Sunday, January 24, 2021

Finding the Origin of a Name

 This week's #52Ancestors challenge prompt is namesake. Discuss an ancestor you were named after or a name being passed down from someone else. My first name "Melanie" comes from my great grandmother, Matilda (Mollie) Siegel. My middle name "Elizabeth" comes from Matilda's husband Eddie (which was actually Anton before he changed his name). 

I find myself looking at names in my family tree. There are often names being passed down from one generation to the next. Sometimes the children have the middle name from their mother's maiden name. This is a fun bonus to come across as it often holds the clue to finding out more about the mother's line. 

A few months ago, I used traditional Irish naming patterns and DNA clustering to uncover the identity of my 4th great grandfather. I started with looking at the details on his son, Francis Dougherty. The marriage witnesses to the wedding of Francis and Catherine were a Patrick Keenan and Michael Doherty. 

I had no clues to the identify of Patrick and there was no sign of Michael Dougherty coming to Prince Edward Island. In the 1861 Canada census, there was a clue. Francis was enumerated in Lot 58, PEI as "Frances O. Dochardy". Francis' first son was named Owen. Given that the oldest son is usually named for the father's father and that Francis may have had a middle name of "Owen", a search was conducted for an "Owen Dougherty" who came to Prince Edward Island from Ireland. 

An obituary was found on (a wonderful newspaper web site for Prince Edward Island ancestry) in The Examiner newspaper on 22 Apr 1861. The article is found below:

This Owen sounded promising. He came from the same county in Ireland and is old enough to be the father of Francis Dougherty. I next conducted a search to identify any children of Owen that may be possible siblings to Francis. Several candidates were identified in my DNA matches including a Patrick, Honora, and Catherine. I researched Patrick and found an obituary for him that said that his father was Owen. The article even confirmed that Owen lived to be 101 years old! This matched the Find a Grave memorial I found for Owen.  

Find a Grave Memorial #117784318 -

An excerpt from the article is below:

                                                 Excerpt from The Examiner - 9 Mar. 1899 (from

 I updated my tree with Owen as the father of Francis and added Patrick, Honora, and Catherine as children of Owen. I then patiently waited about 24-48 hours for my ThruLines to update. And then the results came in...

I had DNA matches with Patrick, Honora, and Catherine! This helped me confirm that I had the correct common ancestor, Owen Dougherty. I also know where the family name of Owen came from. 

The name Owen has been passed down over several generations: 

  • Owen Dougherty (1760-1861) - 4th great grandfather
  • Francis Owen Dougherty (1788-1892) - 3rd great grandfather
  • Owen Dougherty (1829-1901) - 2nd great grandfather
  • Peter Owen Dougherty (1832-1923) - 2nd great granduncle
  • Owen Francis Dougherty (1856-1959) - great granduncle
  • James Owen Dougherty (1908-1968) - 1st cousin 2x removed
  • Owen Dougherty (1905-1985) - great uncle

Some definite lessons learned:

  • Take another approach to solving a direct line - look for possible siblings to eventually find out more about your direct ancestor, including their parents. 
  • Pay attention to naming patterns. Not all families will follow them but they will give you some good names to pay close attention to.
  • DNA clustering in conjunction with genealogical research can help you go back further in your family tree. 

  • What are your some of the names you have in your tree that are passed down from generation to generation? Have you learned the origin of the earliest ancestor with that name? 


    1. I'll have to look up Irish naming patterns to see if they are similar to Italian ones. They tend to look like this:

      The first male/female is named after the paternal grandfather/mother.
      The second male/female is named after the maternal grandfather/mother.
      The third son/daughter is named after the father (named "Junior" or "the II" nowadays for the boy) or as example, Giovanna (for Giovanni) for the daughter.
      The fourth son/daughter is named after the paternal great grandfather.
      Remaining children took the names of paternal/maternal great-uncles and aunts.
      If the oldest child had received a votive name in place of that of its paternal grandfather, the second child took the name of its father instead of that of its maternal grandfather.
      If the father died before the birth of his child it was customary for it to assume the deceased parent's name.
      The subsequent children could be named after the parents, a favorite aunt or uncle, a saint or a deceased relative.

      Sometimes they don't follow any kind of pattern at all and it gets really confusing. But, it is cool to see if you can figure it out. You're right. Not everyone follows the pattern no matter what country they are in. Sometimes names even alternate for centuries.

      Great blog!

    2. As far as I know, I am the only one with the name in my family tree. No rules at all regarding naming children in our family. Maybe one rule only - what parents liked.

    3. Thank you for sharing your approach to solving a brick wall. I had not considered using the ThruLines to "test" a theory.

    4. Gracias por tu información, estoy trabajando en armar la genealogía de mi familia de forma completa y también estoy usando estas plantillas para árbol genealógico que son muy bonitas y gratuitas!

    5. A very interesting and detailed account on how you on uncovered the story of your 4 times great grandfather

    6. Great use of naming patters and DNA to uncover your family roots. Well done!