In 1735 there were three small children named Johann Ayelts in the village of Wiesens, now located in Germany. They spent their entire lives in that same village. The village of Wiesens is a small one located in the north of Germany with a population of probably less than 500 people in the mid-eighteenth century.
Those three Johanns were:
Johann Ayelts, born 1727
Johann Bruns Ayelts, born 1731
Johann Ayelts, born 1732
This is a situation that can easily confuse genealogists. Separating the three Johanns reminds us of some important lessons about genealogy methods and the importance of knowing something about the area in which one is researching.
It would be easy to confuse similarly named men. After all, they were born within five years of each other and lived their entire lives in the same small village. One might also be tempted to conclude that the men are related to each other, perhaps they were first cousins, grandchildren of the same patriarch. Perhaps they were related more distantly, yet close enough that it matters genealogically. But conclusions about relationships cannot be made based upon names alone–there needs to be actual evidence of a relationship.
Names do not usually provide a direct, immediate proof of a relationship. In some locations, the sharing of a first and a last name may warrant a closer look for a relationship between the two individuals, after the researcher has “sorted them out” and determined which records belonged to which individual. In other locations, the sharing of a first and a last name may be happenstance.
Let’s look at the three individuals in question.
The First Name
Johann is one of the most common German first names and is passed down in many families. Conclusions about relationships based solely on the first name are not advisable. It is generally advised to keep in mind the relative commonness of any names when making a hypothesis about a relationship.
The Last Name
One should not always assume individuals with the same last name living in close proximity are related. The researcher needs to understand how common certain last names were in certain areas, how those last names were derived, and when last names were consistently passed down from parent to child. If these individuals lived in Virginia, rather than northern Germany, my initial hypothesis about any relationship would be different.
How Common Was the Last Name?
The last name of Ayelts (and Eilts, Eielts, etc.) is fairly common in the area where these men lived. You can determine how common a last name is by looking in online phone books, indexes, city and village directories, etc. for the area being researched. You can also simply browse through birth records for a five or ten year time span. Keep in mind that the commonness of a last name can vary greatly from one region of a country to another, and the relative frequency of a last name should be determined only by using materials from the area where the family lived. Continue reading