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Legacy tip: Which name should I record?

I think I'm about to shake up the family tree....

I located the birth record of my great-great-grandfather. Great! But the name listed in the birth record is not the name he used later in his life.

His name, Lauritz Marinus LARSEN, is printed in all the family books and even hangs on my office wall as part of the large, custom-framed wall chart of my ancestry. His death certificate even identifies him as Lauritz LARSEN.

His real name

I already had his family's genealogical information, but I wanted to verify it by locating the original documents. Legacy Family Tree's Research Guidance tool provided the link to the Denmark State Archives' parish register collection. After a little searching, I located the birth record of Laurits Marinus STEFENSEN, who was born on the same day and in the same place as my Lauritz Marinus LARSEN.

Laurits Marinus STEFENSEN, born 14 Sep 1869 in Elling, Hjørring, Denmark - birth record

Lauritz Marinus LARSEN, born 14 Sep 1869 in Elling, Hjørring, Denmark - family records


As Danish researchers well know, patronymic naming was the custom in Denmark where the child's surname was composed of the father's given name followed by the addition of the suffix of -sen (son) or -datter (daughter). Therefore, if patronymics were still used in 1869, we could usually assume that according to his birth record, Laurits' father's name was Stefen.

So where did the LARSEN surname come from? I don't yet have all these answers, but I do know that after the family emigrated to America, they used LARSEN as their surname.

How should this be recorded in Legacy?

I know that Laurits STEFENSEN and Lauritz LARSEN are the same person. But for as long as I have been doing genealogy, his name has been recorded in my family file with the LARSEN surname. Good researchers will record every name variant, nickname, and alias and add its proper documentation. These names can then optionally be printed when creating any lists or reports. Following this advice, we should use Legacy's Alternate Names form to record the newly-found name.

  1. In the Individual's Information screen, click on the Alternate Names icon. (It's the first in the row of icons at the top, and just to the right of the surname field.)
  2. Click on the Add button and fill in both the given name and surname. Click Save.
  3. Finally, click on the newly-entered name to highlight it, and using the Source button, add its documentation.

So which of the two names should be his "primary" name? My rule of thumb is to:

use the name as it was earliest recorded.

So in this case, in the Alternate Names form, I would highlight the Laurits STEFENSEN name and click on the Swap Alternate Name with Main Name button. Doing this simply switches the highlighted alternate name with the name in the Individual's Information screen. Of course, there are always exceptions to this guideline - just use your best judgement.


The real problem

Now that I've updated his primary name in my Legacy family file, do I now reprint the family group records, books, and even the large wall chart in my office? Maybe I'll work on documenting the rest of the family first.


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Could there have been an illegitimacy somewhere along the way? My family has a similar situation. My g-g-grandfather was illegitimate so his last name was Clausen (mother's name) but his son, my g-grandfather, changed it to Reiss (his biological grandfather's name). That was the family name until my grandfather immigrated to the US and changed the spelling to Reisz.

Have you thought about entering it in your database as Stefensen/Larsen? Other than alphabetizing under "S" instead of "L", what problems would that cause?

Linda - actually, if you enter it as an alternate name, both names will appear in the Index View and Name List.

1st Linda - in this case, Laurits and his father took the grandfather's name when they all emigrated.

Looks like to me that it is likely that Larsen is a combo of his first name (a derivative)of Lauritz/Laurits = Lar or Lars and using the Danish male suffix. A lot of immigrants did that, for instance, like the others here whose names are a little different, my distant great grandfather's surname was Karcz, changed as he travelled to US it was changed to Karthy/Karthie. Probably people whose job it is to log the passengers' names couldn't tell the spelling so took their best guess. Anyway it ended up as Karty. There are a few people in that branches that use both Karcz and Karty. I do the alternate name too, however I sometimes put the name in brackets if I wanted to distinquish the identity. Especially if names of the children were different and confirmed via all records. Soory so long-winded. TTYL

I not only enter the "Also Know As" in the proper function prepared for this purpose, I hyphen the later ACTUALLY USED name to the ORIGINAL Surname and in at least ONE child I actually reversed the hyphened name.

That is:
Stephenson-Larsen and at least one child Larsen-Stephenson. This way everyone can see the cross-tab when looking up either name in the Family or Married Couples Function.

The reason for this is that in French we have "Dit" or "La" and "De" names along with what was the original name. Somewhere in the process they switched names and what might have been a nickname ended up being the actual Surname.

Amyot dit Villeneuve BECAME Villeneuve dit Amyot.

to make it interesting it became solely Amyot or Villeneuve.

Villeneuve sometimes became Newton (New Town - translation)

We need some indication of what the Surname was at both stages of life. I am still not sure what the best process is for someone switching GIVEN NAMES.

Many things could account for spelling differences. In centuries past, when people were illiterate, they would say their name to public clerks who would record what they heard phonetically. A good example in my family was Katherine Schwartzlander, whose pronunciation was so affected by a speech impediment the clerk interpreted it as Katurah Swarthlander. Enough different we almost didn't find her, and an important link to Abraham's true father. Another situation that comes up is "son of" and "daughter of" prefixes from various nationalities. Very often, they end up concatinated into a last name, or dropped, making relationships very difficult. Adams, again. Ap Adam or "son of Adam", ended up as Adams. Usually when a person from one tradition marries a more traditional surname tradition. Sometimes - it is things like "Peter's son" ends up Peterson. We have a case in the Tarwater family where a dispute over inheritance caused every descendent to change to a different spelling - Tawater, Tawwater, Tawatter, Tawwatter, then put "s" or not on each one, and throw in some other stuff, and there are dozens of variants, all related. VERY difficult for computers, easy for us because we know what went on. Same with other names, spelling changes with pronunciation, Mi'Loy becomes Meloy, Malloy, etc. The illegitimacy thing showed up in my family, too, but usually the illegitimate child ends up taking the last name of the mother, the last name of who she marries. Very seldom do they use their "real" last name. I haven't seen a lot spelling changes to cover the fact.
Very early in my family tree, I have a problem with Roman names, about 5 or 6 used in slightly different combinations- UGH! It makes it difficult with limited records. Also, if you are lucky enough to merge into genealogies like that, there is French source, and a British source. A lot of spelling differences and differences in details between the two, and a fair amount of arranged marriages to very young women that throw red flags up on age range checkers. And a fair degree of shenanigans to cover up less than noble circumstances like marriages to commoners. I studied it for 2 or 3 years and finally got a merge of the two backgrounds that seems to make plausible sense. Of course I put a lot of notes in to describe the differences and my line of thought about what really must have gone on. In the end, it reconciles without any real stretches, but the two genealogies differ, particularly in titles bestowed to people. And those titles sometimes also show up later as surnames, like "Bishop" and "Knight".

Since you are certain they are the same person, I would worry less about which name to use (you could even do the maiden name things Lauritz (Stephensen) Larsen if you wanted (and this would cause it to index under both names as well) - than WHY the name was changed.

The story behind the change is what will make your story different from the others - and validate that your information is more correct than everyone elses.

BEing it is your 2x great grandfather, you are unlikely to be able to talk to him about it. What about your distant relatives? the descendants of his other children? Could one of them causually tell you why the name change?

My mother's maiden name is DunCAn. It turns out my 2x Great grandfather's name was DunKIn. Was talking to one of her cousins once, comparing 2x great grandfather's wife and kids - he casually mentioned that Leroy and George were in contention over the hands of the lovley young Sarah LIttle. LeRoy won.
This caused a split between Leroy and the rest of the family - and caused him to change how he was spelling his name. THey also didn't talk until a family reunion 50 years later (according to the tale) where they cautiously exchanged pleasantries and started to catch up - until one of the youngsters asked how Aunt Sarah was..s
the men turned stony, glared at one another, and never spoke again.
Your grandfather's story could be interesting if you can find it.

I have a more complicated, but similar problem. My grandfather decided to join the US Navy at Manila, while living in the Phillipines, but wasn't old enough. So he switched birth certificates with his older brother, using his brother's first name. The navy (unknowingly) accepted the switched certificate, and he got in, and served for several years.

(No one knows where his actual birth certificate is, and we don't know who his mother was.)

Later, my grandfather was discharged in the USA, and he settled there. He never went back to his country of origin.

He americanized/legalized his first name and started using his real birthdate. We don't know if the first name is really that of his brother's or not. How do I record his name for family history?

I have been working with my Norwegian ancestry and they have similar naming conventions as the Danish. In the mid 1800's people were transitioning from patronymics to family names so the same person could use different last names at different times. The birth record should show the name of the father, which could be in this case Stefen Larsen.

You have a relative easy one. The church records should show the fathers and mothers name.
This is his birth name. Then you should enter a name change without a date(who knows when and why the
name changed).

I researched my name and thought I found some long lost relatives. Well, is seems as though in the
early 1800's their named changed(for some unknown reason) to the same as mine.
The Scandinavian's being a rather independent bunch didn't always follow the rules.

Many times a last name was listed as the place of residence, when they moved they changed their name
(not actually, as there was no such thing a last name used as a family name).

The other problem was many lived on large farms with several families living on the same farm,
there could be several Ole Olsens living on the same farm. Since the girls didn't change their names when they
married this is about the only way the families can be separated. The same happened when they came to the U.S.
The name was changed to something else rather than Ole Olsen.

All this makes a real challenge to find out which family someone was related. In the above case several fathers could be
Ole Olsen, with the tradition of the oldest son being named after the father keeping the families straight can be difficult.

Having said all that, confirming that the person on the church records and your relative is the same person
is a real challenge. Researchers often get this confused trace the wrong tree. You need some other evidence
to draw this conclusion. The best record is a census, if any is available. Some churches kept attendance records
that are available, this might give a clue.

In my research I don't know how many times I have found errors where the wrong family tree was followed.

What seems at first like a simple problem really can be quite complicated.

Ditto on the Norwegian names, but I believe the government didn't start pushing until the late 1800s.
Is there a "farm name" convention in Denmark as in Norway? This can cause a real mess: kid born Jon Larssen on Vigen farm is aka "Jon Larssen Vigen"; family moves to Lid farm is "Jon Larssen Lid"; marries a woman who inherited Rockne farm becomes "Jon Larssen Rockne". What really caused a problem for us family historians is that some people came to US and retained patronymic while others went with the farm name. Even in same family, or father vs. son!

So you might find that in 1880 a John Larsen living in Minnesota is the brother of Sven Rockne living in North Dakota. I always use patronymic in tree,if possible, and make strong note of farm names.

I think that this problem affects many if not all family historians.

My approach is to standardise the spelling of family names, based on my grandparents' names, or the most recent spelling, and using "Also Known As" for the original spelling.

Three examples -

Buick - changed from original Boeg, through Bowick, Bowack, Boyick, Boyack, Buik, Buiks, Boyck, Boycks. Spelled as the clerk heard it.

McLeod, MacLeod - standardise on McLeod

Silander - Swedish, father Carl Andersson. He was christened Andersson as patronymic surnames started to die out, but could have been Carlsson, and then chose his own surname at age 17.

My choice of standardised surnames simplifies the family tree, and especially the indices on my website, making it more understandable to other family members. The downside is a slight loss of historical accuracy - but there were no standard spellings in the 18th & 19th centuries.

Photographs pose a similar problem - Legacy allows me one pic per person on my website. Do I show the pretty baby, the awkward teenager, the happy newly-wed, the happy young mother, the tiring aging adult, the frail grandmother? I would choose the 3rd or 4th, but I would keep all of the others.

I also have the problem of which name to use for my father. He became estranged from his family in his early 20s and started a new life using his mother's last name as his surname and his own middle name as his only given name. He married under this new name, and lived for more than 60 years using it. Two of his older brothers also used name variants by the time they married. The one thing constant in all three brothers was the use of the mother's last name somewhere in their new names. Since these changes were made voluntarily by adults who lived most of their lives under names of their own choosing, I also chose to use these as their primary names, with their birth names as alternatives. I've also added an explanation of why the name change in the case of my father. When (and if) I discover the reason for his brother's name changes, I'll also add that to the family history. After all, I am working on our history for the benefit of living and future family, who knew these brothers by their chosen names, so I felt the history should be viewed from that perspective.

If a person used a particular name in life (and passed that down to descendants) I would use that name. In this I am guided by the principle that one has the right to call oneself by any preferred name. List alternatives in the measures provided and give the alias in the notes. In my family we have a female ancestor surnamed Lalor - the Irish spelling- who married a Scot from Jamaica in Australia and registered her name as 'Lawlor', as 'Lalor' is pronounced that way and it was the form used by others in her family. Her Australian registered name (at marriage and in birth records of her children) is Lawlor. However, in LDS records she is shown as 'Lawler' a new invention made by the one branch of the family that converted from Catholicism to CofJC&LDS and adopted an Americanised form of their ancestors name. So if they ever recorded a correct family tree they would have the names Lalor, Lawlor and Lawler run in three successive generations. Does it matter? LDS records change surnames and spellings all the time and do not follow historic names.

I once read an article that gave information on emigration and names used when people came from other countries to the USA. When they came and registered if they gave their parents names with a different surname they were marked as illegitimate. In order to prevent this the Swedish would use their fathers surname. So Sven Andersson son of Anders Nilsson would change his name to Sven Nilsson then he had the same surname as his father. Some also were given the opportunity to change their name. My great grandfather and his brothers were all born Andeersson in Sweden. All 3 chose the surname Sandstrom which made them somewhat easy to identify in the US records.

In the danish law of 4. march 1857 (12 years before the birth of Laurits Martinus), it was settled that the child should have the same surname as its father instead of a combination af the givenname + son/dauther.
It took some time before the law was fully used. Especially outside the big cities.
Therefore i think that Laurits Martinus' father was named Stefen Larsen. Laurits Martinus was named Laurits Martinus Stefensen in the churchbooks, but he used the name according to the law of 1857 Laurits Martinus Larsen. Try go and look up the names used at his confirmation around 1883.
/Toke Larsen

Very good work Toke! Seems I once knew about that law as now it makes perfect sense. :) Looks like when Lauritz was born, the family was already following this law. He was born as Laurits Marinus Stefensen. If he were following patronymics his birth surname would have been Christensen as his father's given name is Christen. But he took his father's surname of Stefensen. His father, Christen Stefensen, son of Stefen Larsen later took his father's surname of Larsen. So when the three generations of family migrated to America, they all carried the LARSEN surname with them. I think we have the mystery solved.

This great discussion shows how many variables and factors can be involved in reseaching our families, doesn't it? We must have an open mind and a willingness to learn new tricks. It also teaches the importance of understanding laws and history. Someone once said that genealogists have to know more about their hobby than anyone else knows about their hobby. We have to know about laws, history, religion, geography, customs, and so much more to be successful. I think that's what makes it so exciting for me.

What's in a name...
In January 1862 my Grtgrandmother, Sarah Laverty, married Manual Milthropia a native of Athens (bdm and church records)Two children followed, both christened as Laverty's. Then in 1864 with the birth of a daughter Sarah claimed it was John Panam she married in January 1862, this daughter and all subsequent children were christened as Panam's my Grandfather, George Panam was born in 1878 however at his marriage in 1892 he was using the name John George Stephens. The Stephens name has been carried on.

On John Panam's death cert it is noted that he was born in the Ionian Islands.

On John George's grave it states that his real name was George Panam.

I read the last name as 'Stefansen' - with an 'a' after the 'f'. This letter is a bit different from the first 'e'. Zoom in and I think you can see the difference. A dane would normally be called Stefan or Steffen.
If the name was 'Stefensen' there would normally be the letter 'f' more. Like 'Steffensen'.

I have the issue of my ancestors arriving in South Australia from Ireland under the surname of Kiernan. I'm still not sure why that generation continued to use that spelling, but subsequent generations changed the spelling to Kearnan.

Thomas Kiernan & his wife arrived with 2 sons & 2 daughters and their sons were also known as Kiernan. Its their sons who later changed the spelling to Kearnan and I’d love to know why.

When I first learned of the original spelling, I thought it might be because they were illiterate and immigration officials changed the spelling, but now that doesn’t appear to be so.

A conundrum, that’s for sure!

Lauritz' parents as listed in the church record are Christen Stefensen and Mariane Pedersen. The fact that Lauritz is given the name Stefensen rather than Christensen tells me that the family had by this time (1869) abandoned the patronym system.

I think the entire family from Lauritz' grandfather, Stef(f)en Larsen, on down adopted the name Larsen following immigration to America. I'm sure this was done in order to be recognized as a single family in Utah.

This is not far-fetched ... I have dozens of occurences of this in my Danish and Norwegian ancestry.

I have this issue to and another similar problem. How to handle cities that moved countries in Europe? My Great-grandfather I had always been told was from Austria-Hungary (claimed to be Hungarian according to my dad). I now found his birth record in a town that was part of the Austrian empire, then Poland and now the Ukraine. The records are part of the Polish State Archives. How should I handle this? There does not seem to be any way to list alternate countries. For geological purposes should I use Ukraine, Austria, or Poland?

Thanks for any help.

I entered my only known double named man as "Thomas Scroope alias (surname) Throope. Thomas Throope was (surname) Scroope. It then appears in the proper places on the name index, and reminds me did change it.

Grace Schmitt, Sunnyvale, CA

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