back in time the reverse is true: the number of people who were alive on the earth keeps growing smaller.

A new DNA study shows that all Europeans descend from the “same set of ancestors only a thousand years ago.” This theory has long been proposed, and it has commonly been said that “everyone” in Europe is a descendant of Charlemagne—or that every Englishman alive today has royal ancestry.

UC-Davis Professor Graham Coop says that “we now have concrete evidence from DNA data” that we are all related, and “it’s likely that everyone in the world is related over just the past few thousand years.” Read the entire article: Europeans All Related by Genetic Footprint Dating Back Only 1,000 Years Ago.

This interesting finding will revolutionize the way we view “family” in much the same way that the 1873/1874 Galton-Walton study changed our view of surnames 140 years ago.

graph illustrating the Galton-Walton surname extinction study

Credit: Wikipedia

Their pioneering work showed us that it was likely for a surname to go extinct after 12 to 20 generations. Assuming that each generation begins every 30 years, then 20 generations would extend back to the 1400s.

Click here to read their study “On the Probability of the Extinction of Families” published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain, volume 4, pages 138–144, printed in 1875.

This interesting genealogy study concluded that any given family would eventually no longer have male descendants in the male, surname line. They might have hundreds or thousands of female heirs, but no male descendants carrying the surname after 12 to 20 generations.

Their probability research showed that with each generation it was possible, even likely, that in the next generations there would be no male children born to a given household, or that the male children born would die without surviving male children. They concluded that it was likely after 12 to 20 generations—with wars, disease, or simply by chance—that there would be no more surviving males who could marry and pass down the family name. In genealogy-speak this is referred to as daughtering-out.

From the probability theories of 140 years ago to the more exact science of DNA today, we genealogists are getting a lot more to consider as we trace our family history.

Genealogy Search Tips for Ancestors’ Names: Less Is More

Beginning genealogists sometimes write us and say: “I put in the correct information for my search—full name including middle name, birth date, last known place of residence, etc.—everything I know about my ancestor, and yet I found no matching records. I did this search for a few other ancestors after I was told that there was no record of death. I have seen these names on the Social Security Death Index before. How come I can’t find that information now?”

Be flexible in your ancestor name search

What you want to do is limit your family searches to the basic, essential information, typing in just enough to find your target ancestor without getting back too many hits.

For example, your ancestor’s full name might have been John Henry Thompson—but the editors of the newspaper simply called him “Bif Thompson,” the name he was known by in the community for the past 30 years.

The Social Security Death Index has records for 4,266 persons with the first name “Buddy,” 25,947 records with the first name “Tommy,” and one record for a person named “Bif.”

Now Bif, Buddy and Tommy just might be the first name on their birth certificates, but it is more likely that these are a nickname or the diminutive form of their formal name (for example, “Tommy” for “Thomas.”)

When these people’s names are indexed there is no way to know that “Bif Thompson,” for example, was actually “John Henry Thompson.”

There are over 1.3 billion names in GenealogyBank, and we index them exactly as the names appeared in the original record. So you want to be flexible in how you search for a name.

Search using only your ancestor’s surname, limited by date range if necessary

Most surnames are unique. You will learn by genealogy research experience if a search using only a surname will generate too many hits. If it does, then limit your search by a range of years—for example: 1950–1975. That will usually enable you to pull up just enough search result hits so that you can locate your target ancestor.

picture of the GenealogyBank search form for surname "Starbird" between the years 1950-1975

GenealogyBank search form for surname “Starbird” between the years 1950-1975

By searching for all persons surnamed Starbird from 1950–1975, you will then find all of those records regardless of whether the editor included their first name, middle name, initials, or nicknames.

Give the surname search, limited by date ranges, a try.

List of Illinois Newspapers Online – 1818 to 2010

News: Latest list of Illinois newspapers live on GenealogyBank – 1818 to 2010.

Illinois Newspapers Online

Search backrun of Illinois historical newspapers here:
Search Illinois Obituaries here:

In today’s mail bag.

Q:The person I’m searching for is James Francis Fewster b.1867.
I know that there was an article published about him in the Baltimore Sun – 12 August 1889 – but I can’t find it.
What am I doing wrong?

When I browse GenealogyBank I find NOTHING – but I know this article exists.
Please help – thank you.


Great question!

Here’s what you want to do.

A: At the search box simply type in: Fewster in the surname box and 1889 in the date box. You’ll see that the article about him comes right up.

Notice that GenealogyBank highlights the search term: Fewster – making it easy to spot it on the page.

Why search that way?

The newspapers in GenealogyBank have been published for over 300 years. Editors have used various editorial styles for writing about individuals. So – keep the searching simple.

In this case – the newspaper wrote James Francis Fewster’s name: as: Jas. F. Fewster.

So – if you type in his full name – you will miss this article.

Remember the rule of WYSIWYG (pronounced /ˈwɪziwɪɡ/).
It is an acronym that stands for What You See Is What You Get.

In other words – what you type in the search box is what the computer will search for.

Adding extra terms: like the middle name can be very helpful in limiting your search results to zero in on your ancestor – but – remembering WYSIWYG – it can also work against you.

Fewster is a distinctive surname and like most surnames, it is not very common.

So – a tip: limit your search to simply the “surname”.

The search engine will then cut through the 672 million articles and zero in on just the ones mentioning a person named Fewster.

And in this example you want only the articles published in 1889.

So, put both of those facts together and Bingo.
There it is.

Tell us your success story.

We hear from GenealogyBank researchers all the time about their success in finding their family in historical newspapers and documents.

Do you have an interesting story to tell?
Would you be willing to be interviewed about it?

If so, please contact me directly at: TKemp@NewsBank.com

We want to hear from you.

Here is what others have told us:

Genealogy is my #1 hobby and profession. After hearing about your site, I signed up for a year. I have spent hours at libraries finding and copying obituaries and now some of them I can find just by typing in a name! I’m also finding the less common marriage notices and newspaper articles that I did not even think to search for because I did not know they existed until they came up on my screen!
Michael W. McCormick Adams County, PA, Enduring Legacy Genealogy, LLC

I have never heard of this site before, just saw it on Facebook and decided to check it out. This is my dream come true! In 5 minutes I’ve found more articles about my g-g-g grandfather than I ever thought possible! I’m sold….
Joan Morrison

[....] I found something very valuable on your site, [...] the story of my ggrandparents getting back together after 20 years being apart back in 1901-2 time. I believe it was in one of the TX papers, don’t know why it was in it, because my ggrandfather went out to Wisconsin to seek his fortune after marrying my ggrandmother in Nova Scotia. He left after 2 weeks marriage (she was already pregnant but didn’t know it, with my grandmother) and her parents did not like him, so they kept all his letters from her. He went to Massachusetts to see a friend and he asked about her and was told she lived not too far away, never married. He went to her house, and the rest is history as they say.
Margaret Sessions, Florida

I have been a subscriber since February 2008. I really like your site. I have been able to locate news articles about my ancestors in a matter of minutes. I had been looking for an article on my great grandfather’s death in a train accident for at least twenty years without any luck. I found it in about ten minutes searching GenealogyBank. THANK YOU!
Keith Parrish

Your site…I am delighted I found it. Such a wide variety from major city newspapers I’ve never found anywhere, especially with regard to the period of history in which I am most interested. Keep adding, and thank you, from a very much pleased subscriber.
George B. Parous, Pittsburgh, PA

I am a multi-state licensed private investigator that specializes in historical and genealogical research. THIS IS MY FAVORITE WEBSITE! Thanks so much!
DeeDee, Baton Rouge, LA

I subscribed to your site yesterday and forthwith found a very interesting 4th of July article concerning my Revolutionary War patriot ancestor. What a great find!
Nancie Brunk

I’ve been having a ball finding articles about my family. The biggest find for me…was discovering my gr-grandfather’s uncle in Congressional records as well as in newspapers. He had left home as a child and didn’t return home again until after his father died. It was reported in the newspapers that his elderly mother (my gr-gr-gr-grandmother!) almost went into shock after not seeing him for nearly 37 years. GenealogyBank gave me great insight into his life as a fisherman turned world traveler and the names of his children that he had with his Russian wife and his locations in Russia and Japan back in the 1800s! How cool is that??? :) I can’t wait to see what papers you will put up next. Keep up the great work!
Catherine “Casey” Zahn

Genealogybank is a fantastic resource. I literally have pulled 100s of newspaper articles in the past year from the 1780s to the 1920s that have helped me reconstruct families, and much eye opening information. Over this holiday I reconstructed another family using it and am now matching old photos back to these folks from over 100 years ago. Whereas most databases give you the vital records, GenealogyBank fills in the life stories. I have been getting a kick out of the horse trader and express man brothers and their stories that made the paper. They amused (and not so amused) the folks of Springfield, Mass, for several years in the Springfield Republican. Although I have not found photos of them yet, I have now correctly identified their sisters and some nieces and nephews after decades of not knowing for sure who the people were.
Ken Piper, Facebook

I recently learned my early ancestors traveled with a French group called The Ravel Family. They were a circus family but performed in theatres in New York City, Boston, Havana, New Orleans and other U.S. cities and countries. It turns out, The Ravel Family were world famous and had a great reputation. My 2nd great-grandfather, Leon Giavelli (stage name of Javelli) performed high wire acts that no others dared try…I found all of this out just from typing ‘Giavelli’ in your search engine; I have been very busy downloading newspaper articles and advertisements of my family and I owe it all to you!
Jane Laughon

I have never believed in paying for websites, but I finally broke down and subscribed to Genealogybank.com. I was thrilled to have found numerous articles on my family in the Philadelphia Inquirer (PA). Thanks for your great website.
Barbara Turner, Woodbury, NJ

I’m going for a two-year subscription, for the price may never be this good again – and with all the new resources being added, who knows how much more genealogy I will be able to access 18 months from now. Look how much new content went up in just six weeks!

I subscribed immediately. Within a short space of time I found an obit for great uncle John P. McCANNEY. My father’s namesake, he hid from me for years! I also found a news article for Aveline KUNTZMANN, my beloved’s 2nd great grandmother. It always puzzled me because she is not interred with KUNTZMANN family. Wow! She was lost when the LA BOURGOGNE sank in July 1898. I am going to be sleep deprived!
-Mary McCanney Finley

I found a letter written by my third great grandfather – the first thing I’ve ever seen written by the man. This letter was published in the Albany (New York) Argus in February of 1819. Wonderful!
Most of the content found at GenealogyBank is unique, not found on other sites. You may search it for free to see how many records there are for your family. If it looks good, sign-up to see the full records.
Honestly, if you have colonial ancestry, you can’t afford not to use this new resource. For the first time ever, you will be able to access newspapers and documents not previously indexed or in many cases, accessible at all. What makes this collection unique is that much of the data is from the American Antiquarian Society in Worchester, Massachusetts. This organization holds the earliest American printed materials, including newspapers – and now, for the first time, much of this material is accessible to you and I – all in digital format.
-Leland MeitzlerGenealogyBlog.com

Congratulations on a terrific website! I can’t leave it – I found several newspaper items I’ve not before seen and I still have more on the list to view. I’m one of your first subscribers.
Thank you so much for your dedication. It paid off tremendously. I’m going back now.
-Stefani Evans, CG

…they are the kind of resources that help you to not only use source documents to learn more about your ancestry, but they also help you to put ‘meat on the bones’ of your genealogy as you work to create a family history. Now, individuals have access to a wide array of great resources, which are centralized and available through a single subscription service. GenealogyBank is quickly becoming a major player in the field.
Internet Genealogy, January 2007

Your GenealogyBank is WONDERFUL. It’s a must for researching genealogists. I ran into info that I had searched and searched for years ago in libraries. And here it is now right at my fingertips! Amazing. It is well worth the price. Thank you for giving us all this information.
-Diana K. Bennett

I had a chance to ‘test drive’ the new individual GenealogyBank and was much impressed…. My best finds were in the Historical Documents collection – the American State Papers and the U.S. Serial Set. They yielded the most interesting and amazing information. I learned my 3rd great-grandfather, Solomon Dunagan was a constable, and testified at a voter fraud trial at Wayne County, Ky. Feb. 9, 1860. Solomon’s son, Thomas J. Dunagan testified at the same trial as a witness for the prosecution.
-Carllene Marek AncestreeSeekers, Chico (CA) Enterprise-Record

I almost fell off my chair last week, and not because I’m naturally clumsy. I was trying out the new GenealogyBank database … and saw a headline ‘Boy From Holy Land Working Way Through University of Texas.’ I clicked, and there was a picture of my grandfather. The slightly melodramatic 1924 Dallas Morning News article told how my Lebanese ancestor – who lived in an orphanage – respected his elders, studied into the wee hours and worked in a dairy all summer to earn money for college. Despite ‘lacking in dash and brilliance’ (in the reporter’s opinion), he was in the band, played football and won a debate contest.
I never met my grandfather, but he sounds a lot like my dad (except my dad is brilliant). It was a totally unexpected discovery, and just goes to show you can find information in surprising places.
-Diane Haddad, Newsletter Editor

Right off the bat, you’ll notice the servers respond quickly to return hits. In my first two searches I found 2 relevant entries for my ancestors. I expect this new website will be on my ‘must visit regularly’ lists.
-MyrtleDearMYRTLE.com

I subscribed today and have only stopped twice – once to eat a quick dinner and now for this note to thank you for this wonderful site. Already I have found 30 newspaper references in 1700-1800 for my ancestor in New York. I can’t thank you enough for putting this out there for us. What an accomplishment! I’m so glad it came along while I’m still here. I turned 87 this September. The program sent me hurrying along to finish my family history!
-Alice H. Williams

It has a lot more and to me it has been worth the money. You can take it a month at a time. I have already found so much info on one of my surnames and it will take me days to go through it all. I love the site.
-Barbara Nichols

GenealogyBank is the most customer-oriented genealogy website I’ve ever had the pleasure to use. Its constantly-expanding content is remarkably varied, immensely useful, and delightfully out-of-the-ordinary. A vast number of the documents included in ‘America’s Government Documents’ and ‘America’s Historical Books’ are not found in the genealogy databases I’ve seen. GenealogyBank’s features are easy to understand and use. The Help section is comprehensive and well-written. GenealogyBank clearly was created and structured with the needs of genealogists at all levels of research in mind.
-Joy Rich, M.L.S., Editor, Dorot: The Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society (New York)

I have never believed in paying for websites, but I finally broke down and subscribed to Genealogybank.com. I was thrilled to have found numerous articles on my family in the Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer. Thanks for your great website.
-Barbara Turner Woodbury, NJ

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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.