Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Naming Patterns for Children

Recently statistics relating to many aspects of Canadian life were published, in advance of Canada Day – this year the country’s 148th birthday. They were broken down by province and included such diverse categories as: average salaries, notable top trending Google searches, number of accidental deaths, litres of beer consumed per capita, home prices and total number of Kraft Dinner boxes sold. The sources were equally varied: Statistics Canada, Google (of course), major retailer groups, real estate association and provincial vital statistics.

One that caught my eye, as it might many genealogists, was top baby names. Anyone who has transcribed parish and census records from centuries past is aware of certain trends in the naming of children. The top two names in Canada for 2014, as shown on the website, Today’s Parent, with data from all provincial vital statistics department, were Liam, for boys, and Olivia, for girls. In the United States, according to the website, babycentre, it was Jackson and Sophia, with Liam and Olivia both in the top three. It may seem unusual that such old-fashioned names were at the top of the list but there is historical precedent.

In centuries past, at least in the primarily English-speaking countries, there was always a propensity to name children after their ancestors. Most family historians are familiar with the English and Scottish Naming Patterns, with the first children named after grandparents and subsequent children named after parents, aunts and uncles. The conventions are both helpful, in the search for ancestors, and maddening, as so many cousins in one village might have the same name.

Traditions still exist in the naming of children with at least one name being given in remembrance of past generations. I share a first name with many past relatives, including my father. My brother was named for both of his grandfathers. There has been a John and/or a James Shepheard in almost every past generation I have found in our family back to the early 1600s. During the mid-18th century in England, middle names began to come into common use, as described in a May 2014 post on The Pharos Blog. Some were in recognition of their mother’s surname; some were used to differentiate those cousins living in the same area; some recognized friends or influential people in the community.

In more recent times, parents have attempted to give more names to their children from outside the family, as if to identify and emphasize them as being unique, but still many names come from within the family. My oldest grandson was to be named William Alexander until his mother realized that was the full name of her grandfather. His name was then established as Ian Alexander which combined names of both his father and paternal grandfather. Alec’s brother was given the name of Malcom Macgregor, the first name from that same paternal grandfather. His second name, from Scottish origins, means “Son of Shepherd”, which seemed appropriate.

My granddaughter received the name of Calista which in Greek means “most beautiful”. My son thought that was apt. Her second name is James because my daughter-in-law likes girls with traditionally “male” names. While they both sought out unique names for Calista’s brother, they ended up with Ethan as a first name. His mother says it “was chosen under duress in the hospital so that I could fill out the birth record.” She loved the name Ethan but still hated that is was so popular – third on the list of boys’ names in 2006. He also got the name Charles as a second name. While perhaps not intentional, it happens to be the name of his 2nd and 4th great-grandfathers as well as many cousins throughout our family tree. It was also given to him as his second name so that no one would be tempted to call him “Chuck”.

Anyway, when looking through the lists of popular names, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that many of the most popular names in recent years were also common in past generations. The pattern has been dubbed the 100-Year Rule. Names associated with grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations regain their popularity. It may not be conscious thing on behalf of parents although I suspect that people who have fond recollections of their grandparents may retain such memories in the names of their children. Thus, as great-grandparents pass away, they may be remembered in the names of their great-grandchildren.

While children’s names may not be associated with very closely-connected ancestors, as they were hundreds of years ago, many still manage to have a link to their family’s past in their names. That trend has certainly continued in my family through my children.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The Scourge of Phthisis (Tuberculosis)

Neither my wife nor I have to go back very far in our family trees to find direct ancestors who died of Phthisis, more commonly known as tuberculosis: Mary Elizabeth (Pearson) Shepheard, my great-grandmother, died in 1891; and Elizabeth (Walker) Cooper, my wife’s grandmother, in 1922. The dates are far removed and the origins of the disease are quite disparate. Both left young children behind, though, as well as husbands who I believe had difficulty coping with the care of those children in addition to the loss of their partners.

Tuberculosis is one of those diseases that have been around the world for a very long time. There is probably not a family that has not had someone afflicted and/or died because of it. One can find a great deal of information on tuberculosis on the Internet, starting with Wikipedia, which notes that it has gone by names, consumption, phthisis, scrofula, Pott's disease and the White Plague at various times in history. The disease appears to go back thousands of years, to the Neolithic period. It was certainly around in Greece in the 5th century, apparently one of the most common causes of death there. It was present in India in 1500 BC, Egypt in 2000 BC and possibly in China in 4500 BC. Europe was plagued by the disease for hundreds of years. It was present there during the Middle Ages and as widespread epidemics (the Great White Plague) into the 19th century. Some researchers have estimated that tuberculosis in all of its forms have killed over a billion people around the globe over the last two hundred years. In 2013, according to the World Health Organization, 9 million people fell ill with it and 1.5 million died.

The first record in Cornwood parish, Devon, (which parish I look after as on Online Parish Clerk) burial records was in 1770. That was a period when the then vicar made an effort to record causes of death. Not all ministers did so in the past so the record is incomplete. In that year and the two following there were also many deaths from small pox. Adjacent parishes do not have this kind of detail however statistics show there was a substantial increase in the number of burials during this time period; so there must also have had many residents die of consumption as well. The disease hit all ages and all socio-economic groups.

I do not know how My Great-grandmother contracted TB. It was certainly easily spread by contact with others who had it, primarily through the air. She was probably already in the early stages when my grandfather was born, seven months prior to her death. She may have caught it in a medical ward, a crowded tramcar or even at church. We won’t likely ever know.

The manner in which my wife’s grandmother was affected is a bit clearer. She was admitted to an asylum just a couple of years after the birth of her last child. At the time she was suffering from what was described as “a state of wild maniacal excitement” and “hallucinations of hearing” (possibly schizophrenia?). Asylums in Scotland through the early 20th century were also places where people sick with tuberculosis were confined. In the less-than-hygienic conditions, highly contagious diseases like tuberculosis spread rapidly. Many patients, originally hospitalized for mental illness actually died of other causes such as phthisis.

Phthisis is a particularly nasty sickness, originally defined by Aelius Galenus, a prominent Greek physician, as the "ulceration of the lungs, thorax or throat, accompanied by a cough, fever, and consumption of the body by pus."

Effective treatment of consumption was virtually unavailable well into the 20th century, until the discovery of Streptomycin which came into use in the 1940s and isoniazid in the early 1950s. The antibiotic drugs offered hope that the disease could be eradicated. That did begin to happen within a few decades – cases in Britain dropped from around 117,000 in 1913 to about 5,000 in 1987. With the emergence of other diseases which impaired the immune system, the appearance of more drug-resistant strains and the reduction in public health services, the number of reported cases rose again. In the undeveloped world, the contagion is still widespread.

There may have been many more family members who became sick with and even died of tuberculosis. The lack of records prevents us knowing for sure. We might be able to track outbreaks of the disease in certain areas and see if any deaths in the family corresponded with times of outbreaks. That might tell us whether tuberculosis might have been a cause.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Families Split Across the Ocean

Many of my ancestors came to North America with young families. That’s not unusual. Almost all immigrants were young, with the energy and drive necessary to succeed in a foreign land. And two hundred years ago it was even more mandatory to have the strength and will to pick up and travel thousands of miles to a completely unknown future.

Travel was dangerous as well – from harsh weather conditions and the potential for disease that might be spread among passengers on a crowed ship. Very often passengers perished on the trip over, the youngest being the most vulnerable. Settlement in North America really got established in the early 1600s, following a century of exploration, as people primarily from northern Europe and the British Isles sought to flee religious persecution, poverty and joblessness.

Married couples with children were among the largest group of émigrés, forced to leave homelands where work was scarce or non-existent. Their only opportunities for survival lay in the New World, where steady employment, land and freedom were the goals. There are many reasons for the mass movement of people and there are many periods during which it happened. In my family it appears economic considerations were of greatest importance. Many of my ancestors also emigrated from Britain in the early 19th century when times were tough there.

Because young families were involved to a large extent circumstances prevailed where there were siblings born on both sides of the ocean – and sometimes in the middle. I have several examples of this in my own family. The fact that families were on the move resulted in a dearth of documentation of births and deaths in many cases which makes it difficult to piece together an ancestral history.

1.      Gilbert and Margaret (Maitland) Anderson (3rd great-grandparents) came to Canada in 1832. This date comes from information from census data, obituaries and published histories of the areas in which they settled. Their son, Robert Anderson, who I mentioned in my last post,  was born in Glasgow, Scotland possibly while waiting for the ship to sail. Older siblings were likely born in Stirlingshire, just to northeast of the port; younger siblings were born in Canada, mainly in Lanark County but few records are preserved to confirm this. Gilbert was a weaver by trade who may have lost work due to the establishment of major printing and weaving factories in the region where he live, pushing local home-based artisans out.

2.      John and Mary (Manson) Phillipo (3rd great-grandparents) came to Canada in 1836, shortly after the birth of my 2nd great-grandmother, Susan. Two older siblings had been born in England; four younger siblings were born in Brantford, Ontario. John was a farmer after he arrived in Canada. I have not yet found information about the family in England but it may be safe to say that the attraction of new opportunities to farm in the New World may have been the reason for their relocation here.

3.      George and Mary (Tyler) Emerson (3rd great-grandparents) came to Canada in 1835 with my  then three-year old 2nd great-grandmother, Elizabeth. Seven of her siblings had been born in Bottesford, Leicestershire, England. The youngest of these died crossing Atlantic. Six more siblings were born in Thorold, Ontario. Information from GENUKI about Bottesford indicated that “In the 1830s Bottesford families were encouraged to emigrate to save their being chargeable to the parish and were offered £1 plus their fare to emigrate. Village labourers had pay cuts and many local farmers agreed only to employ local men.” Part of the reason for this was likely that the parish could no longer afford to support indigent families.

4.      Dr. Thomas and Ellen (Tunstall) Mayfield (3rd great-grandparents) came to US about 1811. Their two oldest children had been born in London, England; five more children were born in Baltimore, Maryland, including my 2nd great-grandmother, Hannah Tunstal. Thomas was a medical doctor, trained in England, who ended up actively supporting the Americans in War of 1812. Why he would have left a promising practice in London is still a mystery.

5.      I am unsure about the family of John Conrad Miller, one of my 2nd great-grandfathers. He may have come over from Germany with parents and siblings but I have no information on passenger lists or familial relationships.

There were certainly immigrants in other family lines however they came both after the 19th century (grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard, in 1907) and well before. I have not yet found definitive information that shows when the earliest arrived but it seems likely it was in the mid-1600s (George Keith, 8th great-grandfather).

A common thread among all my ancestors who immigrated to North America was that they were in search of a better life, especially for the young families they brought with them. In that, they managed to succeed for the most part, almost all prospering and becoming important members of their new communities, something they might never have achieved had they stayed in the land of their birth.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated