What Constitutes Identity?

What constitutes identity? Different genealogists have different answers: Name, dates of marriage, birth, and death; places of residence at these life events; relationships to important persons. These are also essential search dimensions used in planning a successful research project.

Legal identity in the past could include name, occupation or status in society, and specific place of residence. On pedigrees and family charts the designation “of Augusta” was too often considered sufficient. I quickly learned that even persons with names that seemed to be uncommon, there could be two or more persons with the same names “of Augusta.”

Since houses and farms were given names and property documents used specific places to identify where the land was located–New Hope or middle neck of Cathey’s River was more precise. So I try to view identity in precise terms–terms that will give an ancestor a unique description peculiar to him alone.

Family Tree Magazine has published two interesting articles on the subject of identity: Hedrickson, Nancy. “One in a Million,” (March-April 2012):18-23.
Bishop, Shelley K. “Mistaken Identities,” (January-February 2016): 22-28.

These challenges get in the way of the precision that you want–

__common names
__irregular and variant name spellings
__use of nicknames
__unknown maiden names
__inconsistent ages and birthplaces in actual records
__lost or destroyed records
__missing births and deaths
__local boundary changes
__migration into and out of the place of residence by new persons
__names for places of residence that are no longer used [see http://www.historypin.com for images already pinned to specific places that enable you to recognize them.]

Between the two articles there are some 15 easy-to-follow steps to set your ancestors uniquely apart from all others who were similar to them. And the more entries that are added to your favorite online databases, the more diligent you and I must be to ensure that we identify the correct ancestors. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com

PS My driveway is now a solid sheet of ice. My neighbor who has faithfully cleaned it of snow has had a heart attack. And the snow melt and salt which I have spread across it last only a short time in rain and more snow. This has been the darnedest winter. It took me more than 10 minutes to free my tires of the ice–all four were stuck to my driveway today. I have seen the pictures of Yellowstone and the Columbia River Gorge, so I guess I have nothing to complain about. Tomorrow we get sun–25 degrees or less–but sun! Hooray!

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