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The City and County of Washington Pennsylvania
Washington County Pennsylvania History and Families
Genealogy 101 - "The Correct
The Correct Name Is...
By Judith Florian
Helping my grandmother to do her hobby, genealogy, was a complicated
decision but one I deliberately made. She had just lost her lifelong spouse.
But, raised of stocic stock in a German-PA Dutch-English ancestors, she always
tried to act strong-- even when she wasn't. She was very loving, yet, had
trouble accepting enthusiastic displays of affection-- such as those given by
young children to their parents or grandparents. It wasn't her fault; her
reactions were formed by expectations of her generation (WWI and WWII) and
living in the constant shadow of coal mining which her father, brother, and
husband followed. Crying was a private matter; asking for emotional support
was not in her constitution. It left me feeling as an outsider to her personal
grief after grandpap died. And unsure of how I could get closer. So I decided
upon another tact. Slowly, I began asking questions about HER only hobby,
genealogy. With a specific topic to discuss, she talked longer and
"life" came back into her voice, rather than the far-away detached
tone of sadness of the last few months.
When I graduated from nursing school-- and bought my very first car, at age
26---it naturally followed that I could then ask if she wanted me to go to the
Court House for her. Thus began my treks to Courthouses in Washington Co PA,
and eventually, to Bedford Co (white-knuckling my trek over the mountains in
thick fog), and through the mostly bland and boring landscape to rural Carroll
Co, Ohio. Eventually, I even made it to Frederick Co. Maryland, all within
months of getting my license!
I'd call her from each location, to update her on my "finds" and
get more "how-to" directions from her. "Next?" I'd ask
after giving her my "report".
One day, as I ran through the records I'd checked with largely negative
results, I complained I'd only found "ones with wrong spellings, not the
*correct* spelling of 'LANE". Thus, she began a 30-minute lecture, at
long-distance rates being charged to my motel room, I might add! Her lectures
were always full of rhetorical questions, ones designed to make me think
something through until I caught on to HER thinking. It was a little game she
liked to do, probably a tactic she had used all those years as a Sunday School
Bible teacher. I willingly played the game. "If each person's name
always remained unchanged," she said, "wouldn't that mean more of us
would have identical last names?" "If one of our
great-great-great grandfathers turns out to be named Laine, Layne, or Lehn,
would that mean he spelled his name wrongly--- or--- would we deserve the
F-grade for spelling it "L-A-N-E" all this time?"
She'd end her talks by giving me, the only student of her long-distance
"classroom", the correct answers.
So I'd dutifully check every variant spelling, always hoping I'd find our
unknown connection to our elusive ancestors--- or even some connection to our
ancestors' distant relatives. I just wanted to find *someone* I was sure
was ours and I didn't care which generation I found. I just hoped I could give
my grandmother some new information!
I did find new information, exciting finds! Like, finding out our Daniel Lane
was indeed the son of John Lane, Sr. And within a short time, being able to
tell her my first Title Search revealed where John Lane's land was along The
National Pike. And then, after many dead ends, finding out that John Lane Sr.
had other children, namely, John Lane Jr in Indiana, Joseph Lane in Ohio, and
Mary A. who stayed in Washington PA along with Daniel. I found spouses
and the grandchildren... but, all of their names were simply: L-A-N-E.
Perhaps grandma was wrong all along, I thought (but never said).
I devoted most of my search to doing LANE but never had time to do our other
families: ANTHONY, WALLER, PEES, DENMAN, etc. I did begin to research PEES,
which soon became a search for PEES, PEAS, PEESE, PEASE (oh Grandma was
right!). Mysteriously, my ANTHONYs at one point were ANTONYs. But, long after
my grandmother died in 2000, I discovered more name changes.
Joshua Alpheus Denman became Andrew J. Donley and was Donley from 1867 to 1909
-- longer than he'd been Denman. Another man in one of our families had as a
child returned home to find his step-father had killed his mother and when
this boy came of age, he left the state and made a new name which he has used
for over 70 years. The stories go on and on about why one name became a
different name, or why a name lost a letter (or two).
My point is, you shouldn't think your name is the only "real" or
"correct" name. Just because Joshua Alpheus was named a Denman, (a)
he was "given" his father's name even though the parents were never
married and weren't even in the same State after conception (i.e. he should
have had his mother's name instead), and (b) there are now many generations of
"Donley" for whom Donley IS correct despite their
gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather taking an alias and having part Denman blood. Whether
spelled Anthony or Antony, it was "correct" for the person who
spelled it that way. Many of our immigrant ancestors altered their names. And
for African American slaves, do we now say the names they were given or chose
are now "wrong" or "incorrect names"?
The only "correct" thing in genealogy is who (a) by blood is related
and (b) who by conscious decision has made "relationship" to each
other (including conscious decisions made for children by a parent or
guardian). Names only serve as guides, but we must follow the name trail,
desepite our own ideas of what is right or "wrong" names (even
though "right" does not exist, really). For example, even though
George Denman's (blood-biological) father was Joshua Alpheus Denman, Joshua
left before George was a year old and George was raised by his step-father,
Jacob "Jake" Miller, a relationship made by the conscious decision
of George's mother when she re-married. Neither name is "wrong".
Both should be tracked and recorded in the genealogy.
When some Anthony men dropped the second "n", neither name is
"wrong". It's not the same as misspelling "continent" in
Instead, naming has more fluidity throughout time and does not have a
"right" or "wrong" regardless of how we spell our names
I only wish I'd known this lesson early on because I probably overlooked
many records that were, indeed, for our families.
Submitted to the Washington Co PA Rootsweb List on Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 3:10
Page added August 2011