Tuesday, March 16, 2010

His Irish Eyes Weren't Smiling

It's the time of the year when we celebrate our Irish heritage and I have plenty of it. 

My mom claimed Irish heritage through the Donaldsons.  My dad always made fun of her.  I think he bought into the stereotype that the Irish are drunks.  The rest of us didn't care, though.  We were proud to have Irish heritage.  My dad said that his father, James Quincy Davis, always told him the Davises were Welsh.

Very early in my research, I learned of Robert Hamilton, my fifth great-grandfather through my paternal grandmother, Jennie Esther Ballein.  Robert Hamilton was born in Ireland in 1760.  He came to America shortly before the Revolutionary War and served in that war.   I told my dad he had Irish blood and he promptly told me that only the male line (i.e., the Davises) counted when determining one's cultural heritage.

I will always remember the day that changed my dad's life.  I was sitting at a microfilm viewer looking for my great-great grandfather Isaac Davis in the 1880 census.  The entry under his father's birthplace was illegible, but it sure didn't look like Wales.  I examined it closely.  It appeared to begin with an I.   Could it be?  I printed the census record so I could present my dad with evidence that his great-great grandfather, Samuel Davis, was born in Ireland.  The 1850 census also indicates that Samuel was born in Ireland.

My dad still wasn't convinced.  My grandpa was still alive at that time and I overheard my dad on the phone telling him in a rather condescending manner that I told him the Davises were Irish.  This was followed by a long pause.  The next thing my dad said was "But you always said we were Welsh!"  So, grandpa verified my dad's Irish heritage.  I took every opportunity to bring up his previous comment that only the male line counted when determining one's heritage.

It took my dad a little time to accept his Irish roots.  It became a little more difficult when I told my mom that even though she has Irish roots, they weren't though the Scottish Donaldsons.  There's an irony!  She didn't make fun of him, though.  She was sort of bummed.

We were always sure to help him celebrate his Irish heritage.  We bought him buttons proclaiming his Irishness, Irish cupcakes, and a shamrock plant.  He resisted at first, but finally came to appreciate his Irish heritage.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

My dad embracing his Irish heritage

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Name Game

Why did our ancestors have so many different variations on their names?  Since a very young age, I have known my full name and the correct spelling.  You probably have also.  But I see so many different names for the same people and families and, well, it's frustrating.

First, there is my great-great-grandmother, Lulu Dunn Wardlow.  I refer her to as Lulu, because that is the name on her gravestone.  However, I have seen her name spelled Eulala, Eulali, Ulalia, and Lula.  Someone told me I was wrong about her name but who's to say?

My great-grandmother, Rosa Ogden Davis, has been referred to as Thankful Rosa, Rozella, and Rosie. Again, she is referred to Rosa on her gravestone, so that is typically how I refer to her.

Ballein is problem name.  I have seen it written as Bowline and Bauline.  I can almost excuse this, though, since it is a somewhat unusual name.

Shaper is a problem for another reason.  It is pronounced the way it is written but, unfortunately, is similar to the more familiar name Shafer and the numerous variants of the same name (Schafer, Schaeffer, etc.) and, therefore, is easily misunderstood.  Same problem with Steward, which could be misinterpreted as Stewart.

When I was a kid and mispronounced my mom's maiden name, she always corrected me and told me the name was Donaldson, not Donalson.  Tell that to the census enumerators, who wrote it as Donaldson, Donalson, and Donelson!

Even common, simple names like Dudley (Dudly) and Davis (Davies) can be recorded incorrectly.

Then there are the name changes.  One family arrived in Ohio known as the Wardlaws and sometime in the early 19th century became known as the Wardlows.  Another family arrived in Camp Dennison, Ohio with the surname Preisch (sometimes written as Prisch to confuse matters), which was soon Anglicized to Price.

Don't even get me started on the issues with Ebenezer and Ulysses!  And I doubt I will ever know if my great-great grandmother's name was Lavinna or Lavina or Lavinia Patton (I call her Lavinna).

I suspect that this problem had a lot to do with illiteracy and semi-literacy among some of my ancestors.  On top of that, a lot of the census enumerators and recordkeepers of earlier eras were a little lacking when it came to spelling and penmanship.  Perhaps folks in the olden days just wanted to create a greater challenge for their descendants.