Monday, July 25, 2022

The Problem With Namesakes


When exploring the generations in one's family history, it's quite common to encounter a son named after his father. While such namesakes are understandable, they also can create some confusion if the names are not coupled with other identifying information. Researching an Irish namesake, though, can cause extra headaches for one particular reason: the old country's particular tradition of adhering to a naming pattern.

In the research problem I'm trying to untangle in the remainder of this month, we're dealing with a DNA match to my husband who claims—on paper, at least—to have descended from the same Denis Tully who was my husband's second great-grandfather. Sharing a match of forty five centiMorgans, these two could be related as closely as third cousins, or be as distant as fifth cousins.

This match has a tree shared on which makes it appear as if the closest relationship in that cousin range is the correct choice. In other words, with the same number of generations removed, both lines point back to an ancestor named Denis Tully from Ireland. There's just one problem with that scenario: unlike my husband, who descends from Denis' son John Tully, this match's tree claims a direct line to a son of Denis given the exact same name. A namesake.

And there's my problem. As much as I've traced this Tully line back in time from Chicago to their immigration stopping point in Canada of Paris, Ontario, I have yet to find any son of Denis and Margaret Tully named after his father. True, when our Tully family first showed up in the 1851 census, there was already one son missing from the household (their recently-married son Michael, whose own household became apparent near his father's household in the subsequent census in 1861). But there is another reason I'm concerned about this supposed namesake son.

My primary concern about finding a Denis, son of Denis Tully, is due to the long-followed naming pattern adhered to during that era in Ireland. The pattern goes something like this: the first son is named after the paternal grandfather, the second after the maternal grandfather. Only with the third son would the name given be his father's namesake.

Even though the children in our Denis Tully's family married in Canada, at least some followed that old tradition of their homeland. Son Michael gave his firstborn son the name Denis, after the child's paternal grandfather. Though Michael's older sister Johanna also followed that naming convention—her second son was also named Dennis, after his maternal grandfather—none of the other Tully children adhered to that pattern. While they, too, were immigrants from Ireland, those Tully children were far younger when arriving in Canada and likely had less cultural influence pressing them to follow the tradition of their father and even their older siblings.

There is, however, another reason I'm concerned about a claim of Denis Tully having a son by that same name. The Dennis who was ancestor of this DNA match was said to have been born in 1830. The oldest child I've been able to locate from our Denis' records was born in 1832. While it is quite possible that our Denis could have had a child before that date, the likelihood that he would have named that son—possibly his firstborn—by his own name is slim. The only scenario in which he would have done so—at least, according to that traditional naming procedure—would be if Denis' own father was also named Denis.

There is another reason why I'm hesitant to accept that our Denis had an oldest son who shared his father's given name. This reason has nothing to do with naming traditions, or any other custom carried over from the Tullys' Irish roots, but is a matter of the names of the women who married into the Tully line. We'll take a look at that issue tomorrow.



  1. I love your title. I have nothing but problems with namesakes!!! My maternal grandfather's family had lots of sons in every generation. And every son's first born son is named after their paternal grandfather. Even if two sons have a son the same month, in the same community. I have to print everything so I can read and compare and have developed a multiple piles on my dining room table method.

    1. Miss Merry, I am envisioning you standing in front of a VERY large dining room table!!!


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