Thursday, October 15, 2009

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.

-Taken from

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