What Name Should We Use?

The name of our ancestors can lead to confusion when we find possible variations in the documents. So, what name should we use when we document our research?

I think the question comes up for most people when referring to how to enter the name on a family tree. I tend to use the name most people will use in recognizing the individual in my family tree. In most cases, I will put the baptismal name in parentheses if different.

I place more importance on writing a narrative of the individual for my family history. In the narrative, I can give the various names used in chronological order as I found them on the documents. We may never know why the variants were used. Many may be from the clerk’s understanding of what the name should be – right or wrong and with inadvertent misspellings. In some cases, it is the preference of the individual. Call the individual by the name they prefer but record all rest noting where you found that variation.

Writing a family history narrative for each ancestor gives me the flexibility to list all the names used and lessen the confusion found in the documents. Knowing the name variations helps us find more documents and stories because we have more choices to use in our search criteria. However, let the focus of our research be on our ancestors’ lives and their stories. The narratives make my family history come alive for other family members and give a complete view of their lives.

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