Saturday, July 18, 2009

What's in a Name?

The other evening -- well, very early the other morning, like about 2 a.m. -- I finally opened up some of my own family history and did a little more work. I explored a great-great-great grandfather I hadn't done much about, named Francis M. Wright. He is on my mother's side, born in Ohio and lived most of his life in Indiana. I traced him back to his father, whose name was Merritt Wright. And thereby hangs a tale of names.

My great-great grandfather, grandson of Francis M. Wright via his daughter Clarissa, was Francis Harvey Reed. He and his wife, Florence Elizabeth McKee, had ten children, many of whom had interesting names drawn from history and literature and, as I found out the other early morning, family history. One of those children was Merritt Wright Reed. By the way, he died in 2004 at the age of 104 or some such! I did not find this out until a few years after that, and heartily kicked myself for not investigating him earlier, for what information could he have given me about the Reed family?

Thus by investigating this Wright line, I found the origin of the name of Merritt Wright Reed and of the first name of Francis Harvey Reed (called "Frank"), whose middle name derived from his own father, Harvey Reed. Some of the names of Frank H. Reed's sons are rather obvious in their origin: Benjamin Franklin Reed (my grandfather), John Ruskin Reed, and William Ewart Gladstone Reed. That tells me a little about Frank H. Reed's education, as well as that of Florence Elizabeth McKee, who had become a school teacher at the age of 17 to help support her mother and brothers when her father, Nelson Reed McKee, had abandoned the family in 1879.

I have not yet investigated Nelson Reed McKee's lineage, though it intrigues me. Where did the Reed as his middle name come from? An offshoot of the same line that brought forth Frank H. Reed? Or was this another line?

Another thing I ponder about names is: What was going on in the midwest in the 19th century? There were a whole lot of men running around the midwest with the same name! I once was contacted by another researcher looking into her line from a Nelson Reed McKee. We compared dates and locations, and had to conclude that we were not talking about the same Nelson Reed McKee. What was really odd was that each of our N. R. McKees had a son named Charles Preston McKee! I should revisit that, though, and be sure the other investigator had the right dates. I have documentation to back mine up.

Likewise, I have found three or four Francis M. Wrights, and at least two of these (including my g-g-g-grandpa) were named Francis Marion Wright. Francis Marion, of course, was the famed "Swamp Fox" of the American Revolution, who ran the British ragged in South Carolina, being a particular bane to Colonel Banastre Tarleton ("Bloody Ban"). Apparently, the midwesterners liked their history (and literature). There were all these Francis Marions, and there were scores of Benjamin Franklins (including my grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Reed, and including a son of Nelson Reed McKee, Benjamin Franklin McKee).

Also on my mother's side lies the origin of my middle name, LeSueur. The spelling varies through generations. My mother was an intra-family adoption, as I have discussed in a previous blog post. Her father -- the above-named Benjamin Franklin Reed -- was killed in a railroad accident in 1917. The Reed family saw to it, according to my Aunt Margaret, my mother's sister, that my mother was adopted by my grandfather's oldest brother, Perry Wilmer Reed (no idea yet where his name came from) and Perry's wife, Mary LeSourd. That is how she spelled the name that was handed down to me as LeSueur. That name also appears as the middle name of Perry and Mary's ill-fated infant son Wilmer LeSueur Reed, who died in infancy of an acute gastritis in 1909. Spelling of that name has been a bugaboo; it is misspelled on my birth certificate.

My mother was named Martha Shideler Reed -- giving her a middle name she hated. I was not terribly fond of mine, either, as a child, but doing genealogy has reconciled me to it. My mother was named for a young reformer in turn-of-the-century Logansport, Indiana -- Martha Shideler. I have a newspaper clipping from 1908, which is rapidly deteriorating, about this young woman. Apparently, my grandparents found her an admirable namesake.

As for my father, he was named for a dairy. That line's names will be the subject of another blog someday.


5 comments:

sulinpanda said...

Spelling error in paragraph 7: "Franiklin"

Sue D said...

I know what you mean about names and how they can repeat themselves both in your own family and others. Interesting and confusing at the same time. Just be thankful we're not researching "John Smith" (and say a prayer for those that are) :o)

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Thanks be that I am not. However, another researcher into my paternal line of Packard, descended from another branch, wailed in frustration that there were many successive generations of Samuel Packards who kept marrying women of the same name. "If one more Samuel marries one more Elizabeth, I'll scream!" she wailed to me. heeheehee

sulinpanda said...

You should have told that story to E while she was still a teen. She probably would have hunted out a Samuel to date...

chang said...

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