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.


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.


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.


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:


4 thoughts on “Are You Sure That Is How to Spell Your Ancestor’s Name?

  1. Dear Cousin Thomas,
    The Starbird – Starbuck connection has plagued me for years… It is well known that Rev. Starbuck who was living at the M.Bay Colony in what is now Dover, New Hampshire in an open boat, taking everything he owned when he left for Nantucket. Rev. Starbuck was very well respected. But when he left off being a Puritan for a Quaker, he angered a lot of people. In my family it has been passed down that he changed not only his religion, but his name. I can feel the steam of his anger still rising as he left the colony to get away from the extreme oppression that had taken root in the colony. Rev. Starbuck was particularly well respected there, and was such a good liaison with the natives and was able many times to mediate in colonist/native disputes to avert bloodshed, so that when he started skipping Puritan meetings and became a Baptist, and later a Quaker, nobody wanted to arrest him, although he was “charged”. But in spite of the wonderful mediating he did between whites and natives, the whites kept breaking their end of the bargain and it led to natives losing their lives, and then retaliatory killings by the natives. I feel that Starbuck valued his word and probably had the integrity to be horrified and ashamed when the whites broke the agreements he had worked so hard to put together. I suspect he not only wanted to get away from these people and Puritanism, but possibly to change his name and start over. In our family it was believed that Rev. Starbuck changed his name to Starbird. Why Starbird? The natives had been very fond of Rev. Starbuck, and my personal theory is that the natives gave him the name Star bird, or Starbird. In those days there was a lot of friction as people began leaving Puritanism behind. The first Quaker converts were persecuted by the Puritans, and it was happening on Nanatucket too. I think at the start after Rev. Starbuck converted, there was a split in the family along religious lines creating a rift where siblings possibly disowned each other. He changed his religion twice, once to Baptist and the 2nd time to Quaker. If Edward Starbuck changed his name to his indian name, nobody respected that and he was buried a Starbuck.
    My grandmother Lucinda (nee Starbard), was a Starbird, who was born with the spelling Starbard because her grandfather Levi Starbird changed the spelling. Our Starbird/Starbards moved to Maine, then to Michigan. I too searched for Starbirds in English birth records and church records and came up empty! If I could I would take a test as a Starbird male, but I am female. I have a cousin I’ve not met, a Dr. Starbard in Portland Oregon who would be eligible to take a DNA test, but I’ve never met his side of the family. My great grandfather, who I knew when I was a child, Earl Melvin Starbard went to Bible college although he did not become a career minister like Rev. Starbuck. I too believe that it is probable that we are Starbucks. I am also descended from Peter Coffin who also purchased Nantucket with Rev. Starbuck. These families intermarried for hundreds of years. If only one of my great grandfathers direct line male descendants could be found to take the test. I should bug my uncle about his cousin Thomas in Portland….

  2. Good to hear from you cousin.
    Yes – that would be great. Reach out and see if they are willing to participate in a DNA study. With enough Starbird – Starbuck participants – we can see if there is or is not a family connection.


    1. Cousin Tom,
      My Uncle has lost touch with those Starbard relatives… But here’s something interesting. I’m a member of and we’re not allowed to see any part of a Private Member’s Tree unless we are a DNA Match. I am a DNA Match to many many Starbuck relations. When I search the Starbuck name and the private trees come up, I can view many of those private trees because I am a DNA match. Having said that, my G Grandpa Earl Starbard’s grandma was a “Coffin”. Peter Coffin bought Nantucket with Edward Starbuck among others, and they married into each other’s families for many years, which could cloud things… But I have just as many Starbuck DNA matches as I do Starbird and Starbard. Can you check and see if this is the case with you? It would be interesting.

  3. Hi back Cousin Anna:
    This is great information.
    Good work.

    Having lineage confirmed by DNA testing will be critical for a surname like this. There has been speculation that the Surname Starbird was created from Starbuck – and the DNA results you have is pointing in that direction.

    As more male Starbird and Starbuck descendants participate we’ll be able to conclusively confirm that this is the case.

    Thank you for letting me know.


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