Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Name Changes

Another source of apparent non-paternity events is a change in surname. There are many possible reasons for a man to change his surname. Some examples are to simplify spelling, conversion to a common spelling in a new country and adoption of the wife’s maiden name.

The first two cases could be the results of immigration. As a country of immigrants, the United States is fertile ground for this kind of name change. Contrary to common belief, officials at Ellis Island rarely changed names, but immigrants often did. This can result in DNA mismatches to different presumed family lines if an immigrant’s sons changed their names differently. In my own family history, for example, I have a Johann Weiss who emigrated from Alsace sometime before 1850. He appears in some records as ‘White’ (the English translation of the name), others as ‘Weiss’ and still others as ‘Wise’ (adoption of a common English name that is similar). It is probably for the best that he didn’t adopt ‘Vise’ or even worse ‘Vice’, following the actual German pronunciation. In any case, if his sons had each adopted a different method of changing the name, a researcher attempting to match DNA with their variant could be disappointed.

Another source of name change was when a husband adopted their wife’s maiden name. This sometimes occurred when there was no male heir in the wife’s family and her father wanted someone to carry on the family name. An estate or fortune to go along with the name might be a sufficient incentive. In Ireland, a similar name change could occur when a spinster held land or the lease to land and brought in a man to manage or farm it. These men, whether related or not, would sometimes assume the woman’s surname.

Fraud also comes to mind, and shouldn’t be ruled out if there is no DNA match for a line you are tracing and others sharing the surname. Our ancestors got into a variety of scrapes for which a hasty departure and a change in identity served as the easiest remedy. This sometimes led to the creation of two separate families with children with different surnames, but a common paternal heritage.

No comments:

Post a Comment