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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Using Naming Patterns as a Discovery Tool

Before my blogging experience, my writing was relegated to professional materials for my students and colleagues.  With this blogging endeavor, I am enjoying a different type of writing which is much less formal and more conversational, and I am developing a greater understanding of what a writer experiences as he attempts to put his thoughts into words.  Likewise, I am discovering that a writer must follow those compulsions that urge him to write; he must have a compelling topic (at least, one that is compelling to him) before he can sit down at the computer and write.  Furthermore, putting the words into a narrative helps one sort things out. 
Therefore, before I continue with the West Patriarchs, I would, again, like to digress to discuss some information that has been “nagging” me to share:  the repeated use of names in one’s descendants.  Particularly, I am interested in discovering the West sons that were given the name Alexander, a name which does not frequently appear in the Western North Carolina culture but is frequently found among those who settled in the Eastern shore area of Accomack, Virginia. I’m confident that the frequency with which these names are found in the Virginia Colony is the reason that so many of today’s beginning genealogists connect my West family with those Virginia settlers.
Many of our ancestors prior to the latter half of the 20th century utilized various traditions in the naming of their children.  For example, in an American naming pattern, which is often called the “Old Jones” naming pattern, the first son was named after the father’s father and the first daughter after the father’s mother; the second son was named after the mother’s father and the second daughter after the father’s mother; the third son was named after the father and the third daughter after the mother; the fourth son was named after the father’s oldest brother and the fourth daughter after the mother’s oldest sister;  and the fifth son was named after the father’s second oldest brother or the mother’s oldest brother and the fifth daughter after the mother’s second oldest sister or the father’s oldest sister.  Of course, many variations did occur.  Surprisingly, an oddity in one pattern:  the second wife’s oldest daughter in the marriage was often named after the husband’s first wife using the deceased wife’s full name.  Likewise, if one parent died and the other remarried, the first child born into that union was often named after the deceased spouse.  Furthermore, if one child died, a subsequent child was often named after the deceased sibling. [i]
In Colonial days, according to the law, the oldest son inherited his father’s entire estate.  Therefore, he was given his father’s name to avoid any confusion if the father died intestate.  Later a father might give all of his children the same middle name so that each child could inherit a portion of his estate.[ii]   In my research, I have certainly been perplexed by the multitude of males in a family with the same name.   So now, we know the reason why!
In addition to these patterns, other cultures such as the Native American, African American, Hawaiian, Mexican/Hispanic, and Puritan among many others have their own naming traditions.[iii]
Now let’s specifically address the name Alexander as it occurred in the lineage of Alexander West I.  Of course, this list is a “work-in-progress” as I continue to discover more descendants with that name in my research.  The following table includes all of the Alexanders that I have found this far, along with some basic information which will help to identify them.

Birth Year
Alexander West I
bet 1720-1730-
aft 1790
Alexander West II
Alexander West I/unknown spouse
Hannah Langley
Alexander West *
Solomon West, Sr./Isabella Boyd
Alexander West III
Alexander West II/Hannah Langley
Patience Allen
Alexander Balus West
John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson
Nancy Land
Alexander “Alic” Lee Barnett
abt 1867-1951
William Hamilton Barnett/Mary Ann West***

A.Judson West**
Thomas Harvey West/America Ann McNeil
Alexander T. West
William Thomas West, Jr./Rachel Eller

Ira Alexander West
James Harvey West/Mary M. Joplin
Fannie Ann Kilby
Willard A. West**
1899-bef 1903
Thomas Harvey West/America Ann McNeil
Published 8-16-11; additions: 9-6-11

*According to DNA testing, the Alexander West, son of Solomon West, Sr./Isabella Boyd, was apparently not part of this lineage.  However, I have included him because, for some reason, my intuition tells me that a connection exists.  Otherwise, why would the son of Solomon and Isabella West have been named “Alexander” with no other Alexanders in the family.  Before the DNA results, I was erroneously confident that Solomon West and Alexander West I were brothers.  Hence, the necessity of having a strong “paper trail” is most evident.  If you missed the blog about the DNA testing, please refer to “The DNA” posted on July 11, 2011.

**No documentation has provided the name for the initial “A” in the names of these two children of Thomas Harvey West and America Ann McNeil.  Again, my intuition indicates that the “A” could have been for “Alexander.”  According to naming traditions, a deceased child’s name was frequently given to a sibling born later. By using the name, Alexander, the name would have been perpetuated had one of them lived.
***Mary Ann West Barnett (1837-1917) was the daughter of John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson.
In an analysis of these names in the table, conclusions may be made relative to the ancestors for whom they were mostly likely named.
·         Alexander West II (1751-1834) was a first son in his family who was named for his father, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander West (1776-1860) was a second son in his family and was possibly named for his father’s brother, if, indeed, this connection exists with my West lineage.
·         Alexander West III (1783-1864) was a first son in his family who was named for his father, Alexander West II, and his grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander Balus West (1828-1864) was a second son in his family who was named for his father, John Balus West, his grandfather, John West, and his great grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander “Alic” Lee Barnett (abt 1867-1951) was a first son in his family who was named for his maternal uncle, Alexander Balus West, who was killed in 1864 in the Civil War three years prior to his birth, and for his maternal 2nd great grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         A. Judson West was a first son in his family whose first name may have been Alexander.  If so, he was named for his grandfather, Alexander Balus West, and his 3rd great grandfather, Alexander West I.
·         Alexander T. West (1892-1917) was a first son in his family who was named for his 3rd great grandfather Alexander West I.
·         Willard A. West (1899-bef 1903) was a fifth son in his family whose middle name may have been Alexander.  If so, he was named for his deceased brother, A. Judson West, his grandfather, Alexander Balus West, and his 3rd great grandfather, Alexander West I.

Another puzzling question in the naming of these West sons is, “Where did the name, John, originate in the schema?”   My suspicion is that a “John” existed in Alexander West I’s family as a father, grandfather, or brother.  In fact, in the documentation of property in the 1750’s in Surry and Wilkes Counties, a John West, Sr. and a John West, Jr. were noted in connection to Alexander West I.  But, again, no documentation has been found to prove any relationships.

Again, I have been puzzled by the name, Balus, which is spelled in various ways (Balius, Baylus, Baylis, Bayliss, etc.).  I use the spelling, Balus, which is found in the most recent property records of those belonging to Alexander Balus West.  John Balus West could not read or write and only made his “X” on legal documents.  Evidently, those who wrote his name on these documents used various forms of spelling, and he, not being able to read or write, was unable to make a correction in the spelling of his name.  I have searched records looking for a relative who may have been named Balus but have found none.  I did find a very plausible explanation in a posting on by the daughter of Irene Hendrix Basey, who is the 2nd great granddaughter of John Balus West/Mary Ann “Polly” Swanson.  In Irene’s documents, she indicated that in South Carolina, where John Balus West was born, many people named their sons in honor of a prominent South Carolinian, John Baylis Earl.[iv]  Of course, the name, John, came from John Balus’ father, John West, and probably with some deference, also, to John Baylis Earl.  I’m sure that just seemed to be a good fit!

As one looks at these analyses, he will recognize that many assumptions and deductions are made relying on the evidence at hand.  Hopefully, with time and more research, these assumptions and deductions may be proved or disproved with documentation.

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