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

Did you find an ancestor who appears in multiple records with an initial? Is it possible to determine what the initial standards 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 G initial stands for? If you have initials in your family history research, where do you start when trying to figure out what they might be when they are unknown to you?

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

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

Look at the clue web I’ve created. On this clue web, we can see the names of a daughter and two sons for Winfield and Rhoda. 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?


In the case of Winfield, I have found a number of sources that identify him. These sources provide CLUES about his name.

SOURCEGIVEN NAME(S)Death RecordWinfield1900 Census RecordW*Field1910 Census RecordGeneral WIGI Birth RecordWinfieldLegacy NFSGaddieWinfield

When his son provided information for his death record, this man obviously preferred using his middle name rather than that first name.1

In the 1900 census record, the indexer was unable to read the census taker’s handwriting. Thus his name is written as W*Field.2 IThe handwriting is difficult to read. It’s hard to tell if the name was indeed Winfield or Wnfield.

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 traditional 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 an 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).

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.

Genealogy Research Tips: How to Research the Name Behind an Ancestor's Initial<a href=""><img src="" alt="" width="560" height="295" /></a>

Watch this video on YouTube.

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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