Why Did My Ancestor Change the Family Name?

Tracing Your Roots: Learn how to sleuth the mystery behind a suspected surname switch.

Generic image
Generic image Thinkstock

From this record, we see that James was listed as being 25 years old and working as a fireman at a cotton mill. It also gives his racial category as “B,” which means that, at least to the person recording the census record, his racial identity was black. You now have confirmed that he changed his name before 1920, because he was married to Lily by this year (which matches your family’s story).

Since he was 25 years old in 1920, he was the right age to be eligible for the draft in World War I. Digital images of many of the World War I draft-registration cards are available on genealogy sites, including the free site FamilySearch and the subscription site Ancestry.com. These records can include some useful information, such as exact birth dates, place of birth and marital status.

Searching this collection, we found another record of James Stradwick. His draft-registration card gives his full name as James Henry Rosemond Stradwicks (sic). According to the draft card, he was born on May 23, 1896, in Asheville, N.C. He was living in Easley in 1917 with his wife and two children. Here you find some new information about James, showing that he was born in North Carolina instead of South Carolina.

Follow the Paper Trail Back in Time

Now that you have this information, you can keep going back further by searching for a record of him in the 1910 census. In our search, we did find one possible record that shows a 14-year-old boy named James Struddicks living with his grandmother Hager McLure and his 13-year-old sister, Nancy Struddicks, in Easley. Could this be a record of James?

His birthplace was listed as South Carolina, but it’s important to remember that the information you find on census records can be inaccurate. Also, although his name was spelled “Studdicks” on the census record, this may not be the correct spelling of his surname, since many census takers just wrote down surnames as they heard them. With this record, you find that James may have still been using the Stradwick (or at least a very similar name) at age 14.

Learn More by Doubling Back (or, in This Case, Forward)

Although records of James living in Pickens County may give you some information about his early life, searching for records of James in West Virginia may also help you determine the names of his parents. If he did change his last name, perhaps a record of his death will give his father’s real name.

Since James lived into 1980, he received a Social Security number. The Social Security system was created after the Great Depression as a way to provide for those who were unable to work, such as the disabled and elderly. Once a person has died, his or her death is reported to the Social Security Administration and the information is included in the Social Security Death Index, or SSDI. This index contains a record of a person’s full name, birth date, death date, state where the Social Security number was issued and the person’s last residence.

The SSDI is available on the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors site, the free genealogy website FamilySearch and the paid subscription sites Ancestry.com and GenealogyBank.com. A search of this index reveals that James Stradwick was born on May 23, 1893, and died in January of 1980 at Marion, W.Va. Interestingly, the date May 23 matches his birthday on his draft-registration card, but the year is different.