Names are important. They identify us and lets others find us in public records. That’s the heart of genealogy, or family history. Searching records, looking for your ancestors simply work better when you know the name. You would search for me under my surname, HENDRICKSON, first and then under my given name of Lisa. Even then, there are other people named Lisa HENDRICKSON out there. There is a doctor in Hawaii, who is not me. There’s a real computer repair person in Minneapolis who is not me, and a real estate agent in New York, who is also not me. Enter your own name into any search engine and see how many different people have your name. That’s now, it’s the same in the past, making it one of the many challenges of genealogy.
Some people Anglicize the names of their ancestors. That means that some people take the name Françoise, for example and rename her Frances. Or the change Michel to Michael or Friedrich to Frederick. I suppose that’s fine, if you want to do that, but I leave the names in the language that the person spoke. In other words, I don’t mess with people’s names. In the case of my January ancestor profile, her name was Françoise, not Frances. She would have been known by Françoise and none of her contemporaries would have called her anything else, except perhaps Madame FOURNIER or Mademoiselle HÉBERT. It was her name. If you want to do that, go ahead, but make a note somewhere of the actual spelling from the records. People who use your research as a springboard to their own will thank you for it.
Your name is a personal thing. Unless you change it yourself, it’s what should be user to refer to you. In Genealogy, it’s the preference of the genealogist or family historian. In their case, the person is usually dead and can’t either approve or disapprove of the change. I look at it this way, if someone tried to find Françoise HÉBERT, they would not find her under Frances. They might find her surname of HÉBERT under HEBERT, and they may even find Francoise as opposed to Françoise in indexes, but she would not likely appear in contemporary records as Frances. That’s my main reason for leaving names alone. Spelling in the 1600’s was not standardized and that makes it hard enough, without adding an extra layer of difficulty.
You may have noticed that I have put the surnames in all caps in this blog. That’s because it is the convention for listing surnames so that they stand out. That’s acceptable practice in family history, or genealogy. It just makes it easier to find the names when scanning a query or posting. Look back over the blog and you will be able to pick out the surnames with ease. That’s the whole point. I will continue to use that practice in my monthly ancestor profiles throughout the year.
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