So, my first ‘tip’ for young genealogists is to not take names so seriously. Unless you have someone named, for example, Robert Herbert Marshmallow and you are able to find a vital record for a Robert Herbert Marshmallow. In that case, you are lucky. But what happens when the names don’t work in your favour? I never realized how important spelling and names were in genealogy until I began research on my McDonald ancestors.
Let’s have a look at an example from my own family tree.
This one family, consisting of Findlay McDonald, Catherine McDonald and their five children Ferchan, John, Nancy, Margaret and Catherine moved from Scotland to NSW, Australia in 1839. I had always had trouble finding information on this particular family before and after their arrival in Australia, and it was all because of their names.
To begin with, my grandfather has always told me that these McDonald ancestors were always spelled with a ‘Mc’, never ‘Mac’. It surprised me to find that many of the records had the family listed as ‘Mac’. The marriage of Findlay’s parents, Ferchan McDonald and Mary McIllwraith (spelling from the Immigration records) turned up no results. It turns out that Mary’s maiden surname was in fact, Macillavrae. Findlay, the father, has been found many times in other Australian records with his name spelled as Finlay/Finley and even Finly. If that doesn’t make it hard enough, I could find no record of their eldest son Ferchan, so I looked at other variations of the name, including; Ferchar, Fearchar, Feracher, Fergus and Farquhar, all of which have turned up no results. To make that even more confusing, it seems to be that Findlay and Catherine had another son after their arrival in 1844, by the name of Francis. This leaves out any possibility that “Ferchan” could be “Francis”. Francis, you would think, would be easy to find information on. However, on Findlay’s death certificate the informant was his son, Frank McDonald. This meant that Francis went by two names. Still no results.
For a while I gave up on the males and began looking for the female children, which is notably a lot harder as at marriage they would have changed their surnames. Searches for Margaret/ Margarete turned up no results, so I looked for Nancy. After finding nothing with the name “Nancy McDonald” I turned to Rootschat.com to see if anyone else could find anything for this particular person. A baptism notice for the particular year of her birth in Scotland came back with the father as Finlay, no mention of a mother, and the child’s name as Ann.
Moral of the story, be lenient with your names. A name registered at birth may not be the name they used in the Census records, they may go by their middle name or even by a nickname.
Thanks for reading!