Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday's Tip: Was Your Ancestor Named for a Politician, Hero, or Famous Leader?

Have you ever stumbled across an unusual name in your family tree...a name that didn't quite "fit in" with the rest of the traditional names? Have you ever had an ancestor named for somebody famous and wondered why?

Last Tuesday, in most places in the United States, was Election Day. Many of us voted for our state representatives to U.S. Congress, our state legislators, and candidates and issues for local elections. In our ancestors' days, it was not unusual for them to name their children after their favorite local or national candidate or a famous leader.

In 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette returned from France at the invitation of President James Monroe to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United States. Lafayette toured the country for a little over a year, being honored by cheering crowds, celebratory parades, and banquets with aging veterans of the Revolutionary War. Numerous baby boys born during the latter part of 1824 and in 1825 were named after him. Look for name and spelling variations including Lafayette, Fayette, Fay, Marquis, and even the full Marquis de Lafayette as first names in your family from this time period.

Here are some examples from my own family of people named after candidates or leaders:

William Bryan Robbins - my Great-grandfather Robbins was named for William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for president in 1896, the year Great-grandpa was born. This is significant in my family, because William's father Angelo was the only one in a long line of conservative Robbinses until the present generation who voted Democrat. Both William and Bryan continue to be popular names for boys in the Robbins family.

Woodrow Wilson Kimball - the half-brother of my Great-Great-Grandmother Robbins (Mary May "Lula" Kimball), he was born 5 March 1913, the day after Woodrow Wilson took office as the 28th President of the United States.

Stephen Van Rensselaer York - the man believed to be the brother of my 4th-great-grandfather Jeremiah Franklin York, Stephen was named for Stephen Van Rensselaer II. Van Rensselaer was a prominent man in New York State, who was also a New York state senator at that time, and would continue to have a long public career, including one in the military during the War of 1812.

William Wallace Robbins - there were actually two boys by this name; one the brother of my 3rd-great-grandfather Robbins, and another the brother of my 2nd-great-grandfather Robbins. Neither boy, named after "Braveheart," would live past his youth.

So how can you determine where some of those unusual political names came from? Wikipedia has a list of United States presidential candidates here. You may need to Google your ancestor's state's gubernatorial candidates for the election year closest to when he was born. Reading county histories and biographies will also give you a good idea of who was running for local offices or was a local hero or leader around the time of your ancestor's birth.

Do you have ancestors named for politicians, leaders, or local heroes? Leave your answer in the comments below!

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