Sunday, January 22, 2017

Complications and Care

While working on my family tree, specifically on the brick wall I have encountered with my maternal grandfather, I wanted to write about one of the major difficulties one can experience in genealogy...similar and common foreign-based names. For clarity, let me list the three most recent ancestors I have been working on.
  • JOHN FRANCIS BURKE - my maternal grandfather. I have birth and death certificates for him, so the information is reliable.
  • JOHN RICHARD BURKE - his father, my first great-grandfather. I have the death certificate for him and have been searching for another validating document, but I am fairly confident of his relationship, even not really knowing the name from my childhood.
  • JOHN J BURKE - his father, my 2nd great-grandfather. The 'J' is probably James, but I have to validate that.
My second great-grandfather is the major brick in my wall so far. I do not have a middle name and have not found any valid documentation for him yet. Until I ascertain his middle name, finding anything will continue to be difficult. There are many John Burkes on the maternal side of my family and without a middle name or other specifically identifiable information, I get "hints" from all over the United States and all over the world. Some of my John Burke's are born in Massachusetts, some in New Hampshire, some in Ireland.

The Irish connection is what I have been researching. According to an Irish blog to which I subscribe,  the name Burke may come from Richard Óg de Burgh who was the second Earl of Ulster and third Baron of Connacht in the 13th and 14th centuries. Richard Óg means Richard the Young, either to distinguish him from his grandfather Richard Mór or because he was a young man in 1270.  I am far, far from determining if there is a familial connection between that Richard and any John in my family. In fact, I have not even found enough definitive clues to help me figure out the middle name of a US resident in the late 1890's.

My primary source of information is the United States Census reports. Normally, they will provide valuable clues to names, dates, locations, and such to help an investigator determine who is who and where at what time. Unfortunately for me, the census reports for John J Burke have not yet provided a middle name. The task is much more challenging because as I said, "John Burke" is a very popular Irish name; there are many of them in my tree and in the towns and states I am looking at.

That is both the challenge and the fun of genealogy. This obstacle is a very clear example of why validating information from other genealogical sources is important to creating as accurate a family tree as you can. I see other family trees with all kinds of conflicting information when it is very clear that birth years would prevent a relationship, for example, or other inconsistencies. Many people just copy/paste those shaking leaves into their tree and call it a day. I do not do that, as frustrating as it can be some days.

Like today!


  1. Oh those John names. I've come across plently like that in my research. Good luck. :)

    1. And of course, the second most common name, the one that *might* be my 2nd great-grandfather's name, James, is also found many times in my tree, including me! That is the fun of this whole business, though, isn't it? If it was so easy, everyone would do it and it would not be as much fun.