Using Nicknames in Genealogical Research
Tracking down records in your genealogical research is one the biggest challenges to solving family history mysteries. Different spellings of specific names, the spontaneous changing of last names, and transcription errors can make the process even more complex. One area that many researchers encounter is the challenge of nicknames. If an ancestor had a nickname, it can sometimes be used interchangeably with their given name which can complicate the process of tracking down specific records or information. Here’s a closer look at some tips to navigate around this issue and how to approach it in your research when you think a nickname may be muddying your research.
How nicknames enter the discussion
Nicknames can be used on genealogical records for any number of reasons. In some cases, a family gives a child a formal name to honor a relative or religious figure, but calls them by a different name at all times. For example, in some cultures many children named Maria are actually called by their middle name. The person in question may end up using their nickname on formal documents. When family members are reporting information such as providing household details to a census taker verbally, they may refer casually to a sibling or child by a nickname or term of endearment. Think of how you refer to loved ones via nicknames and it’s easy to see how this comes into play.
Identifying when nicknames might be the culprit
There are some obvious cases in your genealogical research when nicknames might become important. Longer names tends to be reduced to their diminutive forms. Elizabeth quickly becomes Betsy, William is referred to as Will or Bill. Specific nicknames fall in and out of favor during certain periods, and there are often variations related to ethnicity, geography, and more. For example, Alexandra could be shortened to Alex, Andi, Sandra, Sandy, Alexa, or Allie (or numerous other variations). Because today’s digitized research archives are keyword based, it’s important to figure out if a nickname could be at the root of your struggles to track down information about specific ancestors.
How to find nicknames
When you’re having difficulty finding records related to an ancestor or puzzling out who “Polly” is when you’re expecting to find a “Mary,” consider whether a nickname could be the cause. Start by brainstorming all the common nicknames associated with a specific name that you can come up with. Vary the spelling. Lizzy, Lizzie, and Lizzi could all be viable depending on the details. For more inspiration, consult baby name books or online lists of nicknames. For example, in the example above, Polly was once a common nickname for Mary but not something that occurs to many modern researchers. The more variations you develop, the more widely you can search to put the pieces together. Consulting diverse sources can help you be creative, and may lead to the breakthrough you need to find an elusive ancestor.
Are you struggling with aspects of your genealogical research? A professional genealogist can help. Contact Price and Associates today to arrange for a personalized consultation.