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  • Seeing Double

    Willard Felsen

    Published Date : April 1985

    Every genealogical researcher runs across family after family in which the same first name appears twice (or more), the first of the name having died young.  But there are less usual cases when two of the same name grew up, married, and had children.

    One circumstance in which this happens is with half-brothers or half-sisters, such as two sons of John Lay of Lyme, Connecticut. The father, twice married, had a son John with each wife. They became known as John the elder (b. about 1633 and also known as John the Drummer) and John the younger (b. about 1654), and both had families.

    Waterman genealogy records a Lebanon, Connecticut, household with four Sarahs in it. Sarah Waterman married, first, Thomas Sluman and they had a daughter Sarah. Meanwhile, Capt. John and Judith (Fitch) Wattles had a daughter of that name. After their spouses died, Capt. Wattles and Sarah (Waterman) Sluman married and they had a daughter Sarah, who thereby became the third Sarah Wattles in the house, along with half-sister Sarah Sluman. All three daughters married.

    On the other hand, two Francises, surnamed Littlefield, were full brothers, sons of Edmund and Annis Littlefield, who came over in the early Puritan migration. They were known as Francis, Sr. (3rd of 10 children), who kept inns about New England, last of all at Wells, Maine, and Francis, Jr. (10th-born), a carpenter at Wells. Both had issue.

    Other distinguishing titles occurred. Half-brothers of 18th century Middleborough, Mass., were called Ephraim Wood 1st and 2nd. Both married, had kids, and moved to Vermont, but to different towns. In her widowhood, Ephraim 2nd’s mother settled in with Ephraim 1st.

    Like-named offspring proliferated to greater degree in Britam. John Writer of Worcester had three Thomases, the 1st b. 1590, d. 1591; the 2nd b. 1592 and later known as Thomas the elder; and, son of John’s second wife, a 3rd Thomas, b. 1594 and called Thomas the younger.

    A Scot, William de Vipont, distinguished his three namesake sons, in Latin, as Willelmus primogenitus, Willelmus medius, and Willelmus junior. That was back in the 13th century, but the practice continues today in Scotland. In the Hebrides a man might name all his sons after himself, but then give them the same sort of distinguishing titles we often see appended to kings’ names: the short, the hairy, the lean, but in Gaelic.

    Edward Gibbon (1737-94) not only left posterity his history of Rome’s decline and fall, but also this anecdote in his autobiography: “So feeble was my constitution, so precarious my life, that in the baptism of my brothers, my father’s prudence successively repeated my Christian name of Edward, that in the case of the departure of the eldest son this patronymic appellation might still be perpetuated in the family.”

    By Willard Felsen
    San Francisco, California

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