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May 2011 Newsletter

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A Funny Story about an Unusual Name

Family history research is an endlessly fascinating pursuit. Reading old letters, poring over government documents, looking up articles in historical newspapers…you never know what family discoveries you'll make. Making this research all the more enjoyable is the occasional humor you'll sometimes find, often in the most unexpected places. The following story is a good example of this.

Imagine if your research uncovered a 19th Century ancestor with the unusual name of "Return Jonathan Meigs." Trying to find out more about this fellow, you discover his obituary, printed by the New York Herald Tribune on Oct. 21, 1891. In such a somber document as an obituary you find the expected information: a summary of his life, and some details about his family. There is also something at the end of this obituary you perhaps were not expecting: a burst of humor, as the obituary writer felt compelled to explain Mr. Meigs's unusual name:

We learn that Return Jonathan Meigs was named after his great uncle, an officer in the Revolutionary War. And how did that ancestor first get such an unusual name? It came about because of two traits his father possessed: determination and a good sense of humor.

As the obituary explains: "His father when a young man became enamored of a Quakeress. Though he was repeatedly rejected, he persisted in his suit. On his last visit, as he slowly mounted his horse to ride away dejected, the lady relented, and beckoned to him to stop, crying out, 'Return, Jonathan; return, Jonathan.' These words, which gave him so much happiness, he gave as a name to his firstborn son."

Now that's a great story, and it reminds us that our ancestors in the mid-1700s were just as quirky and interesting as people are today!