Is it possible that your ancestor changed his name simply because he wanted to and with no official paperwork to document the change? For much of American history (and possibly in other locations as well), names could be changed with little formality.

If your ancestor naturalized after 1906, his naturalization papers may mention the change. Land records may occasionally reference a change, especially if the name on a deed of purchase is different from the name on a deed of sale. Probate records may indicate if the deceased used any other names. And lastly, pension records may also provide alternate names, aliases, etc.



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  1. Great tip! Name changes can present a real challenge to the family historian. A surname change was my biggest hurdle in researching my spouses family. Thanks to clues via oral history I have discovered the previous name. But, it still took the patience of methodically going back in time, collecting copies of original records, getting to know the (whole) family structure before I knew enough to identify the family by the previous name.
    Thank you! Debbie

  2. I adopted my first grandchild. When I did, the record of her birth and birthmother was changed to her adopted name and mine [my married name]. THEN, 10 years to the day later, same court, judge, child and I changed her first, middle and we both took my maiden name. I have saved all the documentation, did not want future researchers to go though agony of “trying to prove” what we did. Kristina

  3. My great-grandfather on my father's side (his mother's father) didn't so much 'change' his name as he 'assumed' a different name, but at the same time he actually kept his given name and used it for his 'new' surname. The twist is that he was pretty much only know by this 'new' name in OHIO and when he went 'home' to Pennsylvania they referred to him by the name he no longer used. Not only did it make finding his parents a challenge but he left me the clue but it took a long time to actually put that clue to use as the key to finding his parents and siblings.

  4. My husband's maternal grandfather actually stopped using his surname and went by his middle name as his surname. Supposedly he did not like people making fun of his name and that was the reason. But I have found a prior marriage using his full name with no divorce or death to his 1st spouse. Now I'm wondering what was the real reason.

  5. I have a huge hurdle that includes a name change with no documentation. My father was born in 1941/42 with one surname, by the time he was in school he had another surname and finally by the time he married my mother in 1969 he had yet a 3rd surname. I have searched the states I knew he lived in (and the surrounding states also) and there is no records of his surname being legally changed. I can not get a copy of his birth cert because my maiden name is NOT the same as the name on his birth cert. Whats a person to do in that case?

  6. A lot of people really want to trace their ancestors but they really find it difficult especially when their relatives changed their names. Debra is right. One of the great things that will help you are the original documents. This will serve as your guide to trace your family heritage.

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