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Location: Arizona, United States

My name is Colleen and I find dead people.

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07 January, 2006

The William and Nellie Effect

Naming patterns can be a godsend to genealogists; they can also cause a genealogical state of confusion that I call the William and Nellie effect.

My great-grandfather John J. Doyle, born in 1864, had a brother named William Doyle, born in 1877. This William married a Nellie, born abt. 1879.

My great-grandfather also had a son named William, born in 1888. This William also married a Nellie, born abt. 1895. This William was known by his middle name, Leo, but often was listed on Census records and other documents as William. (This is also the William Doyle that fathered John J. Doyle, the WWII staff sergeant that got me started in genealogy).

There was only an 11 year age difference between John Doyle's brother William and John Doyle's son William. As a result, there had been several times that I had found Census records or other documents for a William Doyle or a William and Nellie Doyle and hadn't paid enough attention to the ages. Thus I'd end up filing the record under the wrong William and Nellie. Or checking off the census checklist under the older William when it was the younger one, or vice versa.

Last week I was searching the Godfrey Library databases. Specifically I was searching the NewsBank Obituary Database for any Doyle obits that I could find. I found one for a few of William and Nellie SR.'s children. Low and behold, these obituaries listed the parents as the late William and Ellen (Regan) Doyle. HOT DOG! I was then able to change the name of this Nellie to Ellen, with a notation of her "common" name, and add her maiden name. This has made tracking of the William and Nellies so much easier!

We aren't always so lucky as to find an easy way to differentiate ancestors of the same name. The William and Nellie Effect is another great example of how important it is to scrutinize all the information we get on our ancestors.


Anonymous Marlene Cronk White said...

Hi Colleen
A friend told me about your blog. I have printed it out to study what you have done.
However, starting with page 9 the ends of the lines are cut off. I don't know anything about how you do this blog so don't know what caused it.
I have found what you wrote very interesting.
Keep up the good work.
My job right now is to put into my computer the info that I have copied and collected over the last 40+ years. Since we live in FL for 6 months and are very active done here it is hard to find the time to do my "thing".
I don't know if you will see the email addres that I am writing from but it is not the address I use for genealogy. That address is
Keep up the good work.
Marlene Cronk White

7:43 AM  

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