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Why So Many Names?

Posted by Jeanie Croasmun on September 10, 2008 in Ancestry Magazine

One of my favorite parts of my job is finding history—actual, real, personal stories—in old records, even when that history doesn’t directly relate to me or my family. So while editing an article on hidden identities for the November/December issue of Ancestry Magazine, I decided to see if I could find examples of hidden identities in the records at Ancestry.com.

In the article I was reviewing, the author mentions that civil war pension records are filled with aliases. (The number one reason? Marital not-so-bliss–apparently way back when it was far easier to just change your identity than to go through the legal rigmarole of divorce). So I went to the Civil War Pension index at Ancestry.com and dropped in the keyword “alias” as my only search term. My reward? Eighty people with hundreds of assumed names between them. Using “known as” as my keyword gave me more than 5,000 additional possibilities. Sometimes it was the soldier with the alias. Other times, the widow filing for the pension, who may have picked up a few other husbands along the way, was the one with the changed name.

Some of the aliases are on the up-and-up, simple spelling aberrations. But the best ones? The folks with four or five different, I mean really different, names. Who in the world needs that many names? And how confusing was it for them to remember who they were in any given situation?

You’ll find the answer to these questions as well as tips on spotting an alias in your own family tree in the November/December issue of Ancestry Magazine, due to hit newsstands at the end of October (magazine subscribers will get their hands on it a bit earlier). In the meantime, I’ll keep you posted.

About Jeanie Croasmun
Jeanie Croasmun has been working at Ancestry.com while futilely attempting to prove the horse thief story in her family history for over seven years. During that time, she learned enough about her family to determine that the story is likely a great work of fiction. But the search continues ...

6 comments

Comments

[...] have civil war ancestor’s in your past, I recommend the previous post by Jeanie Croasmun : Why So Many Names?. I know I learned something [...]

2 Jean MuellerSeptember 11, 2008 at 10:32 pm

There are many John’s etc. I have a book about the Willeford’s and will try to check on it for what I can find. I know I have John’s wife, Wiley’s wf and kids.
Samuel and some of the others.
Jean
They also went by Wilsford, Williford etc.

3 pmh401October 17, 2008 at 4:42 am

Why isn’t there any information for ancestors from Spain? I have tried to search but don’t find an option

4 Virgil BrattonOctober 19, 2008 at 10:41 am

Why is it so hard at Ancestry.com to reteive or find an idividuasl with exact matches and in idividual states and for the year you inquire about. seem like thereis too much ifo listed that is not relative too a particular person or date or timetable.
also i would rathe have manual on my desk in front of me instaed of trying to use the help section on the web site.

5 marshell hairstonDecember 31, 2008 at 12:49 am

I’v been tryin to search my ancesters this very important to me but i can’t aford the cost can you help? name Hairston great grand mort& frances hairston grand henry& ruth hairston dad henry hairston both great,grand mothers both hairston befor marriage

6 marshell hairstonDecember 31, 2008 at 12:50 am

I’v been tryin to search my ancesters this very important to me but i can’t aford the cost can you help? name Hairston great grand mort& frances hairston grand henry& ruth hairston dad henry hairston both great,grand mothers both hairston befor marriage who is mort& frances mother , father

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