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Rhonda's Tips: Genealogy Questions Answered
by Rhonda R. McClure

February 24, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Locating Name Origin

Q: I'm looking to start a search regarding the origin and background of my last name. I haven't the slightest idea of how to do it because it has been changed so many times that I don't know where exactly to begin. -- Michael

A: You do have an unusual surname, PATYCOLA, and it is not surprising that the spelling has changed over time. This happens with many surnames, even those that seem to be easy. For instance, the surname BAILEY can also be spelled BAYLEY, BALEY, BAILY, and BAYLY.

One of the first things to keep in mind about genealogical research is that spelling doesn't count. Just because a name is spelled differently does not mean that it is not your lineage. For many people this is a hard concept to grasp. Of course, in your case, you are aware of this, though you feel it will affect your research.

Like most research aspects, the best way to get to the answer is to research your line beginning with yourself and working backwards. Once you have determined the immigrant ancestor, then you will have a better idea of the country your ancestor comes from and you could then turn to one of the surname dictionaries for that country to see what additional information it can offer you. Genealogical departments at public libraries are a good place to find this information. Also, you will want to see what is available through the Family History Library. You may also want to read Elsdon C. Smith's American Surnames to learn more about surnames.

Understanding Cousinships

Q: I was looking for terms but I don't know where to look. I was wanting to find out what a first cousin twice removed is. Also, first cousin, second cousin, third, etc. -- Frederick

A: The concept of cousinship can be hard to understand, especially when you begin working with the theory of removals. There are some excellent charts that are available on this subject, including:

The difference between first, second and third cousins can be traced to the common ancestor shared by the two cousins.

  • First cousins share a common grandparent.
  • Second cousins share a common great grandparent.
  • Third cousins share a common great great grandparent.

And the pattern continues on for as many generations as necessary to find the common ancestor, adding one to the cousinship for each generation back necessary to find the commonly shared grandparent.

Adding removeds to a cousinship gets people confused. In your example, first cousin twice removed, the removed comes from the fact that one of the individuals is from a different kinship generation. To find out more about this, you may want to see Rhonda's Tips for January 13, as there is a chart that may make it easier to understand.

Maybe Related to Titanic Passenger

Q: I am trying to find a family tree showing just exactly how my father is related to the Major Archibald Willingham Butt who went down with the Titanic. It is a complicated story why I don't know this. My father died in 1962 at the age of 72. With him went all the answers to the mystery. I do know for sure that he was a cousin to my father. I guess that would mean that my grandfather was an uncle to Archibald, but I can't find any family trees that connect the two. -- Arlene

A: While it may be that you can locate a pedigree or chart showing the ancestors and descendants for Major Archibald Butt, however they may not show cousins, which is likely what your father was.

Your father was born in 1890, making him about 22 when the Titanic sank. This makes it unlikely that your father was an uncle to Major Butt. However, there could still indeed be a connection. You will need to research your father's line and then compare it to that of Major Butt. It could be that you will need to extend some research effort on Major Butt's family as well.

Junior and Senior

Q: I would like to know what Jr. and Sr. mean and if I have a child, what would follow his name? -- skipntrudy

A: In today's society, Junior and Senior are usually designations for the first and second generations of father and son who share the same exact name. John Phillip Smith, Sr. would be the father and John Phillip Smith, Jr. would be the son. Therefore, if you have a son and give that son the exact same name that you have, then you could include Jr. after his name. However, if you yourself are a Jr., then your son would become the third in the line, and that is designated as follows, using our example, John Phillip Smith III.

Prior to the 19th century though these terms did not always refer to fathers and sons. Very often they were used to separate individuals with the same name who were living in the same town. It is not unusual to find the older of the individuals with the extension Sr. and the younger with Jr. until either one moves or one dies and then the extension was dropped in the records. So, do not assume, in your research, that when you discover a Jr. and Sr. living in the same town that they were related as father and son.


Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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