what’s in a name

by Andrea Elizabeth

At the time of my last post I had traced 10 lines of my geology made up mostly of my 8 Great-grand mothers’ and fathers’ paternal lines, as those were the surnames I was familiar with. In the back of my mind through all of this I have been wondering if there was some sort of patriarchal prejudice involved both with the naming of people by their fathers’ names, and in my prioritizing the fathers’ lines in this way. Other cultures, like the Spanish, include the mothers’ names. Some cultures use only the mother’s name, but matronymic cultures are so small and rare, spellcheck thinks you could only mean patronymic.

Today I have reached the end of my four paternal great great grandmothers’ lines. I had a third brush with greatness that turns out is probably also a dubious connection. Yesterday I removed our Tomkyns-de Cantelupe connection after reading a document by a living Tompkins lawyer debunking a 1950’s Tompkins publication painstakingly connecting the two. And I already mentioned the Captain Cook mistake. Today I got my hopes up again while tracing the maternal line of the already mentioned Missouri Amazon Feagan, who married my paternal grandmother’s Grandfather Tompkins. Missouri’s paternal grandmother is Nancy Wadsworth of Georgia and Alabama. Many people have connected her line to the Hartford, Ct. Wadsworths, who came over around the same time as the 1632 Plymouth Wadsworths, of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow fame. Ancestry.com searchers have also connected Henry to a common William Wadsworth in England.

When I was still buying that William was my ancestor and trying to see if Henry could be my cousin, I was frustrated that the top, official-looking, famous author sites only listed his Longfellow geneology. I only found his mother’s Wadsworth tree fifth on the google list on a site called Wikitree. His ancestor is William, but another authentic descendent’s site said Henry’s branch from William’s son Christopher (the Plymouth Branch) is not related to William Wadsworth’s Hartford branch. I have independently decided that James Wadsworth (1740-1821) of Virginia, my ancestor, is not related to either the Hartford or the Connecticut Wadsworths because the connection has James being born in Virginia and dying in Connecticut, with all of his descendents being born and dying and getting married in the south. There is a James Wadsworth around that time who has a grave in Connecticut, but I see no evidence, and I’ve looked, that it’s the same person.

Also during all of this, while I was thinking I had another Yankee connection (besides the New Sweden/Philadelphia one in the last post), I read an interesting piece about the original settlers of New England in the mid 1600’s and the mid later 1600’s settlers of Virginia. My computer forced an update and lost the link though. But it’s probably well known – though only now to me- that the New England settlers were educated scholars, tradespeople and artisans from northeastern England, and the Virginia settlers were mostly indentured servants from southern and western England, with the latter eventually being allowed to settle their own small farms. There was a great disparity, and they didn’t mix much. This disparity explains why there was such a strong rivalry and bad feeling from the very beginning. And it explains why almost every generation of my different branches moved from southern state to southern state. Small farming was very difficult. The unrelated Hartford and Plymouth Wadsworths, as well as my Swedish Philidelphia Bankstons, and my slave-owning Baptist South Carolina Reverend stayed in one place for multiple generations.

Thinking you have a famous ancestor and finding you don’t is a bit of an emotional roller coaster. It seems people see a hole in their ancestry, and then find someone of a similar name who goes back to someone famous, and stretch the connection, because a possible error with either a famous, or even just a continuing connection is better than a blank name slot that marks the end of the line.

The harsh, Puritan thinkers will say it’s just a matter of pride to want to be related to someone famous. There is that, but I think we also want to be connected to someone known. It helps us know ourselves. I was thinking when I believed these stories that that’s why I like to explore, or why I like castles, or why I like writing. But I guess exploring and castles and writing are just part of what even poor English wanderers like.