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What If Your Ancestor Did Not Use a Formal Name in an Historical Record?

Robin Foster
by Robin Foster

Sometimes you can search and search a historical record and not find your ancestor. It does not mean that he or she is not there. They could have still been recorded in the collection you are searching, but they did not use their formal name.

"United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6LD9-F2N?cc=1325221&wc=9BWCL2G%3A1030550901%2C1030609901%2C1033566701 : 5 August 2014), South Carolina > Union > ED 69 Goshen Hill Township > image 4 of 30; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-6LD9-F2N?cc=1325221&wc=9BWCL2G%3A1030550901%2C1030609901%2C1033566701 : 5 August 2014), South Carolina > Union > ED 69 Goshen Hill Township > image 4 of 30; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

Family members can also use the formal name for the first time on a historical document, and everyone in the family knows them by their nickname. I remember asking my family members who Sarah Chick was on the 1900 Census in Union County, South Carolina. She was listed in the position of Sallie Chick who should have been another family member who was not there. No one knew who the person was.

Either, she was who everyone called Sallie Chick and was formally called Sarah Chick, or her name was really Sallie Chick and Sarah was put mistakenly. Either way, without having another instance in a historical record or without a family member to confirm the name for you, you are left not knowing.

Your Ancestor Uses Their Nickname

Try to find your ancestor using a nickname in the historical document. Ask family members to give you any nicknames your ancestor used. Andy is the nickname for Andrew. Andy Blake was in the 1940 Census in Kings County, New York. He was born about 1905 in South Carolina.

Middle Name

I had a difficult time trying to find my great grandfather, Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance, in the 1900 Census. He was living in a different county in South Carolina, and he was not listed as Lafayette. He was not listed as Rev. Vance, and he was married to Nunia Johnson Vance and her name was misspelled.

I found him listed as Frank Vance. He never was listed in a historical record that way. It was so frustrating, but I found him. Here is Frank Vance on the 1900 Census in Union County, SC.

Abbreviation of Given Name

Abbreviations can also be used instead of the given names. Sometimes you cannot find your ancestors because the name has been abbreviated in the census. You might find it looking for an abbreviated form of the name. Thankfully, I found Rev. Lafayette Franklin Vance as a child in the 1880 Census in Cokesbury, Abbeville County, SC. That enabled me to find him with is family again in the 1870 Census when his name was abbreviated. It was changed to L. Vance, and I could have passed right by him.

Sharpen the Saw

Are you having difficulty finding your ancestor on a historical record? Have you looked for nicknames, middle names, and abbreviated names that they went by? Let us know in our Facebook Group.

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