Middle Names: How To Use Them and How Not to Use Them

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By Amanda Forson, WorldVitalRecords.com

Middle names are something that in some cultures can be genealogically golden, and in others can make research a pain. If performing Spanish research, for example, middle names are traditionally the lineage of the family through matriarchal lines.Modern trends have changed matters mildly depending upon the family, but in that culture’s research, having the middle names is a critical part of research.

American, British, and some other cultures also often use middle names, though usually limited to two or less middle names per individual. When performing searches on WorldVitalRecords.com and for online genealogy in general, it is wise to note that a full name is often too much information with which to begin searching. Start with less information entered into search boxes versus more. Just because you know the information on an individual does not mean that everyone else does.

When trying to find information, bits and pieces mesh together to make the full picture. Another research may not know that (hypothetical) Jacob John Hamblin was born in Caroline County, Maryland on October 5, 1880. They may only know that there was a Jacob Hamblin from Caroline County, Maryland. If searching for “Jacob John Hamblin” there may be zero results, whereas Jacob Hamblin may come back with sixty or more. Bottom line: When searching WorldVitalRecords.com, less is more.

On the other hand, if Jacob John Hamblin was born and died in October 1880, and had a little brother who was born Jacob James Hamblin, born 1882, then the middle names would be critical to searching for the right brother, and in making sure to differentiate between the two.

There are also cases where men or women were known by their middle names. In these cases, some documents may have them by their first and/or middle names. When searching for this information, do searches using both the first name, and then, separately, by the middle name with other search terms as needed.

Middle names can help or hurt research, but I mostly consider them useful for further leads more than cementing research in such a way as to hold up my research. When researching, remember to keep the mind open. When writing reports, histories, etc., narrow that openness to only what has been directly or indirectly proven.

If trying to research with an inflexible mindset, disaster strikes as resources are overlooked. “Keep the mind open, but not so open that the brain falls out!” (1.)

1. Paraphrased from James Oberg, NASA scientist and science fiction writer

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