04 May 2014

#18-52ancestors: John R. Vanderpool

#18-52 Ancestors—John R. Vanderpool

Make Your Mark

Specific name spelling is one of the sacred cows of American genealogy. Beginning genealogists expound endlessly upon the “correct” spelling of names, especially surnames, found in their family trees. Some become irate when another researcher spells their ancestor’s name “wrong” (as if there were only one way to spell a name) on an online tree.

They often relate worn-out and long disproven legends about how name changes (variant spellings) in their family were done by officials at Ellis Island, [expletive deleted] census takers, or to disguise their Indian ethnicity, and one of my favorites —- how a name was changed by using a different spelling to hide someone fleeing from the law.

An image of a horse thief on the lam in Texas flashes through my mind. Stopped by a Texas Ranger, he is asked, “What’s your name, dude?”

“Sam Basse,” comes the reply.

“How do you spell that?” asks the Ranger (it is OK to roll your eyes here).


“Well, sorry, I stopped you. You’re free to go — the fellow we’re looking for spells his name Bass.”

Even my nearly perfect family had a couple of name-spelling legends that were cherished and passed along. One involved a story about a business adventure by two brothers. The deal went sour, so they decided to separate and agreed thereafter to spell their surname differently. There’s not a shred of truth in it, but it was fun to trace and disprove.

John R. Vanderpool
The other was my paternal grandfather’s middle name. In a family overloaded with Johns, that middle name takes on more than ordinary importance in identifying just which John you’re talking about. Grandmother (his widow) claimed his name was John Roberson Vanderpool. Who can doubt grandma?

Others in the older generation agreed, it was Roberson, not Robinson, claiming that he was named for some relative “way back there.”

Some thought he was named for his grandpa —- an Arkansas Union Civil War hero ancestor, Captain James R. Vanderpool. The “R” was assumed to be for Roberson. My research on that line eventually took me back to a Rachel Roberson, whose father, it was claimed was a James, and hence the link to the Roberson name in our family.

Sounded logical, although I have been unable to prove this connection and it has become one of my many “going to research this further one of these days” projects.

Grandpa Vanderpool died young, in the summer of 1919. He was only 43, a victim of heart disease and the Spanish flu. His gravestone simply reads “John R. Vanderpool.”

When the World War I draft registration records (and images) became available for Oklahoma, I first searched them for his brother and cousins. Family stories claimed Grandpa had been ill for some time, so I didn’t think it was likely he would be found in those draft records. I was wrong and what a surprise was in store for me.

He shows up in the third registration taken on 12 September 1918. There in his own signature is his name —- John Robinson Vanderpool.

Another family legend bites the dust. Soon I am going to be an exotic genealogist —- one without any unproven family legends.

1 comment:

  1. My grt grandfather was Lawrence Donnelly. So his son Lawrence should be spelled that way, right? Wrong on the draft records and others, he clearly writes Laurence.