Thursday, December 27, 2018

Third Day: A Day for Saint John

Do you ever face researching a family tree in which many of the ancestors were all bestowed with the same given name?

In my husband's very Irish and definitely Catholic family history, that was the case for the name John. Both of my father-in-law's grandfathers were named John. On the Stevens side, John Stevens was a name carried for a few generations in a row—perhaps longer, though I can't break through the Irish paper silence before the Tithe Applotments to determine that, as yet—and the John Stevens streak was only varied by the insertion of a mother's maiden name to yield John Kelly Stevens, a name likewise repeated for at least three generations. In fact, the addition of Kelly represented yet another John—John T. Kelly—from early 1800s Ireland.

Not to be outdone, my mother-in-law's less Irish but definitely Catholic forebears provided a few namesakes for Saint John, as well, including her own father's first name. In fact, of all the people in my mother-in-law's tree—now at 15,816 names—562 of that extended family hold the given name of John. Of the 1,514 in my father-in-law's tree, ninety three of them claim John as a first name.

Being Catholic, each of these family members named John likely were named after not only an ancestor, but also a saint. But which Saint John is the question.

Researching the saint being honored on the third day of Christmas requires attention to that same particular detail: which saint? Saint John the Baptist has his feast day on June 24, hardly part of Twelvetide, the Christmas season's celebration in the old European tradition. The saint celebrated on the Third Day of Christmas is a different Saint John: the one known as the Beloved Apostle, the one to whom authorship of the Gospel of John, as well as three epistles and the book of Revelation, has been credited.

Even getting the right person correctly identified can be a challenge when it comes to saints named John. Our Third Day honoree is officially designated as "Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist" by the Catholic Church, but called "Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist" by the Anglicans and the Lutherans. It may all come down to a comma and a definite article, apparently.

No matter what the case, those in my husband's family, whether in Ireland or the Alsace-Lorraine regions where I suspect his mother's family originated, likely spent the Third Day of Christmas going to mass to honor that day's specified saint. And if this is the Saint John for whom our family's many ancestral men named John were called, the day likely held even more significance for their families. 


  1. Yes all those family names, confusing for sure.

    1. I know every family has a different name that keeps getting repeated. My husband's family has their fair share of Margarets, too. Keeps us researchers on our toes!


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