The Junior-Senior solution

9 years ago

Those of you who read my last column will remember I wrote about the misidentification of one man named Fred with another. In that case it was due to faulty research on the part of the genealogist posting online, but finding two men or women in the same general area with similar or the same names is all too common in genealogy.

My father, Anthony for example was named for his first cousin, another Anthony. They both lived in this town and for years our mail was confused as well as the occasional out-of-town visitor.

Several years ago I worked for a small city here in Maine. We had a long-standing employee and after a few years we hired another woman with virtually the same name. Only one letter in the surname separated the two. To complicate issues further they both lived in the same town and only a street away from one another. And they worked in side-by-side offices at City Hall.

Faced with how to refer to them without confusing our staff we came up with the eminently sensible solution of calling the longer-term employee “Senior” and the new hire as “Junior.”

Just as we stumbled onto the Senior-Junior solution at City Hall our ancestors solved the identical problem exactly in the same manner. In your own research don’t be surprised to discover a person of one name plus another of the same name called Junior or the 2nd and so on. This is especially important to remember when you are researching a common name such as John Smith or when your ancestor was living in a large population area where you are apt to find more than one person with the same name.

I ran into a good example of this researching in the China, Maine vital records where I found a Nathaniel, Nathaniel, Jr., and a Nathaniel 3rd all holding town offices. Should we assume this is father, son, and grandson?

No, as it turns out they were father, son, and a nephew. When you come across something like this in your research never assume a relationship until you can prove it with other records such as wills, deeds, family Bibles, etc.

While this may seem a small issue, if you aren’t aware and careful you may find yourself researching an entirely wrong line. As I mentioned in my last column you don’t want to spend months of hard work and research only to discover you’ve been working on someone who isn’t your relative.

Also, if there are several men with the same names in a county it can complicate your research amazingly. In that same Kennebec County area in the early 1800s there were several Nathaniels, Nathans, Johns, Georges, and Shubals or Shubaels Bragg. Naming patterns ran strongly in that family.

In fact, naming patterns are found in most New England family lines. In this case, several brothers moved to Kennebec County from Massachusetts and each named their own sons for brothers, uncles, father, and grandfathers. Within a generation it became a tangle trying to separate the men one from another especially as the naming patterns continued into succeeding generations causing more complications.

You can also find this pattern when the mother and daughter-in-law share the same given name and I have several instances of grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter all sharing the same given name at the same time in my family tree.

So, when you run into a Senior/Junior situation always check to be sure they are indeed father and son or mother and daughter. Determining your real ancestor is critical in genealogy and well worth the time and effort. All of us have stumbled down the wrong path in our research at one time or another.

Hopefully this will be a heads up to prevent you from doing the same thing.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society. Reader emails are welcome at Her semimonthly column is sponsored by the Aroostook County Genealogical Society which meets the fourth Monday of the month except in July and December at the Caribou Library at 6:30 p.m. Guests are always welcome. FMI contact Edwin “J” Bullard at 492-5501.