My legal name is William Frederick Dews, II. The second. The Second of his Name, King of the … No, just plain old the second—but, I probably should have been a “third.” And how I found that out is one of my favorite finds in my three decades of genealogy research.
My parents named me after my father, William Frederick Dews (the first, but we don’t use suffixes unless royalty is involved, and we are far from royalty). Fun fact: my mom said that when the person filling out my birth certificate wrote my name down, they asked if “junior” should be my suffix. My mom, though a lifelong southerner, would not have her boy be called “Junior” all his life, so she insisted on “II.”
I grew up knowing that my paternal grandfather’s full name was Frederick William Dews. I called him, rather formally, “Grandfather Dews.” But, he went by “Fred,” signed everything “Fred W. Dews,” and even had a desktop plate inscribed with that name (he never worked in an office—it was apparently a gag present from my grandmother given long after he sold his hardware store in Chicago and they retired to Florida).
You can see on his World War I draft registration card how my grandfather styled his own name when he was 18, including his signature at the bottom.
He signed his name the same way on the World War II draft registration card in 1942, when he was 42.
A number of years ago, in 2001 I think, I went to Chicago to visit my aunt and uncle, and while there conducted some genealogy research in the Cook County archives. There, I obtained copies of the birth certificates of all six of the children of my great-grandparents Robert Dews and Nellie Hoagland, including my grandfather, Fred W. Dews. And here I come to two of my favorite genealogical finds in decades of research. First, to my great surprise, his birth certificate listed his name as “William Frederick Dews,” not the other way around. So, based on that I am the THIRD of his name! This information was a great surprise to my father and uncle, too, who had no reason to believe otherwise.
Why did my grandfather go by what may have been his middle name? I’ll never know. Perhaps the reporter, Ms. Emmis, entered the name correctly. Perhaps, like me, he was called by his middle name and so just adopted that as his first name throughout his life. Easier to do so at that time—I am careful when requested to give my “first name” as William on all official documents.
The second favorite find is rather sad, though, but related closely to this one. My grandfather was born a twin, a fact not even his sons knew until I found his birth certificate in the Cook County archives. (And, I’ll note, these records continue to not be available online, and even the Cook County Birth Certificates Index, 1871-1922, does not list all these children.) The twin brother’s name was Robert, after their father. However, baby Robert did not survive long enough to be enumerated on the 1900 Census, taken just eight months later in June. And on top of that, this was the second baby of that name that Robert and Nellie Dews had lost. Their first son Robert was born in September 1896 (pictured at left). He must have passed away prior to his namesake’s birth in October 1899.
Uncovering these secrets over 20 years ago in a physical archive was a thrilling find in my genealogical research. This was before many documents were online, and the images of the birth records for my grandfather and his siblings remain offline.
Just a reminder, then, that your most interesting finds in family history might lie beyond the reach of the internet.
— Fred Dews
For Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 2, Favorite Find.
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