GenToday-L Archive

Unpuzzling the Past Via Naming Patterns

by Penny Bonnar

PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION in the October 1999 edition of GenToday-L

Genealogy is the piecing together of many puzzles. Sometimes many pieces of a puzzle are needed just to link one set of parents to several children. As genealogists we rely primarily upon names and dates recorded in church, government and private records. And aren't we grateful to those who thought it important enough to record not just names and dates, but other little details like occupations or relationships?

Most of the time, the details we discover about ancestors are rather sketchy. And at some point, the puzzle we are putting together becomes a brick wall upon which we are tempted to bang our heads in frustration.

It's times like these when we need to try the not-so-obvious. For example, I am stuck on a family line which I have taken back to the mid-1770s. I've had the rotten luck to end up with three men named Henricus, each of whom could be my ancestor. Each Henricus could be the father of my Anton and the only way to take my line further back is to figure out who the father of each Henricus. I've searched the records for clues. Unfortunately, the priest who recorded marriages during this period did not record the names of the parents of the bride and groom.

Of course, the thought never occurred to the priest that a descendant would someday want to know the name of the father of the Henricus who married Maria Christina. And although the names of the witnesses to the ceremony are listed, their relationships to the bride and groom are not noted.

So what clues are left to explore? Naming patterns. If luck is with me, the three men named Henricus were named by parents who followed time-honored naming customs. Even if only two of the families followed such practices, I could possibly determine the parents of my Henricus through the process of elimination.

On his web site, Charles F. Kerchner, Jr., explains 18th Century Pennsylvania German Naming Customs ( Kerchner does a good job describing a naming pattern common to many German families--that of giving each child a favored spiritual name and a second name which was their secular or call name. If you have one family in which all the boys are named Johan or Johannes, Kerchner's web page will help you sort them out. Or if you're swimming in Marias and don't know how to figure out which one is yours, read Kerchner's page. Kerchner describes three different naming patterns in common use among Germans who settled in Pennsylvania. One of them could be the one which will help you sort out your family.

At you'll find both a German naming pattern and a pattern used by the English and Scots.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century British naming patterns are described at

This web site ( features an article from the February 1996 issue of Colonial Homes on colonial naming patterns. According to the article, the naming customs of New England colonists in America were either of English origin, biblical or of "moral significance."

Sometimes children were named after events rather than other people. It's not unusual to find children named Humility or Chastity. Other unusual naming customs are noted in the article as well.

The one custom of use to genealogists was used by Quakers who named the first-born after grandparents.

Dutch Naming Patterns
If any readers know of naming patterns common to other countries, send them to me at and I'll publish them in the next issue of the IIGS™ Newsletter (



Seek info: Ethelda(Teel)Lintner, husb:Mark Lintner & son Kip Lintner. Last known add: Miami, FL-1962. Ethelda b:approx 1922 - Alliance, Stark Cty, OH. Grad:Ohio State University approx 1945.

Researching Abraham GRIMES 1823 & Mary JOHNSON 1830 Patterson, La., m. Nov. 22, 1869. Ch: Sarah, Frank, Martha, Washington, Elizabeth, Easter, Isabella, Marshall & Hannah all b:Patterson, La.

Seeking info:Frederick & Riney (PICKETT) MINGO & children: Cary, Isham, Shedrick, Lazuraus, Earnest, Martha, Mary & Savinia. All of Patterson St. Mary Parish, La., bet. 1880 & 1900.

Seeking info on Anthony D. Miller. B: 1812 New Jersey. D:abt 1900. Where & when did he die. Possibly in Oregon. He perhaps lived there w/daughter Bithia Carter

Looking for parents of John L. Beare 1852-1934. He lived in Ohio for most of his life.

Searching John H. McLAUGHLIN, lived Baltimore, MD b?d? Two sons: James O. McLAUGHLIN b.1902d.1968-Baltimore,MD & Michael J. McLAUGHLIN b.1904 d.1971-Baltimore, MD. md: Josephine Irvin of NJ d.1935, Baltimore,MD

Searching parents of THORNTON STARKS b. 1834-5 in WV.Wife:Rosa ? Starks, b.1835 Va. Counties unk.for birth & marr. Both listed as "mulatto" in the 1870 Ohio federal census. (

Searching for the parents of NATHAN WHITE b. 1790 in Va. Listed as "mulatto". April White (

Searching for one man, both a father & husband. Is father of Nathan White b.1851, KY. & husband of Cynthia ? White, b.1823, KY. All listed as "mulatto". (

Looking for family info on Julia E. (Brewer) SPRING, b. ? 1830 in New York?. d. 31 Apr/1 May 1869 in Columbia, Columbus Cty, WI. Wife of Sylvester SPRING. (Leilani Spring

Seeking info:Thomas WRIGHT (physician)b England 1809 & family. Lived-Boston, MA 1850. Ch:Thomas R.,Victoria, twins Arthur C. & Alex G b 1850. Arthur living in NYC in 1878.

Seeking info on Bernard COSTELLO & wife Esther O'CONNOR Westchester Co., NY during 1860/1870, & children James, Thomas, William, Andrew & George.

Searching for female relative who "disappeared", last known location, POUGHKEEPSIE, NEW YORK, circa 1940s-50s. She was born "Black" in Tennessee, circa 1890-1900, but could have died "White". Married a German immigrant. Maiden surname: LOVE Given name: SYDNEY (or similar spelling).

Looking for info on Henry Jefferson Dawson, b. 1835, GA, moved to AL when a child, left AL in 1853. In 1857 he m. Mary Jane Peppers, b. 1841 in ARK. Her parents were Wm. m. Peppers and Eveline Kincheloe Dorice in TX Mysaxs

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