Tuesday, February 22, 2022

When a Name Stands Out —
Like, Really Stands Out


Looking through the names selected by our ancestors for their children can point to one frustrating fact: some families like to re-use given names, generation after generation. That, of course, makes it difficult for those of us who, in retrospect, like to organize those names into a pedigree chart. The multiple Johns and Marys in a family line, repeated over the generations, make for a challenging sorting process. It comes with a sigh of relief when we stumble upon an outlier in that name-tracing process.

Such is the case for me, as I try to intuit which Laws couple in either Tennessee or North Carolina my second great-grandmother Catherine might have called mom and dad. Fortunately, there is a key to help me in this sorting process. My Catherine Laws might have had a sibling stuck with a name which really stood out.

Those of us "gifted" with such a burden in our own lifetime may groan with sympathy, for we recognize the angst that sometimes comes to children when they really stand out in the crowd. But this is a second great-grandmother's brother, and whatever grief his name might have brought to the hapless chap in his pre-teen awkwardness is now—at least from our vantage point—received with gratefulness by those of his descendants tasked with finding our way back to his generation.

The way I know this unusual name connects to my family is through some DNA matches whose direct ancestor claimed that specific given name. The name was Larkin Laws and, though his name does seem different, there was more than one man by that name in the vicinity where Catherine Laws lived, back in the mid-1800s. 

Remembering we need to keep our eyes open for Catherine's Laws kin in both North Carolina and Tennessee, I've spotted a Larkin Laws in each of those states, according to the 1850 census. One entry, in Tennessee, included Larkin as a sixteen year old in the household of Elisha and Ellender Laws. The other option was a twenty three year old by the same name in the North Carolina household of William and Elizabeth Laws.

That second option piques my interest because the household also included a twelve year old by the name of Catherine Laws—exactly the age that fits subsequent details for my Catherine, wife of Thomas Davis. I also noticed that William Laws, head of the North Carolina household, claimed for his occupation the trade of shoemaker, something which differentiates him from the many others of that era who simply labeled themselves as farmer. We'll find that detail useful as we track that Laws family forward in time with subsequent enumerations.

Because Larkin is not only a name which really stands out, but one which happens to be claimed as a direct line ancestor by my closest Laws DNA match, I chose to begin following what became of that Larkin Laws' descendants. I didn't simply trace my match's tree—it is so easy for trees to inadvertently include mistakes—but began by independently constructing a tree of my own, based on what I could find from actual public records.

I chose to begin with the Larkin who was in the 1850 household of William and Elizabeth, specifically because that household included a younger girl by the name of Catherine—very likely my Catherine. We need to keep in mind, though, that inclusion in a household in the 1850 census did not guarantee that each younger person was specifically a child of the two oldest members of that household. Larkin could have been William's nephew, or even a much younger half-brother. Likewise, the Larkin Laws in the other household—that of Elisha Laws in Tennessee—might well have been related to William Laws' family back in North Carolina. Sometimes tracing possibilities means exploring routes to assumed family connection which turn out to be disproven hypotheses in the end. But we never know until we test our theories.

With that, tomorrow we'll learn what can be found about the Larkin Laws in North Carolina. For one thing, we'll explore ways to connect him to William and Elizabeth—not to mention to Catherine, herself. But we'll also see what we can discover about that Larkin's life trajectory, especially when it comes to his own descendants.   


  1. Very nice! This so well describes the process I often have to take: gather all the evidence you can; be open to other explanations but spend time on the most likely; use DNA matches to increase that likelihood.

    Some of my favorite helpfully stand-out names: Leonard J Mourning Waller; Gillie Hinton Benton; and the family that I call the Biblical Morgans. The south is stuffed full of Morgans. But when I see first names like Solomon, Abel, Nathan, Isaac, then I am more likely to give a second look.

    1. How interesting to hear about your "Biblical Morgans," Lisa. Some names really have become a gift to us as researchers. And you even have a collection of your all-time favorites!


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