It may seem obvious, but in order to trace your family history you must have an idea of a relative’s first name. However, there are occasions when people visiting the Irish Family History Centre (Dublin) only have a pet name for their relative – a name that only the family called them. On the plus side, such names often derive from their real name in some way. A useful guide to names is the 1985 booklet A Rose by Any Other Name: A Guide to Irish Christian Names by Judith Eccles Wight. This booklet is a very useful tool for genealogist in determining name variations, e.g. formal, nickname, the Irish and Latin equivalent.
However, while researching my own family tree I came across two name that left me and the whole family a bit stumped. My aunt had once sat down with her father (my grandfather) in later life and asked him about the family history. My grandfather recalled all his siblings but unfortunately used only their pet family names. Two of his siblings were called Cissie and Francis, and their names appear on the 1911 Irish Census. But trying to find their birth certificates proved hair-pullingly futile! Even Ms Wight’s book shed no light on the matter.
The family history, as related by my grandfather, said that his two siblings had married locally and lived and died in the same area. Through careful examination of all the marriage records and by cross referencing the names found to ensure the correct people were identified, I finally had them … and was I surprised?! Cissie had actually been registered under the name of Johanna, and Francis was actually Michael. Why the family decided to refer to them by different names is a mystery, except that it is a very Irish thing to do.
If you are faced with a similar problem, the only way to crack it is by sheer dogged determination.