Tips from the Pros: The Name’s the Same, from Michael John Neill

Could couples with the same first and last names be confusing your research? My wife’s ancestors, George A. Freund (1858-1928) and his wife, Katherine Cawiezell (1855-1922), were both born and died in Scott County, Iowa. The problem is that George A. Freund had a first cousin, George K. Freund who was also born in Scott, ca. 1855, where he later died. This George K. was married to a Catherine Schilling (1856-1925). Both couples lived in Scott County, Iowa, their entire adult lives. With the similarity of the names, they can be easily confused, and researchers are known to have credited the wrong couple with the wrong children. George A. and George K. were aware of the potential confusion and used their middle initials in many records, particularly after their marriages.

The potential confusion continued. In a later generation of the Freund family, there was a George Henry Freund, born in 1888 and Henry George Freund, born in 1889. Both of these Scott County, Iowa, natives appear in the World War I Draft Card database at One has to be careful in these situations too.
If your ancestor is using a middle initial, ask yourself why. Is it to distinguish himself from someone with a similar name? Never grab the first hit or search result with the “right” name and assume you have the correct person. It always pays to search census indexes and other finding aids completely to determine if there might be more than one person with the same name. Never assume a first and last name combination is so unusual that there could not be two separate individuals with that combination. Tax and census records are a good way to locate these “duplicate” people, particularly when other records are not available.

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11 thoughts on “Tips from the Pros: The Name’s the Same, from Michael John Neill

  1. Pingback: Tips from the Pros: The Name’s the Same, from Michael John Neill

  2. This is so true. Especially if your family followed naming traditions.

    My Lambert family in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, followed naming traditions to a fault. If one family had 4 sons, they named them John Wesley, Moses Franklin, Samuel James and Josiah. Then if each of those sons had 4 sons, they would name them John Wesley, Moses Franklin, Samuel James and Josiah. It is conceivable that you could have 4 first cousins, all living in the same area, named Samuel James Lambert and all about the same age. It’s maddening!

    I think that is one of the best cases AGAINST naming traditions.

  3. While researching my husband’s Crowder family, we came across two James Allen Crowders. One born in Fergus County; the other born in Phillips County — both counties in central Montana. They were finally straightened out when we lived in Lewistown, Montana for several months in 2006. We bought a place to live from a realtor, Butch Crowder. We told him the story about the two James Allen Crowders and he said the Crowder born in Phillips County was his grandfather. We knew the one born in Fergus County was our family member. Since these two Crowders were finally identified, we have found two more, yes, James Allen Crowder who are family members. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out who is who when doing family research.

  4. I have the same problem with my great great grandfather John Sellers of Appling County, GA. His first cousin John M. Sellers and my John had just about 5 years difference in their ages too. What made the situation worst is that, many years ago, Judge Huxford published in the his “Pioneers of Wiregrass” that my John was the son of his Uncle Samuel Sellers. He did correct the error in a much later publication. I must say that all of the probate records and other records were lost in a courthouse fire before the Civil War, so basically the census records was all that documents this history’s early genealogy. I am thankful for Pat Barnes, a distant Sellers cousin, for all his work on this Sellers family.

  5. I have 3 Jonathan Segraves with wife Mary, one born about 1770 and 2 born about 1790. All 3 lived in the same county, whose courthouse burned in 1902 destroying the will of progentor Samuel and marriage records, making the determination of which is which very difficult. Add to that fact that this branch of the Segraves had few sons, and many daughters, and children died at an early age

    To make matters more confusing, a 4th Jonathan was a son of the other. – and none used a middle initial. 2 of the 4 Jonathan’s had a second wife Matilda. Add to that the 2 Thomas Segraves also connected to the Jonathan’s with one Thomas also married to Mary, and the other to Sally – the name of an unmarried daughter/sister of 2 Jonathan’s. All but one of the men died young leaving widows. So which Mary and which Sally and which Matilda belongs to which Jonathan and which Thomas?

    Then there is the pre-1800 Hester’s of NC where very Francis, William, John, Robert, Benjamin and Zachariah seemed to have sons Francis, William, John, Robert, Benjamin and Zachariah.

    Add to that the pre-1800 NC & VA Parham’s who every Avery and Isham had sons Avery and Isham.

    Pre-1800 census and tax records aren’t very helpful, deeds can be confusing and very few wills make these family’s a true challenge to sort through.

  6. It’s still haappernig. My sister and three of my frothers all have sons named Kenneth after my father, their grandfather . three of them have the same surname, but thankfully their other grandfathers’ middle names. Also, My brothers James and John were using the same bank and deposits got confused. Lots of fun, so it’s not only geneologists who are confused by this.

  7. You’d think a distinctive name like Uriah MITCHELL in 18th century Long Island and Dutchess Co., NY, would be easy. But no — there were three Uriah MITCHELLs, two of whom had birth and death dates and locations that were very similar. It took placing every piece of data in a timeline to sort them out. Turns out my 5g-grandfather Uriah had a much older half-brother — Uriah — who died before my 5g-grandfather was born. But before half-brother Uriah died, he had a son Uriah. Not surprisingly, these three Uriahs have been misidentified and confused with each other in countless documents, online and otherwise.

  8. Also,no two people can own the exact same plot of land! Check your deed records if they owned property.

  9. After reading your article my family’s confusing names seem trivial! My father was named Raymond but went by Bill. His brother, Wiliam John, went by Jack. We had many mix ups with mail when I was young since we only lived a block apart. I am very careful when referring to either of them in my records. I can only imagine the confusion a descendent would face not having my advantage of knowing them both.

  10. My mix ups also seem trivial. My Haworth family from England had a William, John, William John and a William Quinton. None of who went by their original names or even used middle initials. There was also a William Roy, a William Theodore and a John William. Cousins, brothers, fathers and sons and until I got everybody straight it was a mess. But thanks to a Haworth relative I have been able to keep everybody straight.

  11. If there are multiple male family members with the same first and last names (common in Italian families,) the resolution is made as follows, the II,III,IV system. For say if a father and son share the same first and last name of say the father’s paternal grandfather, but the father’s first cousin also shares the grandfather’s same name, and all three are living, the distinction would be: the boy’s father would be II, the father’s first cousin, next in age, would be III, and the son of the first gentleman would be IV due to birth date.

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