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.