So what should we call grandpa?

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Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” but we should be asking, “What IS his name?” Recently I have been going through a lot of Cook County birth and death certificates, and it reminded me that people don’t always carry exactly the same name from birth through to death.

We are all aware of the problems researchers in encounter because women tend to take the names of their husbands when they marry. But traditionally in Italy, women used their maiden names throughout their lives. It is easier to deal with looking for the birth of Anna Volpe in 1822 and the death of Anna Volpe, who married three times, in 1905. She’s still Anna Volpe regardless of her married names. If, however, Anna emigrated to the United States, you must know who she was married to at the time of her death in order to find her death certificate. helps us with the problems of female surnames by allowing us to search for parents’ names. So we can search for parents Francesco Volpe and Regina DiPrizio and see if we find Anna Schnitzengruber dying in Buffalo in 1905, having married for a fourth time in America.

We need to use the parent search technique to work around problems with male names as well. Let’s talk about a few different scenarios.

My grandfather was born Domenico Liturri and died Dominick Liture. What really was his name, and how do I record that name in my genealogy software? That’s a philosophical question for the ages on a par with rating the best Chicago hot dog! When I am searching for the children of his parents, Carlo Liturri and Anna Angela Santoliquido, I am certainly looking for Liturri. When he died in Chicago in 1995, I had to look for Liture (and ironically they spelled it wrong!) So if I ask, “What is his official legal name?” what is the answer? How do I know what spelling to look for?

As far as I know, he never filed any official paperwork to change his name. He just began using it, and in the old days there were no computers, “networks” were businessmen who met at the club, and the “cloud” was a sign of rain. If you chose to use different spellings of your name in different places, it was unusual if anyone would be able to catch the “mistake”. So based on that, his legal name was Domenico Liturri, right?

I’m honestly not sure. His children were all named Liture. So from the mid 1920s until his death in 1995 his name was Liture, so since that covered the large percentage of his 90 year life span, I would vote Liture. Or should I?

As genealogists, we have to find copies of documents with information. We have to know about the multiple spellings and search for all of them if we do not find the document the first time around. The surname Liture has also been spelled Litturi by another branch of the family. And as we all know, the names are spelled on the documents incorrectly by the various clerks who wrote them. So Liture could be spelled LaTour because a lot of people pronounced it that way.

I solved the problem by using the genealogy software. My grandfather was born Domenico Liturri and I need to record his name in my genealogy software that way, with the source of the “name” recorded as the birth certificate I found from Triggiano, Bari. But I must also record Dominick Liture because I have his draft registration, marriage license, and the birth certificates of his 8 children, as sources for that name. Finally I have his death certificate as a source for Dominick Lature.

When I print out genealogy charts, only one name will print normally. However I have to use the Name field and the “Also Known As” field. I can record the names under just “Name” and most software will make me choose one spelling as the “Primary” and I could have many others that cannot be checked “Primary”. However, my genealogy software will only print the primary name on a chart. I would like to print all variations on the chart so that the next person who connects to my records will look under each variant. So my solution is to enter the other names as “Also Known As” and I pick the birth name as the “Primary”.

With three names to choose from, why pick the birth name as “Primary” “Also Known As”? Why not make the birth name his Primary “Name”?

I choose to take the name he was known as through most of his life and make that the “Name”. Why? So when I print a chart with his marriage, his wife’s married name will be correct. My grandmother was never known as “Helen Liturri”. She was always “Helen Liture”. It makes it easier to find HER records if the surname spelling comes from the marriage, especially if that marriage produced offspring.

I choose to take the birth spelling and the death spelling and entered the in the “Also Known As” with the primary being his birth spelling. (I concluded that the spelling on his death certificate must have been a typo, or he switched names again late in life — he and grandma were long divorced and he never married or had any more children.)

So when I print the chart, it shows his surname as he used it for 7 decades, but he was not born, nor did he die, with that name. But all three appear on printed charts.

Most of you may not have to deal with so many spellings, but most Italians may have to deal with birth spellings of their Italian first names and death spellings of the same names, but “Americanized”. If the surname never changed, you can use the American name as the “Primary” “Name” and the Italian version as the “Also Known As”.

Please keep in mind that you do not have to do any of this genealogical bookkeeping for women with regard to married names. The computer presumes that the women took the husband’s surname and refers to them as such. You have to override this if someone chose not to take the husband’s name. You do this when creating the chart. Select the Name from the list of “Items to include” and there should be a box there to select that person’s name format: “First Middle Married”, “First Middle Maiden” etc. Sometimes it will be in the person’s record, so that all charts will always use the correct format which is especially helpful when using your genealogy software to make Christmas card address labels!

If you’re not sure how to handle all this, send me an e-mail at and please put Fra Noi in the subject. Send me the name details and I’ll try to clear it up for you.

About Dan Niemiec

Dan Niemiec has been the genealogy columnist for Fra Noi since 2004. For the past 25 years, he has researched his genealogy back 17 generations, plus tracing descendants of his ancestors, yielding 74,000 relatives. His major focus is on civil and church records in Italy, Chicago vital records, Chicago Catholic records and most major genealogy web sites. He has given dozens of presentations to many local and some national genealogy societies on topics such as cemetery research, Catholic records, Italian records, Ellis Island and newspaper research, among others.

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