The fallacy of patronymics

Yes, I've missed a couple Saturday posts, this was mostly due to serving as the model contest chairman for the National Model Railroad Association's Midwest Region at the recent Badgerland Express region convention.  The delay is also due to some last minute findings on the surname that I was going to post about next.  I'm still digesting the information that I've found for it and will post it at a later date, but in the meantime, I've made another observation that is important to remember when researching family history.

I continue to do indexing for FamilySearch when I've got an extra half hour to spare.  Yesterday, I was indexing records in the Vermont vital records project when I came across this record (most of which is blurred here for privacy and to maintain the fair use doctrine with this image):

This record from the 1930s reminds us that we shouldn't assume that a child always took his or her father's surname.  In this case, the child's middle name is the father's surname while the child's surname is the mother's surname.  In modern Western society, it is becoming more common that a child would be given the mother's surname, but before World War II, this was much less common due to tradition and patronymic naming systems.  One possible scenario that might explain the record pictured here is that the parents might not yet have been married.  In some countries, such as in the Philippines, there are laws that state children born to unwed parents must take the mother's surname.  In other jurisdictions, child naming laws can vary wildly, so it might be helpful for researchers to study some of the family law for the localities that are being researched.  There are a number of pages on the interwebs that discuss this further, but your definitive legal answer will be in the appropriate judicial publications for the jurisdiction you are researching (I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, so none of this should be taken as legal advice).

This record also reminds us to make note of middle names as they can sometimes provide clues to other surnames that existed in the family.  In this case, if we didn't know that the child's middle name was Hazen, we might never even think to search for family members under that surname.  So this leads to another quick tip on performing searches for ancestors: try putting the ancestor's middle name as the surname in the search fields.  You never know what you might find with this kind of search.

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