Category Archives: Family News

What’s in a Name?

I’ve always found names fascinating.  The stories I would write when I was little always involved families with hordes of children because coming up with names for all of them was my favorite part of the writing process. I often hear people say they don’t want genealogy to be just “a list of names and dates.” While it’s true I love to have all the facts to flesh out the stories of who these relatives are, sometimes even just getting that “list of names” is rewarding.

For example, who wouldn’t be thrilled to find they shared a common ancestry with someone named Grimpie Brittimart Gobble? Or another favorite name, Grizzel Spratt? And sometimes I would come across my own real-life family with hordes of children, like the offspring of Samuel Willson (my 7th-great-grandfather):  John, Mary, Olive, Benjamin, Molley, Samuel, Ester, Eunice, Louis, Persis, Jenne, Nahum, and Elizabeth.

And then there are the “family names” that recur throughout our family history. My nephew, Benjamin Leander Montgomery, for example, has two family names.  His first and middle names were the middle names of his great-grandfathers.  “Benjamin” for Joseph Benjamin Hoffmann, and “Leander” for Herman Leander Likness.

Other names were common in the family generations ago, but not any longer. A prime example is “Tacy,” from the Latin for “silence.”  A quick search indicates there are 46 Tacies in our family tree, but none born since 1893.

Then, of course, there are the name mysteries. Grandpa Montgomery comes to mind first. At different times in his life he went by Lawrence Theodore or by Lawrence Conklin.  The story I remember hearing was that he was never sure which was his real middle name, so he used both interchangeably.  Theodore was the middle name of one of Grandpa’s uncles (Joseph Theodore Montgomery) and was passed on to my father when he was born, and Conklin was the maiden name of Grandpa’s maternal grandmother, Mary Ann.

So, what isn’t in a name?

Marriage License of Marcus Walker and Mary Conklin

Marriage License of Marcus Walker and Mary Conklin


Cousin Lizzie Took an Axe

In Fall River, Massachusetts, 115 years ago today, Andrew J. Borden and his second wife, Abby, were found murdered in their own home in broad daylight.  Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie, discovered the bodies.  Lizzie, of course, would eventually be tried and acquitted for the murders, though she was alone in the house for much of the two hours during which her stepmother’s dead body lay in the upstairs guest room.

Like most children, I felt I had known the “Lizzie Borden took an axe” rhyme forever, but I was further fascinated by a disturbing movie starring Elizabeth Montgomery as Lizzie Borden that played on TV in 1984.  I think it was the idea of nice Samantha from Bewitched traipsing around murdering people while undressed that terrified me the most.  In later years, Mom and I began reading books about the Lizzie Borden case, and even stayed all night at 92 Second Street in Fall River–now a bed and breakfast–which turned out to be much creepier than I expected, though Mom thought the decor was too pretty to be frightening!

I’m not sure, now, when I first discovered the genealogical connection between my Wilson/Davis ancestors and the Borden family.  Thankfully, enough time had passed since first seeing that creepy TV movie that I was more fascinated than frightened at learning I was actually a (distant) cousin of Lizzie’s.  It certainly provides an added element of intrigue when reading books about the case.  To be precise, Lizzie and I are sixth cousins five times removed.  Our shared ancestor was William Gifford, my tenth-great-grandfather, and Lizzie’s fifth-great-grandfather.  Let us hope that those common ancestors are all that Lizzie and I share! 

At First Sight

Every once in a while I find myself playing the genealogical “What If?” game.  What precise combination of events had to take place throughout the years to allow me to be me?  Perhaps this sense of narrowly-avoided oblivion makes those stories of ancestors’ first meetings so intriguing.

Grandma Montgomery (Blanche Wilson Montgomery) told me the first time she ever met Grandpa (L. T. Montgomery), he was part of a threshing crew working her family’s fields.  She was thirteen, and so shy she hid behind the door when she first saw him.  Eight years passed, during which Grandpa married, had two daughters, and was widowed.  Then in 1930, Grandma’s mother ran into Grandpa again in town.  She remembered him from the threshing crew years earlier and, thinking he would make a good husband for her oldest daughter, invited him out to the farm.  Shortly after this second meeting, Grandma and Grandpa married.

My maternal grandparents’ story began at a family get-together.  Grandma (Velma Swing Hoffmann) was in her teens and was surprised to see a young man at the family gathering whom she’d never seen before.  Struck by his good looks, she asked her mother who he was, only to find out he was a cousin!  She knew most of the Hoffmann cousins, of course–their father, Paul Hoffmann, had been a half-brother to her grandmother, Catherine Hoffmann Swing.  But Joe had been away in Chicago, and Grandma hadn’t realized there was a Hoffmann son older than Lee, born in 1912 (Grandpa was born in 1907, ten years before Grandma).  Grandma and Grandpa Hoffmann’s courtship was longer than Grandma and Grandpa Montgomery’s–they would not marry until 1938, some 5 years or so after that first meeting.

These stories (and all the other “first meetings” of ancestors) lead to inevitable questions.  Who would I be if Sophie Wilson hadn’t chosen that day to go into town?  Or what if Grandpa Hoffmann had stayed in Chicago rather than returning to Fairbury and attending that family get-together?  Or what if Grandma Montgomery had hidden behind that door again in 1930?

Family History, and Grandma

Yet another genealogical project (of course).  I’m working on updating the homepage of my genealogical network (  I’ve added a “What’s New” page to make it easier to find exactly what has been updated and when.  I’m working on creating pages for at least the more recent family branches (the more distant branches will still be reached through the newer Online Family Database site)–my inspiration to get cracking on this was Cherie’s Family Book which we looked at during our visit to Fairbury this summer.  At the moment I’m working my way through the descendants of Paul and Emma Slagel Hoffmann–rather a daunting task!  Check out the “What’s New” section to see if your family page has been updated recently.

I also wanted to add some information to the website in memory of Grandma Hoffmann.  To this effect I’ve uploaded the chapters of a Tribute book I put together for her in December 2000.  This can be found at  Maybe it will express a little of what we have lost.