The Problem With a Name.

When you start your genealogy journey you are warned about name variations. But it is only when you start researching that you realise how complex it can get.

A cousin of mine in New York asked me to trace his grandmother in Ireland.  He knew her name was Bridget, but the surname was either Calven, Cox or Finch!  I started with the US censuses and found her in the 1905 New York census, with our family, under the name of Delia Culvin (aged 24).  Explaining to my American cousin that Delia was another name for Bridget was quite a task!  Bridget was in the US federal censuses until 1920, so I guessed she must have died after that. Her death notice appeared in July 1921 in an issue of The Yonkers Statesman, which gave her maiden name as Calven. There were two possible births for a Bridget born in Ireland who had similar surnames and were born in the late 1870s: one was in County Monaghan, the other in County Longford.

I needed to put my thinking cap on!  One of her daughters was called Julia, so I decided to see if there were any Julias with a similar surname in the Irish censuses.  A family called Colvin is listed in the 1901 and 1911 censuses in Longford, so a death-record search had to be undertaken in New York to see if our Bridget/Delia was connected to this family.   My cousin in New York eventually found the record: her parents were Thomas Colvin and Julia Riley.  This matched with the 1901 and 1911 censuses and the birth in Longford of Bridget in 1876 as "Colvan".  Eventually, I found the marriage of her parents, and her father’s surname was recorded as Colwell.

To summarise: My relative used two first names, Bridget or Delia; and was recorded in different documents with seven surnames, Calven/Cox/Finch/Culvin/Colvin/Colvan/Colwell.  The joys of Irish genealogy!

By Maura Flood,

Irish Family History Centre Expert Researcher.