• Devon Noel Lee

How to Search For the Name Behind An Ancestor’s Initial

Letter G with question can you find the name behind the initial

Did you find an ancestor who appears in multiple records with an initial? Is it possible to determine the name that an initial stands for?

In a previous post, I shared how I began mapping out the problem of “Who are G. Winfield Underwood’s parents?” I ran into the question of, "What does the G initial stand for?"

If you have initials in your family history research, where do you start trying to figure out what they might be when they are unknown to you?

VIDEO: How to research an ancestor's initials


Investigate the possibility of the initial representing a name inherited through traditions.

Genealogy Clue Web about researching initials

Clue web for G Winfield Underwood. Do you see any potential naming patterns?

Look at the clue web I’ve created. We can see the names of a daughter and two sons for Winfield and Rhoda on this clue web. Do you see any patterns?

Notice that the second son has the middle name, Winfield. Does that mean the family liked to pass on family names?

It’s possible.

Look at the first son. General is a first name, not a title. Is it possible that the G for Winfield is General, like his son General Logan, who incidentally preferred using the name Logan?

I can’t say one way or another without talking with family members. So what should we do next?

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In the case of Winfield, I have found several sources that identify him. In addition, these sources provide CLUES about his name.

SOURCE GIVEN NAME(S)Death Record Winfield 1900 Census Record W*Field1910 Census Record General WIGI Birth Record Winfield Legacy NFS Gaddie Winfield.

When his son provided information for his death record, this man preferred using his middle name rather than that first name.

In the 1900 census record, the indexer was unable to read the census taker’s handwriting. Thus his name is written as W*Field. The handwriting is difficult to read. It’s hard to tell if the name was indeed Winfield or Winfield.

In the 1910 census record, his name is listed as General W. This record provides evidence that his first initial stands for General, but it’s the only record to do so. This record supports the naming tradition of General being the father’s first name passing down to the son, General Logan.

But have I proved the first initial stands for General?

Not yet. The reason is the census record doesn’t carry enough evidentiary weight to be definitive.

Next, there is an IGI extracted birth record. This is not an original record, but either an index to the original record or entry from user-submitted information from many years ago. I’ll have to share a post about IGI sources and how to evaluate them. Once again, the family preferred to use the name, Winfield. It would have been so nice to have the family provide both names, wouldn’t it?!?

Finally, there is a Legacy Source NFS source that suggests that his name Gaddie Winfield. The trouble with these sources is we have no idea what original source was consulted for this content. It is a clue but not definitive proof. The name does follow a possible naming tradition of passing down maternal surnames as the mother’s surname is possibly Gaddie or Martin. If that were the case, we’d know that Eliza Martin was not Winfield’s mother (the original question for this series).

Genealogy Mind Map to solve a research question

Clue webs can focus on just one genealogy research question.

All of this information can make my head spin, which is why I use clue webs to keep track of everything.

The best way to solve this problem is to look for two things:

  1. A record where the parent identify the full name of their son

  2. A record where Winfield himself records his full name

Until then, I have recommendations but no resolutions. If you have a record that confirms his given name, share it in the comments below.

Is it possible to determine the initials of your ancestors? Yes, but you’ll have to examine all the evidence from a variety of sources

If you have other tips on how to find out the names that your ancestor’s initials stand for, I’d love to read them as well.

Happy Hunting!

_______ 1. “Texas Deaths, 1890-1976,” database with images, FamilySearch, G Winfield Underwood, 23 May 1932; citing certificate number 60296, State Registrar Office, Austin

2. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch, W*Field Underwood, Justice Precinct 5 (north part) Collinsville town, Grayson, Texas, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 109, sheet 18A, family 339, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.)

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