When people first start to search their family history, they often assume that if they find someone in a record with the same name as their ancestor, it must be him. That can be a dangerous assumption and can lead to incorrect family lines. The common practice in past centuries of naming a child after a father or grandfather, led to many people having the same name. Since each person is unique, with different situations in life, we are trying to find that one individual that matches the distinct circumstances of our ancestor. Further research beyond a name is always wise when conducting genealogy.
I offer an example from my own research of what can happen when you come across men of the same name. In this case I was searching for a James Fouch, born 1828 who lived in Ohio. The family said his father was John and he served in the Civil War. On my first search I found a James Fouch on the 1860 census, born 1828 living in Highland County, Ohio. I then found a grave listing for a man born 1828 who was buried in Knox County, Ohio. Must be the same man, right? Wrong!
After checking all of the resources I could find, I found three James Fouch, all living in Ohio, all with a father John, two with the same birth year of 1828, the other born 1819, two of whom served in the Civil War, two had wives named Mary. Was I looking at one, two or three men? To distinguish between them, I made a chart listing the information on each man as I found it until a clear picture became available.
While there were many similarities in the men’s lives, by making the chart, I was able to see that their wives and children had different names. They died in different years, and while they all lived in Ohio, each lived in a different county. The 1850 census in particular revealed three separate men.
So next time you are working on finding your ancestor, be sure to do thorough research. Don’t just use the first similar name you find. Ancestry Family Trees are notorious for posting information on same name individuals that should actually belong to separate people. I have seen trees with references where they have a man fighting in a war after they list his death date. A little common sense there would tell you that they have two different people. Remember, each person is unique and as genealogists it is our duty to flesh out the individual so that uniqueness comes through.