The Names of My Forefathers

I was lying awake at 4:30 a.m. the other morning, pondering my family tree, as one does, picturing exponentially expanding boxes stacked on boxes, each one representing another ancestor, and each layer another generation. Each box contains a person’s name, a location, and birth and sometimes death years. I don’t have all the information memorized, but I see it in my sleepy imagination, and the names, especially, stand out.

My given name is “William Frederick.” I’m named after my father, so my suffix is “II.” Now, his father was named, so we thought, “Frederick William.” My grandfather signed his name “Fred W. Dews” throughout his life (but I discovered from his original 1899 Cook County, Illinois birth certificate that he was named “William Frederick. So I should be a Third). His father was named “Robert H.,” middle name unknown. Frederick, William, Robert. I know the names of dozens of other ancestors. So, as I lay awake in the wee hours, I started wondering: how common in my male ancestry are my two given names? Which name, if not one of these, is most prevalent? Are any patterns evident?

To find out, I’ve simply listed all the given names (first and middle) that I know in each of the past five generations starting with my father. I’ve shown my work below. The numeral represents the generation. The years represent the range of birth years for ancestors in that generation. I’ve used a question mark in an ancestor’s spot if I don’t actually know his name. From the second generation (my grandfathers’) onward, my father’s ancestors appear on the left, and my mother’s on the right.

names chart

And the results? Across the 24 men in the chart above, the following names are the most popular:

  • Frederick (or Fred) = 7
  • William = 6
  • John = 4
  • Allmon, Franklin, James, and Jacob = 2 each.

So, my given names are the most common of all in the last 200 years of my male ancestry. Plus, all of the “William” names are on my father’s side, as well as five of the seven “Fredericks.”

I only went back five generations, since the sixth generation on my father’s side is mostly unknown. But if I were to keep going back on my mother’s line, which is known extensively, then names like “John” start to predominate.

Here’s another vaguely interesting finding: the width in years of the generational bands increase: 10 in the second generation, to 13, 22, then 29. I expect that is normal, but is there a point at which the generational bands are extremely wide? I’ll explore this phenomenon at another time.

– Fred Dews, 2/13/15

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