Q. My ancestors were really big on family names, with parents naming children after their siblings. How do I keep everyone straight?
A. Keeping track of people with the same name is a challenge for every genealogist. In some records, it might be impossible to know which Harry Morgan is your ancestor and which is cousin Harry Morgan, especially if they were born about the same time and lived in the same community or even on the same street. It helps to keep a separate chronology of each person’s life, including any information that distinguishes one from another, such as land descriptions and tax details. While both Harrys might have wives named Mary, they aren’t likely to have the same children or pay tax on the same land.
When multiple people within a family had the same name, they often were identified with nicknames. (Even the folks who knew the people in life had problems keeping them straight.) People typically went by their legal names in official documents, but a nickname or other designator might be included, such as the younger or the elder, junior or senior. Remember that such designations do not necessarily mean father and son (or mother and daughter)—it just means there were two people with the same name in the same community.
To keep ancestors straight in your own records (and in your head), use one of the numbering systems that assigns an ID number to every person in the genealogy, such as the Modified Register system, sometimes called the Record System or NGSQ System (for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly journal). You can find details of the various numbering schemes and learn how they work at www.saintclair.org. Genealogical software programs can automatically number people for you, and you usually can choose the system you want to use.
From the May 2010 Family Tree Magazine