Sunday, October 23, 2011

Open Discussion Weekend - The Name's The Same

I believe that all genealogists have experienced the frustration of discovering information about people who have the same name as our ancestors. At the time of the discovery of the document or newspaper article, we really aren't sure if this is our ancestor or cousin or not.

A couple years ago, I dismissed a huge cache of articles on because I mistakenly thought "this prominent person could not have possibly been a member of our family!" About six months later, I learned that this person was, indeed, related. I had to back track and rediscover those articles all over again. And with this particular subscription service, their contracts with the various newspaper database and image suppliers aren't always renewed. That means that a later search on this site may mean that the articles are no longer available.

Up for discussion and comment: What do you do with information you discover on someone who may or may not be related? Do you save a copy for further research? Do you dismiss it? If you keep the information, how do you track or file it? Do you use the information as a method of ruling out a possible event that is not connected to your research subject?

In a couple situations where people living in the same vicinity have the same name as one of my relatives, I have done the online census searches on Ancestry on "the other guy" as a means to rule out that it is "my guy." When some confusion may exist, I add a note to my guy's profile on Ancestry, along the lines of "My guy, the farmer, should not be confused with the other guy, who was a banker who lived in the neighboring town at the same time."

What is your research approach when the name's the same? Please share your insights in the Comments section below.

NOTE: Not two minutes after I originally posted this, I received an email from with a link to this article: Which Guy Is Mine? Creating a Profile to Identify Your Ancestor.


  1. Great question - I have a number of "Grover Buell" direct ancestors in CT (and many indirect) in my tree. And we won't talk about all the Henry & John Kuhn ancestors in PA! I tracked all the same-name people separately until I could eliminate them, then added NOTES to indicate the "not-my-direct-ancestors" details, including their children etc. to be sure of who's who. And I kept a red file folder full of their details/documents etc. so I wouldn't search yet again on that line. Makes for a dense tree in a few places, but more accurate and I certainly learned more about research as I went along!! Cheers.

  2. I check deeds. Particularly those deeds selling property where the wife almost always has to relinquish her dower. It's been very rare, in the many instances where I've seen this, for the men of the same name to have wives of the same name. You also may be able to peg age categories from the census or ages from the tax rolls (when they first appeared; did they have property, where are they located). I also once hypothesized (for someone else) that two men of three of the same name in an area were actually the youngest two and not the oldest and middle who appeared in the church records because of when and with whom the middle joined the church, the actions of the church (one was a deacon and the other was disciplined), and the appearance of them in the tax rolls. None of that was proof of course.

    In this same instance, the three men of the same name appearing in one county was very close to the border of another county. The above-mentioned church was just across the border, and there was another man in that county with the same name. However, a probate record in that county indicated when that one had moved away which then helped to eliminate him from the mix.

  3. For work on the fly, copy the files, save in a folder on the hard drive so designated, like, Maybe Nortons. Name it whatever, just so you can find it.

    Also notes in the bio area on the name, like:

    Consider: 1920 census, timbucktoo, mr. norton, etc. with an extracted version

    Newspapers, always capture image, because OCR will frequently also give different results, even the very next day.

  4. Susan,
    I'm a saver when it comes to papers that might apply to my family, especially if in the same town or area. Fortunately, I've plenty of space to keep the papers. When I analyze them years later, some are tossed, and some are new bits of usable information. If you can, save everything, but be sure to make notes on the file as to why and what you are doing before filing away.

  5. (it this shows up more than once, sorry--having trouble posting)

    I keep records called "Clues". Within surname folders and subfolders, I also use file naming conventions to help me. I use the person's name, a number (1, 2, 3, etc), and a question mark to indicate uncertainty about the connection. I don't have many paper records, so I just put everything in surname folders and use stickies for background notes.

    One of my great aunts was named Lucetta Murray and eventually I found records for a great-great aunt Lucetta. Then, in my search for my great-great-grandfather, I came across a third Lucetta Murray. I put the records in a "Clues" subfolder of my Murray folder. It now looks like the third Lucetta is my great-great aunt and, although I didn't know the connection, by keeping her records, fortuitously I was also keeping my 3x great-grandmother's records.

  6. Better to copy than not; I keep everything like this that I copy in a subfolder called "Leads" within the family folder. When I have time, I look for common names in the FAN club.

  7. I guess I misunderstood the question. I thought it was a two-parter: how to handle managing the research or "research approach" (what/how you research.)