Week 24: Researching Popular Names

June theme: Conflict

The name Linda was extremely popular a decade before I was born, and stayed common for some years after that. Not only were there multiple Lindas in every class in school, but my name pretty much gives you my age-range, too. In 1946 the song, “Linda” became a hit, starting the trend. My dad told me I was named for his high school girlfriend. Her name was Joanne…but apparently their song was “Linda.” I don’t know if he told my mother that.

The point is, I am on a first-name basis with popular names.

But in genealogy research, popular or common names have a different, equally exasperating issue. Search functions are sometimes too inclusive. For instance, my 2nd great grandparents were Elisabeth Miller and Christopher Frederick. Obviously, Miller is common. However, she was an immigrant, and died young, so it was easy to weed out the wrong search results by date and location. I got some help from an archivist in the city where she had lived and died, who was able to provide me with documents pertaining to her marriage, some children who died young that I hadn’t known about previously, and a death record. They attended a German Lutheran church, so all the records are in German.

To get back further, I hired a researcher in Germany to help me. He found some wonderful church records that took my Müller family back multiple generations. And he found another problem with common names. From various pieces of my own research, I already knew about Elisabeth’s siblings. In fact, when she immigrated, she went to live with her older sister, Jeannette, who had immigrated some years before. What I learned from this German genealogist was that Elisabeth’s father was named Johann Müller. Her older sister, then called Johannette Müller, had the same mother, but her father was Adam Müller  — no relation to Johann! I had made the (not unreasonable) assumption that, as both Jeannette and Elisabeth had the same maiden name and they were clearly identified as sisters, that they had the same father.

Silly me.

[You may have noticed that I skipped week #23, which was to be about “Mistakes.” I had trouble narrowing down which of my mistakes to write about.]

Christopher was difficult to research as well. He was also an immigrant, named Christian Friedrich, so I searched on all combinations, including nicknames. But mostly I get every single person named Fred! There are also a lot of folks named Christopher Frederick Something.

As this is a case of “two first names” I also get results for people named Frederick Christopher (and variations), a necessary inclusion by Ancestry to account for documents that list last name first. Choosing more “exact” settings for name, birth, location, and adding other identifying details such as gender narrows it down more. The first three hits are him! Sixteen more on the first page are NOT him. Towards the bottom of the first page of 20 results is a link to his Findagrave memorial. That is no help, since I created it.

One of my favorite genealogy search methods is my friend Google. Google seeks out mention in other people’s blogs, in books, sometimes newspapers, obituaries, and so on. Things that genealogy sites may not cover. But common names don’t work so well with this route. “Christian Frederick” gives me that two-first-names-problem, so Google doesn’t work so well for him.

Which reminds me of perhaps the most frustrating name I have ever tried to research.

Disney Reunion

My husband’s great-grandmother’s surname is …. Disney.

No, not THAT Disney.

Try telling that to Google.

I’m sure you all know that you can ask Google to not include certain search terms by putting a minus sign in front of the word. I can type “Disney -Walt” for example. It helps a little, since I don’t think any of the family used the name Walt. Eliminating results that contain -world or -land might take out some important sources, though.

I can also try adding additional information to my search terms. If I search for GGgrandfather by name, “Ned Disney” (with quotes), it offers 10+ pages of results, all to do with that other Disney (or random foreign pages I’m afraid to click on). Who knew there were so many YouTube videos about “Earth to Ned” by Disney?

So I add more info to narrow it down. I use his given name, Edward, add location – Maryland, and job – railroad. Among the results, I get a news item that matches other information I had about him. Brief, but important.

Genealogy puts the “re” in “research.” Search – and search again – and again!

Ned was the son of Joshua Barney Disney. Which brings me to my final fun (in a sarcastic kind of way) issue with names. The Disney family liked to reuse names. When dealing with a common name within the family, it helps me to keep a text document titled “disambiguation” (I like that word – it makes me sound like I know what I’m doing!) that lists all the people with that name, and identifying details, such as birth and death, spouse, parents, location.

Maryland marriages, showing how Disneys had some favorite given names.

My Joshua disambiguation page has seven Joshua Disneys born in Maryland. That is a simple reference note that keeps me from mixing up the same people over and over again.

One of the “extra” words I like to use when searching via Google is “genealogy.” DISNEY MARYLAND GENEALOGY -WALT brings up results from familysearch, rootsweb, Wikitree, and other genealogy sources. It also brings up records from state archives, county sites, cemeteries, various family trees, and other records. The first page of results has only one Mouse-related link – a promising start. Google tells me it found over a million hits.

This might take a while. Time to search. And Re-search.


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