One of the most common stumbling blocks in family history research can be nicknames
I encountered a recent research case where I was researching an individual who was referred to as “Nell”. Through research I was able to conclude that Nell was a nickname for several names…in this case Nell was a nickname for Helen.
began to think about the countless nicknames I have come across in my research
and how some of the names are common while others are less so and how both
instances can cause research headaches.
my immediate family I have a Desi, short for Desirae. There is a Sarah, and the
grandmother she was named for who prefers to be called Sally. There are several
named Joshua, two Joshes and one “J.J.” or “junior”. Every family seems to have
a multitude of Williams who may go buy William, Will, Willie, Bill, or Billy.
Robert is another fun one with several popular nicknames. A Robert could be a
Rob, Robbie, Bob, or a Bobby. For women Elizabeth can be a fun one. Is it a Liz,
Lizzie, Betty, Beth, or maybe a Liza?
Another fun instance where nicknames can derail research is when a relative uses a middle name instead of their first given name. My great grandmother was a Lily but if you find her in records for most of her life she went by Mae. I’ve had a friend since childhood who was named Randi Kristina, she prefers to be called Kristi in another case of the middle name preference.
my first granddaughter was born. As with my other grandchildren she was given a
heritage name from the family tree, Catherine. Right now, she is a little baby
with a big name and only time will tell, will she choose to be known as a
Catherine, perhaps she’ll become a Cathy, or maybe even a Cat.
What are some common nicknames that you have run into?
A name is the first thing in life most of us receive that stays with us forever. Often times it has been a carefully selected after hours of deliberation by at least one parent and sometimes even larger groups of relatives. Siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all have suggestions when a new baby is born.
Genealogists get the rare opportunity to see how deep some names go in our families by looking at the broader family landscape. For instance, I have a cousin that is my Grandmother’s namesake. In the bigger picture, however her name is a much older family name. My Grandmother is her own Grandmother’s namesake. The earliest Sarah in that naming streak was born in 1861 and the latest in 1997, 136 years apart.
I am a namesake for my mother’s paternal aunt, Carrie Jamison. She was the wife of my Grandfather’s half-brother. She lived in West Virginia where my Grandfather’s family lived in a rural mountain community and I only had a few opportunities to meet her as a young child. She passed away at the age of 76. I was 9 years old at the time. Despite the fact that Aunt Carrie and I shared no actual genetic material the fact that she gave me her name has made her a topic of research interest for me.
Carrie was an interesting research project before I even looked for a single record. The few stories told about her typically present more questions than answers. Her early history seemed shrouded in mystery and shadowed heavily by whispered “scandal” even while I was a child. All these years later, she still presents many unanswered questions.
Carrie was born to Lula Lawson on 7 February 1912. Lula was a nineteen-year-old woman, recently divorced, living in Prince, Fayette County, West Virginia at the time of Carrie’s birth. Carrie was Lula’s first and only known child. The birth was more than a year after Lula’s separation from her previous spouse, David Brantley, and prior to her marriage to her second husband, Burk Adkins, by more than two years. Carrie’s biological father is currently unknown.
Census records show Carrie, using the last name of Adkins, living with her mother and stepfather in 1920. She was living in Fayette County, West Virginia. Her stepfather worked on the railroad.
The census record for 1930 still eludes me but by 1940, she was again in the household of her mother and stepfather in Fayette County, West Virginia and she is claiming a marital status of divorced. A marriage license registered in Raleigh County, West Virginia in 1935 records her marriage to a cousin on her mother’s side, Fred Lawson.
Myth Meets Research
The 1940 census entry seems like a good time to broach the topic of whispered scandal. When I was growing up it was common knowledge that Aunt Carrie had been married before our Uncle and that she had children. According to family stories, Aunt Carrie’s own mother had assisted in her losing custody of her children. The details of the situation so long ago are murky.
The 1940 census shows Carrie living with Burk and Lula, a divorced woman at the time. She shows no children living in the household. I located a death record for a Vern L Lawson, son of Fred Lawson and Carrie Atkins, who was born 2 February 1934 in Fayette County, West Virginia. Vern died in Los Angeles, California on 29 April 1993. I am still seeking Vern’s location on the 1940 census. I hope to learn what family raised him and to identify the names of more of Carrie’s children if they are in the home with their brother. I believe she had at least one daughter and two sons.
Rumor has it she managed to reunite with at least one of her children but I am unsure who the child was and when in life they reconnected. By all accounts, the loss of her children was something that caused her heartache until her death and she collected dolls to help fill the void.
Carrie and Steward
I do not know at what age Carrie met my Grandfather’s half-brother, James Steward Jamison. I can only wonder if the fact that both of them grew up raised by a stepfather was one thing that drew them together. Whatever the case may be they were together as early as the late 1940’s and in 1973 they officially married in Alleghany, Virginia. The two never had children together. They are buried side by side in the P.A. Shuck Cemetery in Fayette County, West Virginia.