My tree full of Annies

When my father married my stepmother in 1991, Helen brought a dachshund named Megan to that union. When Megan died, they adopted another dachshund and named her Annie. When my father told me this name, my first thought was: he named his dog after my grandmother? But my second thought was: he named his dog after his own mother; if he isn’t offended, I shouldn’t be either.

As I have filled out my tree, I have found many Annies related to my father, including his mother, his grandmother, and his sister (called Nan, perhaps to distinguish her from the other Annies). In addition, his mother’s cousin was Annie NEILSON, and there were two more Annies, his aunts on his father’s side.

When I remarked to him that he had many Annies in his tree, he agreed and said it was confusing, but I loved what happened when I told him about Annie Louise HANDLEY WALKER, who was married to his grandmother’s brother, William WALKER. I explained to Dad that William had been a seaman and must have met his wife in Ireland since they married in Cork, had children there, and then moved to Glasgow about 1900. My Dad laughed and said: she must be Cork Annie! He had heard his mother and grandmother talk about Cork Annie (even after the family came to the US in 1923) but never knew what the phrase meant. Now we knew that Cork Annie was so named because she came from Cork and that was how she was distinguished from all the other Annies.

Mark and I have adopted this method of distinguishing among people with the same name. So, for example, we have Pueblo Arleen (who does Mark’s hair) and Columbus Arleen (Mark’s cousin, sadly, his late cousin as of last year). We highly recommend this method of referring to people.

Of course, many families reuse names, to the consternation of genealogists trying to keep everyone straight. Before Glasgow, my FRASER / FRAZER roots are in County Roscommon, Ireland, (and then back further in time to Scotland), and the favorite male name was Archibald. Dad thought he was lucky to have been named John after his mother’s brother, not after any of the many FRAZER relatives named Archibald. My great grandparents were Richard FRAZER and Jane FRAZER, second cousins, and both their fathers were Archibald FRAZER.

I was named Jane because, my parents told me, they liked the name, not because I was named after anyone. But my research has shown that my father’s sister, known always as Jean, was baptized as Jane, and I have two great grandmothers and one great great grandmother named Jane. I like the name, too.

Nicknames or name variations are sometimes recorded in documents; my aunt used Jean on legal documents throughout her life; it was only when I found her birth certificate in Scotland that I learned her name was actually Jane.  Polly, Molly, Jack, Sandy, etc., can be nicknames for Mary, Margaret, John, and Alexander. Or something completely different.

Surname spellings vary. My FRASER / FRAZER ancestors used both spellings in Ireland (where FRAZER is the common spelling), then used mostly FRAZER while in Glasgow (perversely, since the Scottish spelling is FRASER), and then switched to FRASER when they moved to the US. Go figure.

The lesson I draw from all these examples is not to get hung up on having names match exactly but also not to assume that finding someone with the same name as your relative means you have actually found your relative.

I’ve been reading the excellent book Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones, available from Heritage Books. The five components of the standard include answering a research question through (1) thorough searches, (2) informative citations, (3) analysis and comparison of the sources, (4) resolution of conflicts, and (5) a written statement supporting the answer to the question. Similar names and discrepancies in names can create problems with no simple solution except care; this book is teaching me how to exercise that care in genealogical research.

Finally, here is a Life Pro Tip: When your parents are in their 80s and get a puppy, that dog is going to be yours some day. Sure enough, when I flew to visit my parents after both had medical episodes in the same week, I ended up buying a dog carrier and taking dachshund Annie home with me.

She became loved by my partner Mark and me. She was not loved so much by our other dog, Maude, named – you’ll love this – after my other grandmother. And, to be honest, Annie was often rather annoying. We sometimes speculated that “dachshund” is German for “pain in the neck.” I have decided that should we ever – please no – end up owning a dachshund again, we will name her Nervensäge (literally “nerve saw”), which Wiktionary tells me IS the German equivalent of “pain in the neck.”  

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