Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Middling mysteries

Don’t you love it when you discover a middle name?  It can be a clue to an earlier relative, a mother’s birth name, or a naming tradition that’s been handed down through generations.
Then again, it may just be … a name.  But finding it is a small triumph, because it makes the individual’s story more complete.
Mary Howard Cain
My father’s middle name was Hamilton, and of course I knew that from early days. I even knew that it was the surname of his aunt’s husband.  But I didn’t realize the import given this family until I saw the impressive stone at the Kingston Cemetery in Decatur County, Indiana. It is labelled “Hamilton-Cain” -- not Cain-Hamilton, even though many more Cains than Hamiltons are buried there.  
I’ve mentioned my hunt for Elvira Amanda Kelsey, a relative in my Howard line, from which derives my own middle name.  Elvira came west from Indiana with her widowed mother in the 1860s, married in Oregon, and had three sons:  Albert, Parker and Rowland.  It was easy to guess Albert’s middle name, Kelsey, from the initial K, but I nailed it down when I found Albert Kelsey Thompson listed in the Great California Voters’ Registers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Thank goodness he was conscientious enough to register!  His brother Parker married well -- to a state senator’s daughter -- and his obituary carried his impressive-sounding full name: Parker Howard Thompson. (His mother’s father was Samuel Parker Howard.)  As for the youngest, Rowland, it took a while for me to find his middle name -- he was simply designated as Rowland M. Thompson in census and Social Security records, and even on his death certificate.  But his World War I draft registration card showed him as Rowland Maynard Thompson.  I don’t know of any specific reason for that name -- yet.  But I’m still working on his father’s line, and perhaps the Maynard name will crop up there somewhere.
A middle name I’m still looking for is that of Daniel M. Howard.  He was my grandmother’s half-brother, who died at the age of 18 in the Civil War.  He served in Company G, Ninth Indiana Infantry (Union Army), and was “slightly” wounded at the Battle of Shiloh.  He “died of fever” while hospitalized, according to his military service records.  But NOWHERE does his middle name appear.
John M. Cain is another puzzle.  His mother was Elizabeth Morgan (my great-great-grandmother, who lived to be 96), so it is a strong possibility his name is Morgan.  But I am not going to assume anything!  And since John died in 1828 it is quite possible I will never know for sure.
There could be a whole subset of genealogy about middle names, don’t you think?  
A post script: Given names don’t always follow family tradition, as I’ve learned to my rue.  After years of trying to find the source of the above-mentioned Samuel Parker Howard’s name, I learned that a charismatic Methodist circuit-riding preacher was in in the region around the time this ancestor was born, in Kentucky. His name: Samuel Parker.
Elmer Ellsworth Cain posed another puzzle, until I discovered the story of the Civil War officer who had led colorful military drills in various venues around the country.  He put on quite a show with his Zouave-like troupe, and went on to achieve the dubious fame of becoming one of the first Union casualties of the war.  His name was Elmer Ellsworth, and not only was my relative named for him, but he named his twin sons Elmer and Ellsworth.
So much for “family” names.

1 comment:

Jody Lutter said...

Middle names are so important! I have found them to be names of ancestors, either first names or last names, that help guide your search back to the prior generation. Middle names can also help distiguish contemporaries with the same first and last names.