Play the Name Game

To increase your chances of finding your research subject in newspapers, databases, and other sources, play the name game. Use the sections below to capture as many options as you can.


What variations have you seen? For example, Smith / Smyth / Smythe or Trunnell / Trunell / Trunelle / True-Nell.


By what nicknames was your subject known? Was Lucas also Luke? If your subject was a performer, did they have a stage name?

Name Order

It could help to try switching the order of the subject's names when searching. For example, Pearl Vanarsdale Young was sometimes listed as Pearl Ethel, and sometimes as Ethel Pearl.


Did your subject use any specific titles? In addition to "Mr. Smyth," you might want to look for "Capt. Smyth," for example. Consider any other common titles their community might bestow on them, too. For example, older adults might be referred to as "Aunt" Sarah or "Uncle" Henry in the local paper.

Married Names

Some local papers in the early 20th century would refer to a woman under her husband's name. So, Anna Duval was Mrs. E. T. Duval. After a divorce or after the husband's death, a woman might be called by her own first name. So, Mrs. E. T. Duval became Mrs. Anna Duval. It may help to search for both formats.

Initials and Abbreviations

Many older documents, reference books and newspaper accounts used abbreviations. So, Charles L. Young might be C. L. Young, Chas. L. Young, or Chas. Young. Searching for different combinations may expand your results.

Community and Organization Names

Brainstorm the names of any communities, groups, companies, or organizations of which your subject was a part. Were they members of a local lodge? Note the name, lodge number, and any relevant abbreviations for the group. Think about any military units, civic or religious groups, local political parties, unions, social organizations, or schools.