Fourth in a multi-part series
In the comments to the last post our friend Apple [her blog is Apple’s Tree; visit it!] writes:
It certainly seems like the right family. I’ve seen some interesting name variations but how did they get Guion from Gines? Or visa versa. I’d be very comfortable going with this.
That’s the very question presented for our consideration today! Surnames can prop up brick wall for far longer than one would think. The problem could be exacerbated for descendants of formerly enslaved people–who sometimes changed their surnames, if they had surnames, after emancipation. But, it’s really a potential problem for everybody, especially in a culture like ours which has no indigenous surnames:
Strictly speaking, there are no American surnames. They are all imported, the same as all so-called English surnames have, at different periods, been imported into England, excepting perhaps what remains of the ancient British, Gaelic, and Celtic. But they become American by adoption, just as persons of foreign birth become American citizens by naturalization or domiciliation. Hundreds of these families have been domiciled in this country for over a century and a half; in fact, ever since the early colonial period. By what other nomenclature can they be called?
Amos M. Judson, A Grammar of American Surnames (Washington: J.F. Sheiry, 1898), p.2
To put it another way:
In the States the wear and tear of names, which in England extends over ten centuries, has been concentrated into one, and instead of half a dozen elements we have sources innumerable. In the early days of the Republic the problem was simpler, for the sparse population was drawn from practically four sources, British, Dutch, French, and German. In the earliest census taken, its interesting to notice the distribution of these names. We find, as we should expect, the French in the south, the Dutch in and around New York, and the Germans in Pennsylvania. But, since the time of the first census (1790), immigrants have crowded in from most countries, civilized and uncivilized, and their changed, distorted, or adapted names form a pathless etymological morass. . . .
The possible variants and derivatives of any given personal name run theoretically into thousands, and in France and Germany, to take the two most important countries of which the surname system is related to our own, there has been no check on this process of differentiation. By contraction, aphesis, apocope, dialect variation, and many other phonetic factors, one favourite name often develops hundreds of forms, many of which appear to have nothing in common with the original.
Ernest Weekley, Surnames (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co. 1916) pp.8-9 (footnote omitted).
Some other factors that affect American genealogical research with respect to surnames are:
- A general lack of literacy in the population before the advent of universal education.
- A general lack of standardization of spelling among the literate.
- Reliance by census takers and vital records officials on unknowledgeable informants.
- Mis-pronunciation or a lack of standardized pronunciation of surnames.
- Regional differences in culture.
These issues will be familiar to anyone who has spent any considerable time in research. All of them came to bear on my Gines brick wall.
When I was a pre-schooler, I learned that our maternal family name was pronounced with a hard “G” and that it was spelled GINES. It seemed to be an unusual name and as I grew up and used it or heard it used by relatives, listeners would not infrequently say, “What?” or “How do you spell that?” or sometimes rudely, “What kinda name is that?” My mother would reply, “It’s French.” She said her father told her that. But when I started genealogical research in earnest, it appeared to me that most of the GINES surnamed people in the United States had come from England.
I have written before about the five main Gines family groups in the United States. In sorting out my issue here, we don’t need to disturb the Latino, Pacific Islander, or LDS family groups very much. So we’ll focus on the German/English family groups, and add a bit (or more) of French!
We also can narrow the scope of our inquiry by understanding which name variants are “true” name variants and which are merely mistakes in spelling, transcription, or pronunciation. I realize that it can be said that “mistakes” in spelling, transcription, or pronunciation are precisely the factors that create “true” separate names or variations. So here I refer to the “one-off” sort of error that is not repeated to the extent that it becomes the name.
I have previously pointed out that many of my Gines forebears had their names rendered many different ways during the nineteenth century. For example, Rebecca Maner Gines (1844-1931) was “Beckey Guines” on the 1870 census, Rebecca Gines on her husband’s death certificate;Becky Gines on the 1899 tax rolls of Tensas Parish and then Rebecca Gynes on her own death certificate. Ed Gines, the brotehr of Richard Gines, was a “Guion” in 1870, “Gines” in 1880, “Genes” in 1900, and “Guynes.” There are more versions beyond these two examples: Gions, Giones, Guions, Guins, Guines, Ganes, Guyns, and Gaynes. How can we tell if these are “mistakes” or are legitimate names with independent etymologies?
For answers to that, I turn to World Names Profiler, a service of Public Prfofiler.org. The designers say that they have data for about 300 million people in 26 different countries, representing a total population of 1 billion people. They claim that ther hgave 8 million unique surnames. For more information about the database, see the FAQs posted at this link.
I realize that there are more sophisticated instruments for the analysis performed below, but this will give us a rough, good-enough notion about the conclusions.
Here’s how it works:
We search for a name, let’s say Guiones for example, using the Profiler. The Profiler will tell us the worldwide distribution of that name. Click on the video link below and watch what happens when we search for “Guiones.”
The Profiler reports:
The conclusion must be that this i s not a legitimate name. It may be inferred that to the extent that such a spelling ever appeared in public records, the occurrence or frequency thereof was extremely insignificant. On the other hand, click on the video link below and watch happens when we search for “Guyns:”
There are matches, but apparently only in the United States. On the theory that there are no indigenous “American” surnames, we could conclude that “Guyns” is not a “legitimate” surname, but likely a one-off error in trying to render something else. This inference is strengthened when the Profiler tells us that the name is found at a significant threshold only in one county in Missouri. A search of Ancestry.com’s census records locates “Guyns” historically as numbering 19 individuals, all in Oklahoma in 1910; and then literally ones and twos in a couple states between 1910 and 1920.
We can eliminate many of the purported names by showing that they do not exist in any significant number anywhere in the world or that they only occur in the United States and they are not “Native American” names.
How does all this relate to my brick wall problem? We’ll see that next time.
World Names Profiler is the intellectual property of PublicProfiler, University College London, © copyright 2008
August 9, 2009 Sunday at 10:01 pm