There Were Only Six Surnames

Does it ever seem like have ancestors whose surname was only one of six in thecommon-surnames land of their birth?  Most of us encounter ancestors with common surnames somewhere in our ancestral quest if we weren’t born with one.  Of course, our common surname ancestors only knew how to spell twelve first names; six male, six female.   Apparently they thought there was no need stretch outside common naming convention lest they be thought of as radicals, gangsta’s, trouble makers.

I moan about my tough luck when I’m working on these common surname lines, but my comments frequently fall on deaf ears.  My Brown, Smith, Jones and Young friends feel no sympathy for me. 

Who knew a surname could be such a liability?

I’m having fun with this topic.  When my friends and I discuss our brickwall ancestors, they always win.  How can I compete with an extended family that has twelve John Jones and had continued that pattern for at least five generations?   Maybe they had a deal with the tombstone carver.  You know … muscle memory.  You could carve the stones in your sleep and always get the spelling right.  You could carve them in sets knowing you had a built-in market.  Add an extra flower, scroll or deaths head in profile and each would be unique.  No one could say you were in a rut and that your style was always the same.common-surnames_china

Yes, I’ve run into one of those same surname quagmires and can’t seem to find my way out to the far shore.  Compounding the problem is the fact that apparently the family in this current surname quagmire knew that I’d come along one day trying to find them, so they put a head fake on me.  They named ten of the kids in the family (John, Mary, William …) using names from the standard “twelve name” pool and then they threw in two wild card first names (my direct ancestors of course).  How am I supposed to figure that out? Did they think I’d believe them?  Thomas, William, John and Michael came along and then they threw in an Eli?  What?  Maybe it was just an abbreviation for Elizabeth and the parish priest messed up when he listed ‘son’ in the blessing record.  Truth is, he was probably in on the head fake.

I can picture my ancestors sitting around the hearth on winter nights laughing their heads off because of the simplicity of their dastardly plan.  I can see the guys miming me acting out my frustration by pounding my head against the wall and throwing my hands up in frustration.  I can hear their roars of laughter knowing that I wouldn’t trust my findings and would question the text in every document associated with ‘Eli’.  My grandfathers in the group probably said it would be good for me.  “Take it like a man buttercup.”  “It’ll strengthen your metal.”

Yes, I’m still having fun with this topic because truth is, I think they really did all of thesedictionary_english_welsh_surnames things and yes, I’ve actually displayed most of these reactions..

How about you?  Are you a descendant of devious people too?  Do you have hundreds if not thousands of transcription notes in your files filled with the same name few names repeatedly? 

I’d agree with the name “Guild of One-Name Studies” if it actually applied to this dilemma.  Maybe they should have created a second guild called “The Guild of Two-Name Studies” for all of the John Jones, Elizabeth Smith’s and William Anderson’s in our lines.  

My friends in Japan, China, Russia, France and about everywhere else say that they have the same problem in their research.    It is hard to find sympathy from far away friends who although they don’t have a Smith or Anderson in their ancestral tree have their own similar ancestral name headaches.  Perhaps the imagination gene didn’t switch on amongst the peoples of earth until 1890 when they upped the naming pool to 30 or more first names.

Google Books helps us with the English and Welsh surname quandary even if it can’t resolve the one name pileup.  Thanks Google Books.

Copyright (c) Lee Drew 2012-07-19 08:00:00
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Family history research is a favored avenue of relaxation. It is a Sherlock-like activity that can continue almost anywhere at any time. By leveraging a lifetime involvement in technology, my research efforts have resulted in terabytes of ancestral data, earning me the moniker of Lineagekeeper. And yes - We are all related to Royalty.