Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's in a Name? Or: Clues are where you find them

One problem genealogists run into, of course, is names.  Spellings, variants, two people with the same name -- these occur across cultures and across the decades and centuries.  It is no different in St. Augustine from 1783 to 1821.

One potential problem is one I was unaware might even exist until, in connection with my research on the project, I read Patricia Griffin's Mullet on the Beach: The Minorcans in Florida, 1768-1788 which is the story of the in-migration of several hundred residents of the Balearic island of Minorca, in the Mediterranean just off the coast of the Spanish autonomous region of Cataluña, to work the indigo plantation of Dr. Andrew Turnbull during the British Period (1763-1783).  Griffin mentions one woman who married a fellow named Matias Pons.  Next page she renders the husband's name as Marcial Pons.  I have come across both names in my research, but did not have any idea that there might be a problem.   Were these two different people that the woman was married to (serially, we hope!)?  Or was this one person known by two different names?  I will have to do further research to resolve that one.  Either possibility could be the case; it was not unusual in colonial times, either in the Spanish colony of St. Augustine or in my own ancestral Massachusetts colonies, for a bachelor-man to marry the widow of his deceased brother, nor is it that unusual for a man to be known by two different names.  My own great-great grandfather Matthew Hale Packard was known by his first name in some areas, and by his middle name in others.  In the case of Matias/Marcial Pons, I found a valuable clue in one of my derivative sources.

Another problem is the perennial one of two people, usually men, with the same name.  I have my two fellows named Diego Hernandez and my two others named Bernardo Segui, among others.  These do happen to be father and son, in both cases, but that is not always so.  In the English colonies, Sr. and Jr. often did not carry any indication of family relationship at all, but were just a way to distinguish between an older man and a younger man of the same name in the same town.  The case is (to over use a word) the same in Spanish St. Augustine, where we find "el mayor" (the older) and "el joven" (the younger) used whether or not there was any familial relationship.  There are instances when I do not know whether it was "el mayor" or "el joven" unless there is some clue somewhere in the sources.

Some of the clues are overt, as in the case of tax collector Fernando de la Maza Arredondo and his son of the same name.  The elder had to be away on city business, and his son took over doing the quarterly town accounts, which he was courteous enough to sign "Fernando de la Maze Arredondo, el joven," and sometimes added a phrase indicating that he was temporarily doing the job in his father's absence.  Other clues are not so overt, and I have learned the value of not skipping over the most mundane parts of the documents I am using from the East Florida Papers.  In one testamentary proceeding, that concerning the legal consequences of the passing of one Juan Lauren (or Jean Laurent, in his native French language)., there is the problem of which man of the same name is the one mentioned in the document.  Lauren died intestate, and his effects were sold at public auction.  One of the purchasers at the auction was Bernardo Segui -- but which one is not indicated in the recording of the sale.  It is only in the mundane attestations made by the scribe that he duly notified Señor Segui to come pay for the stuff he bought and haul it away that the answer appears.  These are the boring little notations that the scribe dutifully made, one after the other after the other, to indicate that he crossed all his t's and dotted all his i's, where I end up with my eyes crossed.  The notification in this case is attested to have been sent to Bernardo Segui el joven.  This time, reading all the "doy fes," as I call them because they all end with the phrase "doy fe" (I give faith, or I attest), paid off.

Finally, there is the problem of the multi-cultural nature of the St. Augustine colony and some of the quirks of naming that show up from other languages and cultures.  A case in point is the Irishman John McIntosh, grandfather of the troublemaker John Houston McIntosh of the "Patriot War" of 1812-1813 in Spanish East Florida in which Americans tried to invade Florida and take it over with the intent to hand it over to the United States.  John McIntosh the elder was known as John McIntosh, Mor or John Mor McIntosh, "mor" being a Gaelic naming convention meaning "the great" or "the elder."  One writer rendered the name as John Mohr McIntosh, as if it were a middle name.  It likely was not, but rather this Gaelic naming convention.  I would not have known about that had I not also added to my reading list Charles E. Bennett's Florida's "French" Revolution, about an earlier coup attempt to grab Florida for the U.S.

We all know about the problems that can crop up with names.  We also need to be aware that clues about these name problems may turn up in the darnedest places!

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