Our ancestors' names are the gateway to tracing our family history. Without a surname and a given name, we almost always hit a research brick wall.
Sometimes our ancestor's given name can be spelt in a form that doesn't resonate with us:
- a Latin version (e.g. Christopher/Xtopherus, William/Guglielmus)
- a "diminutive" version (aka abbreviation) (e.g. Margaret/Polly, Helen (or Ellen/Eleanor)/Nellie)
- a "foreign" version (e.g. John/Evan/Giovanni/Hans/Ian/Jean/Johann/Juan/Sean)
Additionally, these variants might be recorded or transcribed incorrectly, making them even harder to identify.
That being the case, we should arm ourselves with knowledge about these naming possibilities to maximise our chances of finding ancestral information.
Sources of information about given names are provided below.
Genealogist and author Carol Baxter first became interested in given names when she was eleven. She began "collecting" girls' names and ended up with a list of 22,000. When she started tracing her family history at the age of seventeen, her interest extended to surnames. She has pursued both topics in her genealogy talks.