Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Recycling Names

If you're seasoned at this genealogy game, or if you've watched the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you probably know that various cultures have traditional naming patterns. In that movie all the children are Anita, Diane, and Niko.

The cultural patters are often the first son is named after the father's father and the first daughter after the mother's mother, or perhaps that first daughter is named after the father's mother; depends on the culture, depends on the parents, depends on that name sometimes.

It was news to me though that if a child died sometimes the name would be re-used for another child. No really, it happened a lot; especially among my Irish branches of my family tree. Personally I find it a little creepy but it happened.

Take for example my great-great grandfather, Michael Fay, and his siblings. Michael was the eldest child of Lawrence and Bridget Fay children. Michael had a brother named Lawrence as well. As not to confuse him with his father we will call the brother Lawrence Jr. although I am not sure he ever used Jr.

The first time a Lawrence Fay Jr. appears on the U.S. census is in 1860 at the age of 2 as the youngest child of Lawrence and Bridget Fay four children at the time. In the 1870 census Lawrence appears again but this time he's only a few months old. Hmm.

Did the census taker just record the information wrong?
No, I don't think so.
I do believe that the first Lawrence Fay, Jr. died as a child. 

These are the 8 children of Lawrence and Bridget Fay that I know of:
  1. Michael Fay born 1850
  2. James Fay born about 1855
  3. John Fay born about 1856
  4. Lawrence Fay born about 1858
  5. Martha Fay born about 1860
  6. Joseph Fay born about 1862
  7. Ann Fay born about 1868
  8. Lawrence Fay born about 1869
Those dates of birth were gleaned from various census records (1860, 1870, and 1880); thus, the "about" because the census does not record a date of birth just an age.  

I suspect the first Lawrence Fay Jr. died after the birth of his brother Joseph otherwise I think they would have re-used the name Lawrence then.

No Lawrence Jr. appears with his family in the 1880 census, though. His absence from the 1880 census lead me to believe that the second Lawrence Jr. had perhaps also died young .


In the 1920 census I found a Lawrence Fay born in about 1869 in NY, married to a woman named Dora living in Jackson, Missouri.

Is this Lawrence Fay, Jr. #8?
Could be.
So I contacted a person who linked to the same census record and remarkably, she was able to send me a photo of the man.

This here is Lawrence Fay, Jr., likely my great-great grandfather's youngest brother, standing on the far left with the handsome mustache.

Taken in Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania around 1913.

My quest now is to obtain this man's death certificate or obituary to see if it names his parents. And I hope that perhaps I can locate some information about the death of the first Lawrence, Jr.


  1. My family LOVES reusing names - seeing as I'm something like the 8th Mary Gorry that I know of in my tree ha ha! And my great-grandmother, Mary Ellen Tormey, was the second child in her family with that name. Her older sister Mary Ellen was born in 1893 and died in March of 1896. My great-grandmother was born in November of 1896 and given the name of her recently deceased sister. A little creepy I agree, and a little confusing too, when doing research. But a good thing about repeating names is that if someone has the same last name as your family and you aren't sure if they're related or not, a familiar first name can be a clue that they are. Also, if you know your family has a naming pattern they use, an oldest son's name can give you a clue to his father or grandfather's name. Can't wait to hear what you find out about this possible Lawrence Jr.! He has a very dashing mustache, indeed!

    1. I can see how recycling names can be good in cluing one into a family connection. It helps if the name is my Leander Losees; find one of those, he's probably related.

      It's one thing to recycle names from generation to generation; its really bestowing an honor. I think it must be awful unnerving though to hear, "Oh yeah, you had an older sister/brother with the same name - he/she died." Ugh. I wonder what it was like for Lawrence Jr the second to learn that. I wonder if he ever did?

      I share what else I learn about Larry Jr. the 2nd. :) Thanks for faithfully following my blog!

    2. The Irish tend to be morbid in general, or at least more comfortable with death (have you ever been to an Irish wake?) and I say that as someone who is half Irish. My grandfather used to read the obituaries every day...there's a reason obits are called "the Irish comics." I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that the Irish are the ones who had a tendency to recycle names between siblings!