I watched a genealogy video this morning that gave me a hint of the possible reason for similar names. None of the records I found for my ancestors used the suffixes "Junior," "Senior," "II," "III," and so on, for their offspring (I am not even sure if these suffixes would appear in official documents) but I have lots of "John" and "Walter" Burkes with different middle names ... Edward, Francis, France, Henry, Michael and ... well, you get the picture. You probably have similar issues in your own tree.
Validating the names is critical to having an accurate tree. Making sense of them without specific validating documentation (things like property ownership, tax rolls, etc.) has proven to be challenging for me, making progress farther back into my history quite challenging. To recap:
- My maternal grandfather is John FRANCIS Burke; born 1891, died 1963
- His father, my great-grandfather, is John RICHARD Burke, born 1866, died 1941 (about age 25)
- His father, my 2nd great-grandfather, is also John RICHARD Burke, born 1846, died 1882 (about age 20)
- His father, my 3rd great-grandfather may be WALTER BURKE, born 1823 (about age 23); so far, I cannot validate any information about him, including his middle name.
Keeping the people and their names straight - to say nothing of accurate - requires special attention to my second focal area, dates.
Birth and death dates have to make some sense even to be considered, but they are often ignored as a beginner clicks and copies hints into ones tree. It is possible that a baby is born after the father died, but those facts should be rigorously validated. If an unvalidated name is put into a tree, the computer algorithms that generate possible hints will be skewed, inaccurate, or not found at all.
In looking closely at the one line of my family tree involving only one of my four direct grandfather ancestors listed above, I looked at the children born to ensure a true genealogical connection. What I found, instead, are seriously conflicting dates.
According to my tree, my 2nd great-grandfather, JOHN RICHARD BURKE (b. 1846, d. 1882) had these children. (The number in parentheses is his approximate age when the child was born.)
- John Richard, born 1866 (20)
- Michael Henry, born 1867 (21)
- Thomas F., born 1875 (29)
- Walter Edmund, born 1876 (30)
- Agnes Allusia, born 1877 (31)
- Catherine, born 1879 (33)
- Bridget, born 1882 (36)
- John, born 1883 (37)
- James, born 1885
- Bernard, born 1887
- Michael, born 1889
- Joseph, born 1892
- Martin, born 1895, and,
- Lizzie, born 1898
Checking the dates shows that all the names in italics are offspring that were born after their father's death in 1882.
While it is possible that Bridget and John were born after he died, in calendar years 1882 and 1883, whether that is true would depend on several factors falling neatly into place, including his June 1882 death and their birth months, which remain unvalidated. My investigator brain doubts the names after are related because I am pretty sure it is not possible for a child to be born of a parent three or more calendar years after his death, so I have more work to validate information and some "cleaning house" to be done.
Another suspicious entry is between MICHAEL HENRY, 1867, and THOMAS F, 1875. All other children are born a calendar year or two apart, but these are born eight years apart. It is possible there is a good reason for this, but for an Irish Catholic family, it would have to be related to the husband and wife being separated. It is possible, but this pair is also suspicious and needs additional validation to explain the difference in birth years.
I hope this gives a beginner a good picture into the dangers of adding names to a family tree and the importance of validating information before doing so. Be careful using those Ancestry.com (or any other) hints!