My 2nd great grandfather’s name was THOMAS BRASHEAR. However, if you do a search for “Thomas Brashear” in Perry County, Tennessee on Ancestry.com, you will not always find him. In the 1860, 1870 and 1880 U.S. Censuses he is listed as T.M. Brashear. There are a number of other people named Thomas Brashear in that time period, but they are not the right one for my tree. It appears that Southern men liked to go by their initials. J.R. Ewing, the character in the television show “Dallas,” comes to mind. This is an example of why nicknames are so important.
I knew my aunt ELIZABETH TAYLOR WRATTEN as “Aunt Betty.” She did not like the name Elizabeth. If you search for “Elizabeth Taylor” in Oneida County, New York, on Ancestry.com, you will find others by that name who are not my aunt. If you search for “Betty Taylor" you will find her in the 1930 and 1940 U.S. Censuses. Even her gravestone is inscribed “Betty Taylor Wratten.”
Nicknames can be tricky. For example, did you know that Nancy is a nickname for Ann, that Mattie is a nickname for Martha and that Lig is a nickname for Elijah? (1) If you have an ancestor named Helen, she could have been called Nell, Nellie, Elly, Elsie or Lena. (2)
So when you have an ancestor who is hard to find, try searching for variants of the name. Here are some links that will give you some ideas:
- “A Listing of Some 18th and 19th Century American Nicknames,” History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library, 2012 (http://www.cslib.org/nickname.htm: accessed October 14, 2012).
- Phillips, Judy Henley, “Nicknames and Naming Traditions,” Tngenweb.org, 2008 (http://www.tngenweb.org/franklin/frannick.htm and http://www.tngenweb.org/franklin/nick2.htm: accessed October 14, 2012).
- Powell, Kimberly, “Common Nicknames & Their Given Name Equivalents,” About.com, 2012 (http://genealogy.about.com/library/bl_nicknames.htm: accessed October 14, 2012).
- Powell, Kimberly, “Nicknames in Your Family Tree”,”About.com, 2012 (http://genealogy.about.com/cs/surname/a/nicknames.htm: accessed October 14, 2012).
- “Your Female Ancestors' Nicknames” F + W Media, Blue Ash, Ohio, February 2, 2010 (http://www.familytreemagazine.com/article/your-female-ancestors-nicknames: accessed October 14, 2012).
If you want to purchase a book on this topic, I recommend:
- Rose, Christine, Nicknames: Past and Present, 5th ed., 2007, Family Roots Publishing, Utah (http://www.amazon.com/Nicknames-Past-Present-Christine-Rose/dp/0929626184: accessed October 14, 2012).
Being aware of nicknames can mean the difference between a brick wall and a leafy family tree.
Dover Publications, Inc., Mineloa, New York, Electronic Clip Art, Old-Fashioned Silhouettes, 2001.
Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, Electronic Clip Art, Trees & Leaves, 2004.
(1) “A Listing of Some 18th and 19th Century American Nicknames,” History and Genealogy Unit, Connecticut State Library, 2012 (http://www.cslib.org/nickname.htm: accessed October 14, 2012).