Thursday, May 28, 2015

Oh, Those Middle Names!

Do your ancestors have middle names?  Are those middle names clues to be used in your research? Sure they are, but watch out for false clues!

As an example of a false clue, look at the case of my great-great grandfather Chester C. Bebout, born in 1854. He consistently used the middle initial "C."  At some point, someone decided his middle name was Coleman and if you go to those public member trees on, you will see many  listings for Chester Coleman Bebout. Keep in mind, though, there is not one record spelling out his full middle name in Livingston or Crittenden County, Kentucky.  No Chester Coleman Bebout - only Chester C. Bebout. So, did he have a middle name or just a middle initial?  It's hard to be sure.

Wait a minute ... There was an attorney and businessman named Chester C. Cole  who lived in Crittenden County before moving to Iowa in 1857.[1]  Could Chester C. Bebout have been named for this prominent citizen?  Maybe .. or maybe not, but the Bebout family did have business dealings with Chester C. Cole. Still not enough proof. This ancestor will have to continue as Chester C. Bebout in my records until other information is found. Hearsay isn't good enough; there must be a record showing his entire middle name.

Then there is my great-grandfather, David Vaughn.  This situation is similar to that of Chester C. Bebout ... well, sort of. Many researchers have his full name as David Marshall Vaughn. The only problem is no record gives his middle name as Marshall.  The 1850 Livingston County census shows a Gustavus Vaughn, age three, the right age in the right family to be my David Vaughn. The 1860 Livingston County census lists him as David A. Vaughn.   He is listed as David Vaughn on his own death certificate and as David or Dave Vaughn  on the death certificates of several of his children. His name was given as David Vaughn when he married Sarah E. Myers in 1872 and Margaret C. Riley in 1875. It was still David Vaughn in a court case in 1876, in court minutes of the 1890s and finally, in his will dated 1917.

So, was his name David Gustavus, David A. or just David Vaughn.  Could it have been David Gustavus A. Vaughn, after a prominent doctor, Gustavus A. Brown, who lived and died in Smithland? There is no proof and without proof, I will have to be satisfied with calling him just David Vaughn.

Middle names can provide clues to ties with family and friends, but they can also cause us to follow false leads, especially when only an initial is used.


[1] "Chester C. Cole," DrakeApedia, <>, accessed 25 May 2015.

Published 28 May 2015, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog,

1 comment:

Janet said...

My grandfather, Pitman Sullivan's (born Sturgis, Union Co.) first middle name initial was "Z," and he sometimes went by "P.Z." However, I learned from my mom and grandmother that the Z didn't actually stand for anything. I've heard P.Z.'s mother, Ollie O. Crowell Sullivan (born Crittenden Co.), referred to as Ollie Oatman Crowell, but I've never found primary source documentation to verify this.

My third cousin, Mary Lois Sullivan Bynum, said that Ollie liked to make up little rhymes about the kids, e.g., "Pitman Z. fell off the Christmas tree and skinned his knee"!

Also, because Pitman is a bit unusual and not a family name, I've wondered if his parents chose it because his father (William Sullivan) and grandfather (David Sullivan) worked in the western Kentucky coal mines.