Most people believe their surname has been the same forever and spelled the same way, too.
The first thing you learn in genealogy is that the spelling of names does not matter at all. Each member of the family may spell the same name differently, and it may vary from generation to generation, from document to document, and even change in the same document.
It is not unusual at all to find a name spelled one way at the beginning of a will and differently at the end.
But as it turns out, at least for me, a complete name change may not be so unusual either!
This month I am going to tell you about five families on my chart and what I have discovered about each one. I have changed the names to protect cousins, in-laws and anyone else it may concern, since they may not be able to take this in the same sense of humor as I do.
I have run DNA tests on all of these families. Two of the five families have proven to have used the exact surname since the 17th and 18th centuries. How do I know? First, I have a paper trail with each generation proven with documented sources. However, this does not prove that there might be some irregularities in the bloodline, like an adoption, stepchild, etc. This is where the DNA plays its part.
I gathered DNA samples from close male relatives with the surnames I wanted checked. Eventually, we had matches with other males with the same surnames. Comparing our genealogy records, we found common ancestors many generations back, proving our bloodlines were the same.
In other words, the DNA from Tom from Florida and Joe from California matched each other, and they both traced back to Joshua, who lived in 1775. Therefore, everyone along the male line will have the same Y-DNA gene. This is the way it should work in a perfect world.
The next two families have a very different story. James and John both showed up in Florida around 1850, each with no apparent relatives or history, and for more than 35 years, no one has been able to trace. It didn't take me too long to decide I probably had the wrong name, but those family members carrying that name weren't interested in hearing about it.
John was listed on the census as an ex-convict, and soon met his demise, so no one has looked very far for him. James is a different character altogether. Family legend says James came to Florida as a young boy who ran away from home. He has a full name, date and place of birth.
He became a big fish is a small pond in his little town and produced 17 children, which gives us many descendants. They all consider his statistics sacred. Since I don't carry the name, I seem to be the only skeptic. If his name is wrong, chances are the birth information is wrong. Once again, let's use the DNA.
I searched out distant male cousins who carried each surname. There has never been a match for either, with the surname they used.
After several years, I received a note from the administrator of John's surname group.
"Although you have not matched anyone in our group, you do have close matches in the Dunbar surname project. We suggest you join their group."
In other words, you don't belong to us. John was from the hills of Tennessee and could have used his birth name or changed it, but somewhere along the line, and not too far back, his family was from the Dunbar bloodline, not the surname on my chart.
In James' surname project, it became apparent that all of his DNA matches had the same last name, and it wasn't the one he used. So, once again, we have changed surname groups, and found new relatives. So far, we have no way of knowing if James deliberately ran away and changed his name, was adopted, given the wrong name at birth or if it happened several generations back.
But in this case, the name seems to be "Brown" and not "Black." It seems my fellow researcher, Tom Brown, whose DNA sample I used, is still in denial and trying to figure out how he can possibly be related to this strange family with a different name.
The name change for case number five is even closer to home for this family. The paper trail is beautiful, and goes back to the year 1800. There has only been one little flaw and that is in the second generation.
I have never found a birth certificate for Paul or a marriage record for his parents. Not so unusual, since the state had only recently created the law mandating the recording of births. Paul was probably born at home and the record never filed. I didn't know in which state his parents were married, but knew it had to be less than a year before he was born.
There was a strange feeling about this family, but I had found them on the census as a family group and even knew Paul and his siblings. Again, the only DNA match I've ever had is with another male with a different surname.
As I've always preached, if you wait long enough, the answer will come to you. As the Internet grows, so do the records available, and one day, up popped that illusive marriage record. The parents were indeed married three years after the birth of the child. After putting all the facts together, it's obvious Paul has a different father.
Going back to the DNA projects, I find many matches with this other surname and the two families all live in the same vicinity.
So once again, I have a family with a different bloodline than the surname they use today. Who's the daddy? I'll probably never know, but then again, if I live long enough, I'll bet somehow, someday, the truth will come out.
I am sending for a new birth certificate with the new surname. Who knows?
Do you have a subject you would like to see covered? Send suggestions to
BrendaKSmith@prodigy.net.The Treasure Coast Genealogical Society meets every third Tuesday at the Fort Pierce Main Library, Melody Lane, 1:30-3:30 p.m. Volunteers are at the library every Tuesday from 9 a.m. -3 p.m. to help with research.