06 February 2012

What's in a Name?

I was listening to a podcast and was stuck by a comment that was made. The podcaster was talking about census records and was explaining that the person being researched was called Minna on one census but was erroneously called "Milly" on another. I was annoyed by this misleading, off-handed comment.

Yerbi Miller
In my research I've discovered many instances of people "Americanizing" their names in different ways during their youth before settling on the name they used as an adult.  

My husband's great aunt was born in Chicago in October 1887.  She was 13 years old for the 1900 census and listed as Rebecca—her Hebrew name. However, in the 1910 census she's listed as Goldie Miller.

Gertrude Miller Stein
Her marriage license in Chicago on 5 May 1915 to Morris Stein lists her name as Goldie but, a year later on 29 May 1916, she's Yerbi Stein on her first son's birth certificate.

By the time her second son was born in 1919, and in the 1920 census, she was recorded as Gertrude Stein—the name she used the rest of her life. She was 31 years old before she was recorded using the name her family knows her by today.

This name game occurs in all kinds of records for the immigrant generation. I would never have found my Grandfather's Confirmation if I hadn't questioned the appearance of an Eddie Pagel in an index that I couldn't match to any Pagel I knew about. I had discovered a youthful name-blip for my Eric Carl Pagel. Should I ever try to locate his records I now know to watch for Eddie.

The lesson? Don't assume the record is wrong when the information isn't what you expect. You may have discovered a snapshot-in-time that offers new clues to follow.

What name-blips have YOU uncovered?