So yesterday, in the course of reviewing the DNA evidence that disproves persistent family lore of Native American ancestry, The Legal Genealogist whined about the fact that so many cousins want to turn third great grandfather Elijah Gentry into Jacob Elijah Gentry.
I have no idea.
But there were, as of yesterday, 201 family trees on Ancestry.com — 167 public and 34 private trees — that listed Elijah Gentry of Mississippi as Jacob Elijah Gentry.
Even more infuriating is that Ancestry itself has “compiled” those trees in its new “Life Story” feature to seemingly confirm that he really was Jacob Elijah Gentry.
They’re all wrong. Wrong about his name, wrong about his wife’s Native American ancestry — wrong, wrong, wrong.1
And, just for the record, my fourth great grandfather — Revolutionary War soldier David Baker of Culpeper County, Virginia, and Burke (later Yancey) County, North Carolina — was just David Baker.
Not David Hollis Baker, as some 580 family trees on Ancestry.com — 454 public and 126 private trees — all seem to report, and as that blasted “Life Story” feature appears to confirm.
He was David Baker in his Revolutionary War service records.2 David Baker in his multiple land entries in Burke County, North Carolina, starting in 1778.3 David Baker in the United States census as early as 1790.4 David Baker when he took the oath of office as a Justice of the Peace in Burke County, North Carolina, in 1797.5 David Baker in the tax list of 1803.6 David Baker in his Revolutionary War pension application.7 David Baker when he signed his last will and testament in 1838.8
Always David Baker.
Never David Hollis Baker.
Except… sigh… in 580 family trees on Ancestry.com, which is compiling all those wrong trees into a wrong “Life Story.”
Folks… stop it.
Stop all this middling along.
The reality is that middle names were rare in America before the 19th century.
As Robert W. Baird reports in “The Use of Middle Names”:
Prior to 1660, the Virginia Settlers Research Project found “only 5 persons out of over 33,000 had genuine middle names.” Not one person born by 1715 in St Peter’s parish of New Kent County sported a middle name. Surry County’s records, which are unusually complete for the latter part of the 17th century, record only one person who used a middle name. Other studies of public records confirm that seventeenth-century parents gave their children more than one name so rarely that the practice was essentially nonexistent.
Middle names began to find favor among wealthy extended families in the late 1700s. Aristocratic families increasingly began giving their children two names, so that by the time of the Revolution a quite small but detectable proportion of southerners carried middle names, mainly those from upper class families. A study of the births and baptisms recorded in the register of Virginia’s Albemarle Parish shows that about 3% of children born between 1750 and 1775 were given middle names.
… The practice did not really catch on with the middle class until after the turn of the century, and became increasingly common within a generation or two. Although only a small percentage of children born around 1800 were given a middle name, it had become nearly customary by the time of the Civil War. By 1900 nearly every child born had a middle name.9
That conclusion — that middle names for ordinary families didn’t catch on until later — is supported by Rhonda R. McClure in “A Look at Middle Names”:
Few Americans were giving their children middle names … until the German immigrants introduced this naming custom to America.
… (I)t was not until the early 19th century that the custom caught on with others. By the 1840s, it had grown into a popular practice. According to a study of college records, in 1840 about 92 percent of the students at Princeton had middle names. This custom would continue to grow and by World War I it was assumed that everyone in America had a middle name.10
And you’ll find many other references to middle names as infrequent before the 1800s if you’ll just stop and look.11
So do us all a favor and face the facts.
Adding a middle name to an ancestor where the records don’t even hint at a middle name does us all a disservice.
So stop it.
Stop middling along.
- See Judy G. Russell, “No, no NA,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 23 Aug 2015 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 24 Aug 2015). ↩
- Compiled Military Service Record, David Baker, Cpl., 3rd Virginia Regiment, Revolutionary War; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, microfilm publication M881, 1096 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Board, 1976); digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/ : accessed 23 Aug 2015). ↩
- See e.g. Burke County, North Carolina, Land Entry No. 227, James Baker, David Baker, Charles Baker and John Baker (1778); North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. Also, ibid., Land Entry No. 3239, David Baker (27 Jan 1797). ↩
- 1790 U.S. census, Burke County, NC, p. 91 (penned), col. 1, line 1, David Baker; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 Aug 2015); citing National Archive microfilm publication M637, roll 7. ↩
- Burke County, North Carolina, Court of Common Pleas Minutes, 23 Jan 1797; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. ↩
- Burke County, North Carolina, Tax Lists 1803-1804; North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh. ↩
- Affidavit of Soldier, 26 September 1832; Dorothy Baker, widow’s pension application no. W.1802, for service of David Baker (Corp., Capt. Thornton’s Co., 3rd Va. Reg.); Revolutionary War Pensions and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, microfilm publication M804, 2670 rolls (Washington, D.C. : National Archives and Records Service, 1974); digital images, Fold3.com (http://www.Fold3.com : accessed 28 Apr 2012), David Baker file, pp. 3-6. ↩
- Yancey County, North Carolina, Record of Wills 1: 30, will of David Baker, 26 Jan 1838; North Carolina State Archives microfilm C.107.80001. ↩
- Robert W. Baird, “The Use of Middle Names,” Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet (http://www.genfiles.com/ : accessed 23 Aug 2015). ↩
- Rhonda R. McClure, “A Look at Middle Names,” Twigs & Trees, posted 18 Apr 2002, Genealogy.com ( : accessed 23 Aug 2015). ↩
- E.g., Oren Frederic Morton, A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia (Staunton, Va. : McClure Co., 1920), 339; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 23 Aug 2015). ↩