Thursday, June 9, 2011

Surname Saturday- Same Surname Coincidences

Same Name Coincidences - how easy it is to find the wrong ancestors.

A few years ago, I telephoned my friend Anne to ask if I could borrow a CD to use in a concert. Her son Paul answered the phone, saying, 'Paul here' and I told him it was Sharn speaking. He said hello, and after a quick chat about how he was going at school, he put his mother on the line. Anne and I had a good chat about life in general and I arranged to collect the CD the next day. After hanging up the telephone, I felt uneasy. Anne's voice has sounded different. Perhaps she had a cold? I had dialed the phone number from memory, so was it possible that I had phoned the wrong number. After checking my personal telephone book I rang the number I had written down for my friend Anne, who answered immediately.

'Anne,' I said, sheepishly, 'This may sound silly, but did I just telephone you? I asked.

'No', replied my friend Anne and then added, 'Are you OK?'

' I'll get back to you.' I mumbled and leaving her undoubtedly thinking I had gone quite mad, I hung up.

I telephoned the number that I had first called. (It was only one digit different from the correct one).

'Anne here', answered the voice. ( At least I had the right number, even if I now knew I had the wrong Anne!)

'Hello,'I blurted out, 'I think I may have just phoned you by mistake.'

'Oh that's a relief,' replied the other Anne, ' I was just thinking you didn't sound like my friend Sharm.' The outcome of this situation was that we had a good laugh. This Anne had a friend named Sharm, who was also involved in a concert. So Sharn sounded like Sharm when I called. They both had a son named Paul just to add to the confusion. She also only lived one street away from my friend Anne. Confusing? Very! If this can happen in real life, imagine what confusion you might encounter when searching for ancestors.

I am unhappily swinging from the branches of several family trees on which I do not belong. The reason for my being perched on these wrong trees is a simple coincidence of the same surname and a lack of checking of the facts. It is easy to do. In fact, I have been guilty of adopting the wrong ancestor in the past myself, in the early days of my family history research. I had mistakenly adopted the wrong Joseph Williams, convict. It was difficult to give him up, I have to admit as I actually preferred the ancestor who wasn't mine. I had become quite fond of him, as he handsomely sat on my family tree, scar on his eyebrow and all. As soon as I realised my mistake, however, I lowered him begrudgingly from the branch of my tree and replaced him with my 'pock marked, swollen leg veined' own and considerably more unattractive convict ancestor. It is a fact, that no matter how fascinating someone else's ancestor may be, if he or she does not belong on your tree, they should not be there.

Finding the wrong ancestor is actually very easy. Often it is more easy than finding your own. Unless your ancestor had an unusual surname, as did my Häberlings and Nergers then unfortunately, there are a lot of McDonalds, MacDonalds, Smiths, Whites, Browns and Taylors to choose from. There are also a lot of common first names to help to further confuse you in your search for ancestors. In my family there is an over abundance of common names such as John, Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret, William, Thomas and dare I say it - Anne! Imagine my glee to find an ancestor named Gotlob Sigler after searching for William and John White, John Hoyes and William Lloyd. I know I have the correct Gotlob on my family tree. It takes a great deal of patience and record checking to make certain you have the correct ancestor when they have a more common name.

When I was first married, I received a phone call one day from a woman asking to speak to David. Naturally curious, that a female was telephoning my new husband, I politely asked her who she was.

Very rudely she replied, 'I might ask you the same thing.'

'Well,' I said, surprised, but firm, 'I am David's wife!'

At hearing this, the woman burst into tears and claimed that she had no idea that the man whom she was dating had a wife, whereupon, I also began crying because I had no idea that my husband had a girlfriend. She gave a telephone number and requested that David call her, so that she could give him a piece of her mind. Not before I did though!

My husband David claimed that he did not know anyone named Sue as he attempted to calm me over the phone.

'A likely story!' I sobbed, inconsolably.

As it turned out my David was telling the truth. He didn't know a Sue (unless you count his first cousin) and this other Sue had telephoned the wrong number. She was looking for David Taylor, not David White!

'Did you not check who she was looking for?' asked my husband. A lesson learned well (and with a very red face), in real life and one which I have taken with me into my ancestral search.

So, I don't blame those people who have mistakenly placed me on their trees. I understand how name coincidences happen. Speaking of the surname Taylor happens to remind me of an instance where I have been planted on the wrong tree. One of my ancestors, John Taylor, had the same name as another family historian's ancestor did. Both John Taylors married a Mary Ann. A thorough check of the facts show that my Mary Ann was born in Nottinghamshire and the other Mary Ann, in Bermondsey, Surrey. But still my John Taylor of Nottinghamshire, remains on the other tree married like a bigamist to a Surrey girl. On another family tree, I have an Elizabeth Jane Turner who married a William Shelver. An unusual name, I hear you say! Ah yes, but would you believe that by coincidence, two Elizabeth Turners each married a William Shelver in the same week, in the same year, and in the exact same county of Suffolk in the UK? Unfortunately, on someone else's tree, my Elizabeth Jane is married incorrectly to the wrong William. A simple mistake but one that pops three generations of my family onto a tree where they sit out of place, like apples on an orange tree.

The moral of this story is to always check and verify facts. If you don't you might end up with the wrong ancestor or worse like my friend did, the wrong bed......

.....Ah now that I have begun the story, I should no doubt tell you what happened.

My friend's surname is McDonald. He ordered a new bed from a department store which he arranged to be delivered to Unit 10, 53 Hannah * Street. When the bed did not arrive, my friend telephoned the delivery company who claimed that they had indeed delivered the bed. And they had. To Unit 10, 58, Hannah Street, where lived a couple, also with the surname of McDonald. When the delivery men had struggled up three floors to unit 10, and announced a delivery for McDonald, the lady who opened the door was overwhelmed by surprise. She decided at once that her husband must have bought the new bed to surprise her for their wedding anniversary which was that very day. When her unsuspecting husband returned home from his office to find his wife deliriously happy and jumping on the bed for joy, he did not have the heart to tell her that he had not purchased the bed. The mistake was corrected and my McDonald friend received a brand new bed. Now, if I could just get my Elizabeth Jane Turner out of bed with the wrong William Shelver....

* Hannah is not the real name of the street.