Ancestor Hate Mail

Ancestor Hate Mail

by Kerry Scott on 1 August 2014

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Dear Hattie,

Okay. I get it. You fell in love with a guy named Smith, and you married him. Ideally, you would marry a guy named Poopypfeiffer or something, but I can see you weren’t thinking of future genealogists. What I don’t get, though, is why you had to name your son John. John Smith? Really? REALLY??


Dear Lars,

I know you’re supposed to be resting in peace, but could you please come and haunt that one weenie on Ancestry? Because the dude has you on the wrong tree, and no amount of actual documentation seems to convince him of this. I need you to zombie-thump him until he gets a clue. Thanks in advance.


Dear Norwegians,

You know what’s a good idea? Surnames. You should get some. Because this patronym thing sucks, and you can’t seem to agree on the farm name. And when you get a surname, KEEP IT. You’re not supposed to change it daily. You’re confusing it with underwear.


Dear Maria,

Listen. I mostly appreciate Germans. You have real surnames, and your language isn’t that hard. But this deal where you keep naming the next baby after the last dead baby until one lives? That’s creepy. Four Johanns is three too many. Also, it’s okay to not name your kids the exact same things your sisters did, in the exact same order. I mean, I’m from an era where people name their kids things like Apple and Rock, so I get it. But I feel like there’s a happy medium here.


Dear Olena,

WHO WAS THE FATHER OF YOUR BABY? I’m not judging, seriously. I just need to know. Can you write it on my mirror like that Bloody Mary thing I heard about in sixth grade? It can be just the consonants, like on Wheel of Fortune. I’ll take what I can get.


Dear Tom,

Basic good manners dictate that at least one of your many marriages/divorces take place your home state (which has an index). Have as many wives as you want, but at least have the courtesy to marry and/or divorce them in the right state.


Dear Mathais,

I’m sure that Hungarian lady is super nice, but if you marry her…I mean, holy cow. Hungarian is hard. Plus, believe it or not, the Hungarian empire doesn’t last, so some of the records will end up in Romania. (On the upside, the food is going to be pretty delicious. I appreciate the complete absence of fish cured in lye.)


Dear Everyone,

Please stop living in places that don’t have newspapers online. I’m spending a fortune in interlibrary loan fees, and I have to take Dramamine for the microfilm. It would nice if you labeled your pictures too, so I know who’s who. Also, which one of you hooked up with a Finn? Because all of a sudden, I have DNA cousins with a bunch of a’s in their names, and I’m not sure what you expect me to do with them. Finns also eat fish cured in lye, so this isn’t an improvement over the Norwegians. Maybe find a Belgian next time, okay? Those people have chocolate.

Photo by Jonny Hughes

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Ole & Lena August 1, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Dear Kerry,
Ve are sorrry dat Norvgen names have given you so much trouble, so ve vant to help you out. Ya, Ole’s fadder vas Lars and his fadder vas Ole and his fadder vas Lars and his fadder vas Ole. Ole’s mudder vas Inger and her mudder vas Ingrid and her mudder vas Inger and her mudder vas Ingrid. Lena’s mudder vas Inge, who came from Kristiania. Ve don’t know whø her fadder vas, måbe Jan, måbe Bjørn, måbe Geir, måbe Håkon, måbe Leif, måbe Nils. Inge yust didn’t know.

Ve hope diss helps you wit your family tree.
Your ancestors,
Ole & Lena

Oh – you know dat Little Ole’s fadder vas Sven, don’t you?


Kerry Scott August 1, 2014 at 4:20 pm

I checked your IP address and it said Valhalla. Seems legit. Sven’s not a Swede, though, right? Because a Swede scandal on the heels of a Finn scandal is just too much for me today.


Ole & Lena August 1, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Of course not. Sven vas Ole’s brudder.


Kerry Scott August 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Of course he was. What was I thinking?


Nancy Loe August 1, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I can always depend on you, Kerry, for a laugh or 10. I’ll dedicate the next lutefisk I don’t eat to your ancestors.


Janice Nickerson August 1, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Kerry, your letters are a hoot! Thanks for the giggle.


Julie August 1, 2014 at 5:08 pm

At least your ancestors waited for a baby to die before using the same name. I have an ancestor who had 3 daughter’s named Ruth and at least 2 of them lived to be old enough to marry, have babies and then grandbabies. I am starting to think they did this on purpose.

Also, if George Forman’s descendants ever do their family tree, they are gonna be really pissed.


Carolyn August 2, 2014 at 11:32 pm

Especially if the sons name their sons after their grandfather, LOL!


Tina Micheal Ruse August 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

THIS is perfect! Sums up my family perfectly1 Except try Spanish- Mexican Catholics, two names Maria and Joseph for first names then 4-5 more all used at some point in their lives.


Andrea Kelleher August 1, 2014 at 6:24 pm

You always seem to deliver a laugh when I truly need it. Thanks, this post is hysterical.


Melissa M. August 1, 2014 at 7:46 pm

I love this. Perhaps especially since I need to have a talk (back to 1862) with Sarah and get her to tell me who fathered her baby, too. Because I just discovered, via DNA testing, that it wasn’t her husband Joseph, and I’m still kind of reeling from that discovery. My historian-cousins are reeling with me, but the vast majority of our family, who have just found out we’re not really Boatrights, just don’t care.
The Boatright descendant of Sarah’s husband’s brother called me tonight, as he’s feeling guilty for what his DNA test revealed. I told him I’d much rather know the truth. But I’d like a time machine so I can find out the whole truth, not just this “negative”, with probably no possible way to ever find out who the actual father was.


Hank August 1, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Hey I have a Celia Boatwright born 1872. Married Thomas Marian McKinnon in Ark. or Ok. Indian territory any help?


Barbara Jean Mathews August 2, 2014 at 7:14 am

Watch out what you wish for. My Belgians have up to four names. There is the Latin one in their baptism records, the German one in the civil registration in the Eastern side of the country, the Walloon one, and the French one.

Are you sure your letter to your Norwegian ancestors wasn’t written to my Swedish ones? Because, well, that surname thing gets old really fast.


Barbara August 2, 2014 at 9:28 am

Very funny !!


Lauri August 2, 2014 at 9:45 am

Love it. I could have written most of those letters too.


Jo Henn August 2, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Hee! I love it! I’ve got ancestors who do the recycle the dead baby’s name thing. I’ve also got ancestors who use the same name (either for first or middle ..or theyalternate it) for 3-4 of their kids. Then there was the time that a Snyder married a Snyder, with both sides’ favorite boy names being John or Philip. Ack!


Jacquie Schattner August 2, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Hey, we Belgians are doubly lucky. We have chocolate and BEER!


Sherry Stocking Kline August 2, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Love this!!! ROFL!


Vera Marie Badertscher August 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

Great letters. I sincerely hope they work. But it isn’t just the Scandanavians that can drive you crazy. I have a line where 12 brothers and sisters would each have 12 offspring and name them all after their own siblings. And everybody married Elizabeth. And don’t get me started on the Puritan’s use of Old Testament names!


Paul Loader August 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm

Laugh a second! What a brilliant read to start my Sunday off with! Thanks.


Leslie Ann August 2, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Kerry, you slay me. :-)


Elizabeth Ballard August 2, 2014 at 8:32 pm

Dear Charles,
Did you really drop out of the sky into the middle of Cleveland in the 1880s when you were a teenager, with no siblings, parents, or ancestors at all? Was Troutman your REAL surname? Were you male, because nobody matches your Y-DNA…? Maybe just a note, a nightmare, or something to give me a clue?
Your Great-Granddaughter


Carolyn October 29, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Hey, Troutman would have to be his name. Who would pick the surname Troutman on purpose, unless you are a female marrying one. I can think of prettier names, but maybe for a guy, Troutman is what he did.


Heather A. August 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Dear Miss Olevia, I know it was rural AL about 1885 when you were born & that your daughter was born born way before your marriage but went by her step dad’s last name, but could you gimme a few hints about something, anything? No one recalls exactly when you died or where you are buried or even which husband you were married to when you died. No one seems to agree on your maiden name. The only census entry that seems to be you (as a child) has you living as a boarder – not even an aunt or uncle! And there doesn’t seem to be a birth certificate for your daughter. Or I don’t know the right place or surname to find it under. I’d love to know it all but if you gimme somewhere to start, I will do the legwork. Best way to reach me is email at…..


sue neikirk August 3, 2014 at 5:01 am

William, John, James, William, John, James……….Cant you think of any other names to name your kids? It seems that in the 19th century all boys were named William, John, James. Get some imagination.


sue neikirk August 3, 2014 at 5:07 am

For cripes sake! Stop being born in Kentucky or Tennessee. Dont you know that those two states are not really there! No records for ANYTHING. Those two states are like Brigadoon………covered in a fog and the people only wake up one time every 100 years and then go back to sleep…in the fog.
Oh and same with Canada. Please make it easy on us. Pretty please?


Sarah Cherry August 3, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Dear Michael,

I have so many things to ask you – First could you have please not married two women named Anna. Second – could you have not named your first daughter Anna. And then could you have not named two of your children from each wife (named Anna) Michael and John. And then could you have instructed your two sets of children named Michael and John to please not also marry women named Anna. The only good thing is that your daughter Anna did not marry someone named Michael or I might have screamed. And it also would have been helpful if you stuck to one immigration as opposed to having 3 children in Slovakia(Anna, Michael, and John), 3 in the US, and then going back and having 2 more in Slovakia(Michael and John again). Thank you, Your Great Great Granddaughter in Law (married to Michael but whose parents knew nothing of this)


Jenna Barrett August 3, 2014 at 7:47 pm

Thank you for this! I laughed so hard my ribs hurt! I may just have to steal this idea for one of my blog entries! I love your sense of humor – it is exactly what we need to keep alive when working on our family trees because you just never know what may come up…. 😊


Donna Peterson August 3, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Awesome! Couldn’t be truer.
Laughed till it hurt!


Lisa G August 4, 2014 at 6:57 am

Just what I needed after a night looking at Swedish birth records. Your exchange with Ole and Lena (!) cracked me up.

BTW, I found your post through the Tracing the Tribe Jewish genealogy Facebook page. We all have some similar problems… whether you’re looking for the right Nils Jonsson, María Hernández, Richard Hughes (Wales), or Samuel Levin, you need all the help (and luck) you can get.


John H August 4, 2014 at 7:07 am

“Dramamine for the microfilm” — whew! I thought I was the only one!


Kerry Scott August 4, 2014 at 10:38 am

Oh no. Me too. I’ve tried those Sea-Band things that press into your wrists, but they did nothing for me.


Marci B August 4, 2014 at 10:19 am

I feel your pain!
Dear Mary Ann O’Brien Brown
I am most impressed that you lived to be 104, but could you (and/or your husband William) have considered talking to a census enumerator – in England or the US – before 1900 when you were 98 and couldn’t remember details? Invite them in for coffee, answer a few simple questions, help me find the names of just a few of the 13 children mentioned in your all too brief obituary.

And your son, gg grandfather John William Brown, might have considered moving to some state other than Kansas – where all the Google reference are to “John Brown’s body lies a…”



Andrea Burke August 4, 2014 at 7:57 pm

DearJohn Holycross;
I have exhausted the records of Virginia in 1780…I can’t find any more records for you, let alone your family or wife or children. I am proud that you served in the Revolutionary War, for you gave us our freedom and all. But please stop by one night and just give me a little clue as to how you got your name in the Soldiers From Virginia Who Served In The Revolution and the rest of the family disappeared in that fog of Brigadoon, to borrow a lovely city that only shows up in the movie from 1954…only you were in Virginia! Oh, wait–I found a relative in Dinwiddie, but it seems that most of the family were too Din to get on any records from that county! And where did you come from? England? France? Almost everyone with your name only shows up in America! And John Joseph is your son, and John is your son and Joseph is your son and Thomas is his son and his son is John. Ok, I give up. It gets better after 1880…. please stop using the name John. Love, Ms.A. Holycross Burke…P.S. and please tell me you were a member of the Presbyterian Church. Everyone thinks I am Catholic.


Carolyn October 29, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi, If your RW Soldier might have been a restless one, after he timed out in one service, he might have joined another. Mine did! He joined the Continental Army and marched from PA to NY and turned around, stated he got restless after his time was up, and decided to join the Navy. He did, served his hitch barricading Savannah, time was up, and he decided he did not like being stuck on a boat with nothing to do, he got off, the boat left Savannah, and went on a cruise and got blown up by an English ship, that was a close one, LOL.

So, try a different unit. That might be how he got from one place to another.


Andrea Burke August 4, 2014 at 7:59 pm

The Census Enumerator isn’t a hit man. Please come out from under the kitchen table and talk to him. He just has a few questions and won’t shoot you.


Susan August 5, 2014 at 5:31 am

Try Poland in the 1800. Ggrandfather married three time – to of which were sisters – and fathered children over 53 years. Same issue of recycling names but add in the changes of spellings for surnames. And we have yiddish and Hebrew and Polish and Russian. On my other side, my cousin published a book on our family – she had people fill out forms and she used those but no source docs. I find it very helpful as a guide but some idiot (sorry for that term) has taken the entire very large family tree and added it to every genealogy site. I have to wade through corrupted data every time I do searches. So frustrating.


Ann Gillespie August 8, 2014 at 6:48 am

At least we know we can share our pain. My Dutch ancestors, like your Swedes, give me a headache with the patronyms, and the history of the family that spelled their city of origin incorrectly, which is just evil when you’re talking about a country with several city names that differ by one or two letters… And its bad enough that darn near every male in one branch of my mother’s family was named for a Virginia-born POTUS (sometimes one brother got the given name and one the surname), and named at least one female in each generation of every branch of the family Virginia. Then other branches got involved (William Henry Harrison Kahle, really?) and then my dad’s side got involved and a great aunt’s second husband had the surname of Harrison and they named a son Benjamin. I would be happy that his name wasn’t John, William, Thomas, or Charles, except for the fact that the only thing worse than having a relative with the first and middle name that are a former president’s name is having a relative whose entire name is a former president’s name…

Really Kerry (and everyone else), thanks for the laughs!


Jana Last August 8, 2014 at 9:49 am


I want you to know that your awesome blog post is listed in today’s Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!


Kerry Scott August 9, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Thanks Jana!


Elizabeth August 9, 2014 at 11:36 am

And another thing all of you Germans: I think that it is very kind of you to give your children nine names in honor of every person in the family and/or every king or prince of the realm. But why then do you have to call the child something else?

Thanks, Kerry, for the reminder that we are not alone with our searches!


B. Ross Ashley August 11, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Try being a Quebecois descendant. Surnames change over decades with us. I mean: My first ancestor on this continent was a guy named Antoine desRosiers, okay? Thing is he lived to the age of 95 and had a lot of kids … some of whom became desRosiers dit Lafreniere, to distinguish themselves from the other desRosiers. By the time my greatgreat-grandfather Zephirain moved to Maine, they were calling themselves just Lafreniere … and then my grandfather Dolfis Philippe Lafreniere started calling himself Philip Ashley, just to assimilate, you know?

Anyway there is a long discussion on the Quebecois Project of Wikitree on “dit” names, whether to treat them as additional surnames or “other” names, and the thing is, mes aieux: they were not consistent. Usage varies all over the map of la belle province. It is hair-tearing!


Pauleen August 25, 2014 at 10:15 pm

I loved this post…you’ve captured the sentiments most of us have thought about without articulating out loud. Great fun!


Connie September 17, 2014 at 9:18 am

As much as we are all frustrated by our ancestors repetitive names or lack there of, lol, we are certainly in their debt for never giving up dspite their many struggles. They have afforded us the opportunities to become who we are and “dig up” their informaton . Their fortitude and determination surely gives us the desire and drive to continue striving to discover them even when it seems they have let us no clues. All you Kammerzells, Arnbrechts, Weigands and Millers you know who you are!!!


Cindy October 1, 2014 at 10:48 am

Love this post, but German ancestors are not easy either. I have a great-great-grandfather whose name is Joseph Fritz. I have no other information. What are the possibilities of finding the right one? Then I have the person who has told me I have the wrong ancestors listed, however I got them right from the family Bible. Even though I’ve told him that several times, he still insists. Ancestry searches can be hard on your health with all the brick walls you run into, but it’s so energizing when you find something that you forget the headaches and head for the next wall.


Kerry Scott October 1, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Has this guy produced evidence? I’d ask him to make his case, and then take a look. I have some Bible records that look legit, but have actually turned out to be about 40% wrong.

As for Joseph Fritz, I’d start with: How do you know that was his name? What document(s) tell you so? What are the other documents that should exist for this guy, and what do they say? Are you able to find his siblings, cousins, neighbors, etc?


Jenifer Jones October 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm

My 5 great grandfather was William Jones born1794. Please contact me via Ouija board to tell me the name of your wife. And parents, & where you were born. There’s a lot of that name. Also John Lambright born…where in Prussia where you born? And your German name & parents? Did you forget to tell anyone (or marry?) the name of your first wife? Your 2nd wife in not my relation, even though you left the farm to her children. Perhaps that’s why your oldest son (by 1st wife) left. Ouija board ready.


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