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January 26, 2010

What's In a Name?

Years ago, I hit the proverbial brick wall when searching my great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Vollick) Peer's ancestor trail. We had no family lore to follow as clues, and no one had any knowledge of the family.

Through census records as well as birth and marriage certificates I was able to trace the line back to a Loyalist named Isaac Vollick. Isaac fought with Butler's Rangers during the American Revolution. After the Revolution ended, he and his family settled in the Niagara area of Upper Canada (now Ontario Canada). But there the trial ended. This was back in the days when the Internet was in its infancy, and thus no online searching was available.

Visits to Archives, Libraries and ordering in dozens of microfilms yielded one small clue - that Isaac had come from Albany New York. But try as I might, I could find *no* evidence of any family with the surname Vollick in New York before the 1780s which was the time period I was interested in.

In my research in Ontario records I had found the surname VOLLICK recorded in a variety of ways - including Follick, Voleck, Valk, Valc, Valic, and Volleck

I therefore knew to be creative in my hunting in New York records but I hit a dead end. Seeking help, I began writing queries and mailing them to various Ontario Genealogy Newsletters. And then one day, success! Another researcher wrote to me informing me that the Vollick surname was originally Van Valkenburg. She gave me sources and directed me to a 2-volume set of books published on the family.

That contact was my jumping off point and from there I was able to trace Isaac Vollick's family line back to the 1600s. I did not rely blindly on the published books on the family, but used them as clues, double checking every "fact" presented before accepting it.

And so my long search for my Vollick ancestry led me down a very different path than what I had anticipated - to the Dutch Van Valkenburg family. I did gather many facts and stories about Isaac the Loyalist and have written about that briefly on From Van Valkenburg to Vollick & Follick: Isaac Van Valkenburg, aka Vollick & Follick, the Loyalist

I also learned that besides being very creative with spelling of a surname, genealogy researchers also must keep an open mind to the possibility that names change over time. They can change slightly or drastically! We must be aware of the possibility of such a change, whether it was a matter of a non-English name being converted to English (such as my French Le Roi/Roy family changing to Larroway once they settled in New York) or for other reasons. Don't assume that the surname you are tracing was always what you think it was!


FranE said...

That was great! Queries are not a thing of the past. We tend to forget to use them relying upon ourselves.Who would have thought to look for that name variation.

Sanjay Maharaj said...

Names indeed do change dramatically, I have the same experienc i n my family where my grandfahters name on his landing papers are different then what people knew him by later in his life and the name he eventually went by. All records point ot his adopted name

Genealogy Data said...

I am working on my family history and for that i keep on searching the content on the topic. I think this article is really helpful for all into genealogy research. I agree surnames many times changes with time or with change in place.