By-Names

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This is one of a series of articles on Genealogical Methods, prepared in association with The Tapestry. See Index for a list of related articles.
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Related

By names for early settlers of Old Augusta, recorded in the County Fee Books


Discussion

By-Names are used in colonial american records to distinguish between similarly named persons. By names typically involved the use of descriptors such as the following:

D=Descriptive (Big John, ....)
L=Locational (Borden's Land, Staunton, Of Cathey's River...)
O=Occupational (Pedlar, blacksmith...)
R=Relational (wife of, son of, Jr., ...)
T=Titular (Captain, Rev., Gentleman, ...)

Of the above categories, "Locational" by names seem to be the most commonly encountered, and "Descriptive" by names the least commonly encounterd. In some cases, dual-by names were used, probably when two similarly named men lived in the same area.

For the genealogist, by-names are an invaluable tool for determining which entries in the colonial records applied to particular persons. They also serve as "flags" to indicate when there may be two persons of the same name present in the area, who might be confused. That is, if a record identifies "John Walker, wheelwright", its likely that there is at least one other John Walker in the area who might be confused with "John the Wheelwright"---and vice-versa. In the case of John Walker there were at least three other JOhn Walkers in the records, appearing under the by-names of "of South Branch of the Potomac", "the Planter", and...

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