I often find myself pulling my hair out after fumbling with the various spellings of ancestral surnames. All family historians experience it; coming upon documents that present their ancestors with surnames spelled ever so slightly from other records. And as I struggled with such an issue this past weekend, I pondered the evolution of surnames; discovering intriguing and sometimes amusing facts.

The use of surnames is a fairly modern phenomenon. During the dark ages and biblical times, people were typically referred to by their given names; distinguishing them by their locality such as "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Leonardo De Vinci." But the world grew and the use of a surname became necessary in order to identify individuals.

Many surnames were patronymic: a derivative of the person's father's given name such as Johnson (son of John) or they evolved from family occupations such as Carpenter or Squire. And even geographical or place names were provided like Brook, Lake or Rivers.

Nicknames of a person's physical characteristics or personality traits like Stern or Gentile became common as well as individuals named after animals such as Fox or Bear.

And then there is the issue of the spelling of a surname. How many times have we run across census records only to find that our ancestral surname is spelled incorrectly? The fact is, the consistent spelling of words is a recent trend; only practiced within the last 100 or so years.

Surname spellings changed frequently, dependent on how they were pronounced. The Ellis Island officials often changed the spellings of the surnames of immigrants as they processed their records; scripting them with a "new world" spelling.

So, though fun to ponder, how does any of this really help with our genealogical search?

Studying the meaning and evolution of an ancestral surname can provide clues to further your research. And recently, while I was in another mad hair-tasseled frenzy to learn about one of my ancestors, I stumbled upon the Internet Surname Database: a well developed website providing captivating historical summaries of thousands of surnames.

I found that my Matthews surname was English and Scottish and that Captain Samuel Matthews was one of the earliest settlers in the New World. Another one of my surnames, Jack, evolved from the French name Jacques and John Jack was one of the first settlers in America. And Beatty was a boundary name, equal in both England and Scotland.

And then there is my maiden name, Capps. The surname I was born with and the one that is closest to my identity. As one would expect, the English name was occupational; given to someone who was a "maker of caps and hats." The Capps name was also patronymic, meaning the "son of Capp."

But most amusing was the use of the Capps surname as a nickname: given to "someone who wore a particularly noticeable cap or hat!"

And so, I will continue to utilize the Internet Surname Database; adding it to my vast array of bookmarks for future genealogical exploration. And who knows,  rather that "pulling my hair out" over frustrating misspellings of ancestral surnames; I will instead sit pompous wearing a fabulously, flamboyant hat!

Proudly relishing in the history of my birth surname.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: AAG International Research)
Workers on the Statue of Liberty pedestal.
The door swung open and William bolted across the entryway; eyes glittering with a smile. George was startled by his brother's bold entrance into his shop, seemingly annoyed with the interruption of his work. But as William unfolded the newspaper in front of his brother's eyes, George suddenly fixed his glaze on the bold help-wanted add: Blacksmiths needed.

The town of Boonton, New Jersey was a small town built by men of iron: nailers, puddlers and blacksmiths. And in 1884, the Boonton Iron Mill was the economic mainstay of the New Jersey villagers. But for months, the excitement that had been swirling through the pubs and shops of Boonton was the possibility of new iron jobs.

And these iron jobs would not be at the mill.

They would be jobs of a different kind: locally skilled blacksmiths needed to craft the iron girders of a mason pedestal. A very, very large pedestal. One that would hold a massive statue in the New York harbor.

Listening to William's announcement, George was instantly drawn away in thought. Working as his own man, he had felt success with his little blacksmith shop on the corner of Birch and Union in the center of Boonton. But to grab an element of history pulled at his heartstrings.

As the grandson of an Irish immigrant, George was awestruck with the idea of putting his hand to the building of the pedestal of the great statue. Though his work would be minor in scale, participating would have deep meaning for him.

And so, George Jones locked up the little blacksmith shop on Birch and Union streets and drove his wagon 30 miles to the New York harbor. Gleaming with the anticipation of rolling and burning iron for the French statue's pedestal.

As France was building the Statue of Liberty in the early 1880's, the American people agreed to design and build the pedestal the statue would sit upon. The construction of the pedestal, designed by the American architect Richard Morris Hunt, was completed on April 22, 1886. The statue itself had been completed in France in July 1884, but due to a lag in American financing of the pedestal, the statue sat in France for two years, waiting for its delivery.

The two sets of iron girders built into the enormous pedestal are connected by iron beams that carry upward into the framework of the statue, clamping the two constructions together, making them one. And though there will likely never be documentation found of my great grandfather George Jones providing his craft to its construction, the story of his involvement has been passed down with great pride.

There is another story that has held over the years; one that includes all of the masons and blacksmiths working on the statue's pedestal. As the last stone was placed into the pedestal, the workers reached into their pockets and tossed their own silver coins into the mortar. Perhaps symbolizing the workingman's financial contribution to the construction of the pedestal.

The Statue of Liberty closed on October 29th to begin a yearlong upgrade project. All of the interiors, including the statue, pedestal and crown, will be refurbished for the 125th anniversary. But visitors can still view the statue and its pedestal via the webcams placed strategically around the monument.

Take a few moments and complete a virtual tour of your monument; the Statue of Liberty. And utilize the Ellis Island.org's wonderful search engine to find your immigrant ancestors.

And pause to remember that some of our ancestors not only passed through the Ellis Island port; but many also used their skilled hands to build the foundation that the Statue of Liberty sits upon.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: The National Park Service)
The soldiers of the 1st Arkansas Calvary had evolved from a reckless, ragtag grouping of men, to become a well-regarded unit of the Union Army. Stationed at Fayetteville, Arkansas, they positioned their strong force and secured the city within their tightly held grasp. But as a corps of Calvary soldiers, a strikingly important piece of military equipment was missing: horses.

The horses of the Union Cavalries of the Civil War were the heartbreaking victims of gun battle, disease and starvation, leaving many of the soldiers without their most precious military partners. The US government fell far short of keeping the Calvary stocked with sturdy horses; many soldiers taking their personal horses into battle, only to loose them to death.

During the summer of 1863, Wesley Lewis and others from the 1st Arkansas Calvary, were detached from Fayetteville, Arkansas to Rolla, Missouri with a mission to replenish their unit with fresh horses. Proceeding by foot, the band of Calvary soldiers marched their way through the Arkansas territory toward Missouri; most certainly depleted of sleep and food.

The men, many a mere skeleton of their former selves, held their faith but the 250-mile journey would be a hell-bound trial of survival. Their brutal enemy was not Confederate rebels but the cruel elements of  nature. For twelve days, Wesley Lewis and his crew of steadfast brothers endured pounding, torrential rains.

Without shelter or dry clothes, the horseless Calvary soldiers marched day and night. The rain was relentless; bearing down so hard that many became disoriented to the direction of their journey. Step-by-step the men forged into Missouri, weighted with wet clothes cemented onto their bone-thin bodies by thickened mud. And my ancestor, Wesley Lewis, felt a cold shiver pierce his core. Leaving his ravaged body weakened and disabled until his death.

Military records have become a vital element of genealogical research. Recognizing the richness of their information; military indexes, draft records and pension files are spilling forth on websites. But studying your ancestor's words within the files can open your eyes to not only their records, but also their experiences.

War is miserable and glory is fleeting. And it is easy for those of us conducting genealogical research to spare little time in pausing to grasp the reality of war for our ancestors.

As we pass by this Veterans Day, become better acquainted with your ancestors who fought wars. Each war was harsh and many of our ancestors were pooly equiped and exposed to elements most of us could not survive. My ancestor, Wesley Lewis, remained frail from his mud-soaked march to Missouri until his death, 26 years later. His experience retold by fellow soldiers in letters within his pension file.

Revisit your ancestor's military records and study his war experience. And make every day, Veterans Day, in your genealogical journey.

Keep searching for answers,

One day, during a wild and restless search on the Internet for crumbs of evidence of a lost ancestor, I stumbled across an interesting website. It was one of thousands of individual websites by good-hearted family genealogists. Well-done and eye-catching, I stopped to peruse the gentleman's pages.

This particular genealogist lived in an area I was researching. I had been stuck, unable to go further on the ancestral line I was exploring, and I paused to read what the genealogist offered. For just a small amount of money for a few hours of research at the local library and courthouse, the genealogist would go where many out-of-state researchers could not. He would conduct research on your ancestor and provide copies of records found.

The offer was inviting and the cost was minimal. I gave it some consideration, then contemplated the statement at the end: "I have researched for many years on my own genealogy and have gone as far as I can go. Now I can help you with your research."

After years of research, my motivation for searching for ancestors seems to 'ebb and flow.' And lately, my 'ebb' has been lasting longer than my 'flow.' Feeling uninspired, I have found myself gravitating to other ways to spend my free time. Suddenly realizing my 'blah' state of mind, I forced myself to review my family tree on Ancestry.com.

Focusing on an ancestor, Abraham Hobbs b. 1813 in Meadville, Pennsylvania, I have had no clues to his parental lineage. Death records of Abraham have not been available and he was married on the 1850 US Census. But knowing he was likely born in the same village where he lived most of his life, I place the Hobbs surname in the search engine for 1810, 1820 and 1830. And what rolled out was an interesting name: Samuel Hobbs b. 1779.

A spark flittered up my spine as I stared at Samuel Hobbs' name. Placing his name in the search engine, records flowed but no connection to my ancestor, Abraham.

Frantically bouncing from website to website, a beautiful site for the Greendale Cemetery of Meadville, Pennsylvania popped up. This cemetery has been digitalizing all of their records of interments and it is the oldest cemetery for the village of Meadville.

"What the heck," I thought, putting the Hobbs surname in their record search engine. And low and behold, my 'ebb' flat lined and my 'flow' buzzed.

A list of seven Hobbs was presented, interned in the same lot and section including not only a senior Samuel Hobbs, but also my ancestor Abraham Hobbs.

Can I without a doubt, claim a definate connection between Abraham and Samuel?  No, but I now have something to grab hold of. An inkling of evidence that can propel my research on Abraham Hobbs' parental lineage that for years, sat void of any possible names.

I have since wondered about the genealogist that has 'gone as far as he can go' with his research. I suppose that is possible. Or perhaps one comes to a point in which it is not the ancestral information that has stopped, but the researcher's flow of motivation.

And now that my 'flow' has been revived, I inspirationally move forward with my ancestral search.

Keep searching for answers,