Why family history is so difficult (2)

This post continues analysis of the decline in popularity of traditional first names in England and Wales and in Andrew’s Kindred (my own family tree) (first part here).  I am breaking this down into a sequence of short posts, as it were bite-sized chunks.

I ended the previous post with a question.  The short answer is that Galbi is indeed right about the rate of decline of popular first names.  In a future post I will examine the reasons behind these changes.

The England and Wales data and some analysis in based on online content related to: Long-Term Trends in Personal Given Name Frequencies in the UK, Douglas A. Galbi, Senior Economist, Federal Communications Commission, July 20, 2002.

Galbi’s sequence is longer, 1819-1984, and his sample much larger and more diverse, in that Andrew’s Kindred (AK) are mainly families of coal miners, with a few boatmen and various labourers,rather than the broader population with wealthier elites, shopkeepers, workers in manufacturing and so on. As such it is likely that the AK curve will be fluctuate more. Overall, though the two samples show similar trends.

top name m line

top name f line

Galbi also explains that the trend is logarithmic, in other words when plotted against a logarithmic scale the trend line will be flat. The charts reproduced online reflect that type of curve. He describes this as a power law.

He says the Black Death (1347-49) led to an increase in the popularity of the most common names. What he does not say about this is that as the population was reduced by about one third fewer names were needed to cover all children in a family. This may have been compounded by the practice of recycling names of deceased infants and children. My own research does not go back far enough for any comparison.

The following line graphs show that decline in the frequency of the top three names was steeper. Prior to the eighteen sixties the top three names in males among Andrew’s Kindred was 50% or more, declining by 1919 to 26%, roughly half. The corresponding name for females was from 44% to 18%.

This shows why life becomes much more difficult for the family historian when researching ancestry beyond the mid-nineteenth century, especially when censuses and records of birth, marriage and death are no longer available.

More to come


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