Feature Article: Why Are There No Starbirds in England?
Portraits of my Starbird ancestors hang on our wall on the landing at the top of the staircase. Over the years I have chained the family back from Martha Jane (Starbird) Richmond (1836-1905) to Robert Starbird (1782- ) to Moses Starbird (1743-1815) to John Starbird (1701-1753) to Thomas Starbird (1660-1723).
Photo: Starbird family. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.
All of them lived in Dover, New Hampshire, at some time in their lives, and by the 19th century several of the Starbird lines were living in Gray, Maine.
Looking in the deep Historical Newspaper Archives of GenealogyBank, I can quickly find multiple Starbird articles from across centuries of American history.
For example, here is a probate notice regarding Catharine Starbird, widow of Moses Starbird, published in 1838.
Portland Weekly Advertiser (Portland, Maine), 1 May 1838, page 1
Here is an article about John Starbird (1742-1802), who served in the Continental Army. Both he and his brother (my ancestor) Moses Starbird (1743-1815) fought at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.
Massachusetts Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 30 December 1779, page 3
So far so good.
Their name was "Starbird" and I am finding "Starbird" articles in the old newspapers.
Good. This is straightforward.
FamilySearch recently added to their site the "England and Wales, Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008." Great – an index to all of the births in England. I thought: let me search there to see if I can determine where in England the Starbird family came from.
This should be easy family tree research.
What? There was only one "Starbird" birth in all of England, going all the way back to 1837?
How could that be?
Looking deeper into GenealogyBank, I found this old obituary notice.
Weekly Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 26 April 1805, page 3
This is for a son of John "Starboard" from Gray, Maine.
Oh – that's it.
The name could have been spelled "Starbird" or "Starboard."
When I think of it – I pronounce both words exactly the same way.
So – let's do a quick double-check in the FamilySearch index to British birth records with this new spelling.
This time the search results were zero.
Zero "Starboard" births and only one "Starbird" birth—what is going on here?
I can find a ton of "Starbird" references in America but none in Britain.
Is there another spelling of the surname?
I have seen where some genealogists have suggested that Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, was the son of Edward Starbuck (1604-1690) who was also from Dover.
Would Thomas really have changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?
Alfred A. Starbird, author of Genealogy of the Starbird-Starbard Family (Burlington, Vermont: The Lane Press), looked at this – especially since another Starbird historian said that Thomas Starbird had changed his name from Starbuck – but concluded "nothing has been found to support this claim."
The title of his book gives us another variant spelling of this surname: "Starbard." So, I tried that spelling in the FamilySearch – again zero references.
So – what about the spelling "Starbuck"?
I repeated the search, and that spelling produced over 5,000 English birth records.
Is it that simple – Thomas simply changed his name from Starbuck to Starbird?
Would that be a logical name change?
Is there another explanation?
Perhaps someone will find a record proving who the parents of Thomas Starbird (1660-1723) of Dover, New Hampshire, were.
Maybe this will be solved by DNA testing.
This is the only time I have traced back an English family line – where I have thousands of family members with the surname "Starbird" – but so far in England I am finding almost none.