Godparents are the fairy godmothers of genealogy

It is always a joy to find a direct ancestor’s birth record. The genealogy value for those records doubles in value when godparents are taken seriously.

Back in the day, godparents were most likely relatives for the children being baptized. I’ve lost track of all the times that godparents on baptism records have solved a family mystery or surprisingly expanded my family tree.

My great-grandfather wrote a letter to his children about his life and siblings. He either didn’t know his mother’s maiden name or thought it wasn’t that important. I got more curious about these people and had a researcher look up their birth records in archives.

I noticed a certain surname being very common for godparents. Then a few years later, I discovered the maiden name of my great-grandfather on German immigration records. The name was terribly written. I could see the immigration official struggled with writing the Russian name.

The scribbled named in English was very close to how the common surname for the godparents would be written in English. I quickly was able to confirm the suspected surname was the maiden name of my great-great-grandmother  Irina Petrovna by having a researcher look up records in archives.

Discovering the maiden names of women in Russian and Ukrainian church records is pretty lucky because typically women are identified by their first name and patronymic name (name based on their father’s first name) or their last name is their married surname.

Thankfully, the Russian records of my German evangelical Lutheran relatives in eastern Poland, formerly Russia, have the maiden names for women. Records from that area have sledge hammers for breaking down some brickwalls.

My maternal grandmother lost a page of a family tree and I could only see the name Otto Bleschke without his children’s information. I wondered whether this guy really existed because Bialystok archives didn’t find his birth or marriage record. Then I found him as the godfather of my great-grandmother.

Another relative claimed Otto, a great-great-grand uncle, had a sister named Agnes. Only relatives from one line in the family heard of this woman. So I looked at the translations for the family birth records. There I found Agnes as godmother of my great-grandmother’s oldest sister and later I found her birth record to officially confirm her as my great-great-grand aunt.

Godparents on baptism records came to the rescue another memorable time. My paternal grandmother had a horrible habit of telling stories hard to believe so I started to even question the names she gave my father on taped interviews.

I tried to use Google to connect a particular surname to my mystery paternal great-grandmother’s family. Nothing that came up was useful to confirm my grandmother’s information.

Then I finally got my grandmother’s brothers’ birth records. The godfather of my Grand Uncle Alex had the surname my grandmother mentioned as the family their maternal aunt married into. The godfather was the creator of the official symbol of Lugansk, Ukraine. I used this information to my advantage to knock down the price for the birth record of Alex’s oldest brother.

Other times I have noticed common surnames as godparents have appeared as direct ancestors a few generations before the birth of those children. I have made lists of godparents’ surnames and discovered the most common surnames were those I added as direct ancestors.

So if you are stuck with your research,  make the same list of godparents’ surnames. Are some of the most common surnames already on your family tree? Then, get to work and see if you can add the other surnames.

 

2 thoughts on “Godparents are the fairy godmothers of genealogy

  1. My greatest breakthrough came about that way! Someone noticed my name and it turned out her father’s godmother was my grandma. Our grandmothers were best friends 100 years ago. They were godmothers for each other’s children. She even had a photo of her grandma visiting my uncle 30 years later,

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