If dancing with the ancestors isn't hard enough at times - illegible handwriting, abbreviations that don't make sense, lazy census takers (OY!), and whatnot - there are those pesky nicknames that often throw me for a loop.
I mean, seriously, my father hated his name - Vernon Smith Mitchell - so, when he became an uncle, he had his niece and nephew call him . . . Uncle Bud. Yeah, don't ask me how he got Bud from Vernon Smith, or how two people I know named William, got the nickname Bud either. I can understand Bill, Billy, Will, or Liam, but not Bud.
So, I'm trekking along on one family line - the Duvall branch of my family tree - and come across the last will and testament of Dennis Duvall, my 4 times great-grandfather, who mentions his wife Patsy. Say What?
Yes, Patsy! Well, from everything I found, I know he married Martha Norris. Not Patrica Norris. Not Patty Norris. M-a-r-t-h-a Norris!
So who in the heck is this Patsy?
My first thought was that he remarried. I didn't - and still don't, btw - have a death date for his wife. I figured she kicked the bucket and he, as men did back then, remarried quickly.
That was my theory, and I was sticking to it, until . . .
I purchased the book Unpuzzling Your Past by Emily Anne Croom. This is a basic guide to genealogy which contains some great information, including a chapter on naming patterns, that includes a section on - you guessed it - nicknames. Woo-hoo!
Martha = Marty, Martie, Mattie, Patty, and - drum roll please - PATSY!!!!
So, the Patsy in great-great-great-great grandpa Duvall's will is actually his wife Martha! Whew!
The lesson here: don't assume a remarriage when you come across a strange name in an ancestors last will and testament. Find a book, Google, do whatever, and research common nicknames for the name of your ancestor. It just might help you solve a riddle . . . a lot quicker than I did.
As you're dancing with the ancestors, traipsing down the winding path, always remember that a given name isn't always the name an ancestor goes by, a nickname might be your clue to, well, unpuzzling the past.