Titles Aren’t Big in America
It’s definitely not part of our American heritage to have aristocratic titles, though it is and has been part of the heritage of many countries that contributed boats and boats of immigrants, Britain, Germany, Ireland, France, Spain, etc. A title infers a position, while a name including surname infers a person, the 5th Duke of Balderdash vs. Nelson Jaberwocky. The daughter of a duke could marry into the aristocracy or not; if she married into the landed gentry, her children, though grandchildren of a duke, were not titled. Two more generations of untitled marriages and what’s left is the story of a daughter of a duke which sounds a lot like three brothers came to America and one settled in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia and the old standby of a great great great grandmother who was a Cherokee princess. A good specific example of an untitled granddaughter would be Zara Phillips eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II, who, because titles are inherited and generally not through daughters, does not have a title.
Genealogically speaking, there may be a title in one of your lines or in your lateral research. If so, you may have stumbled on a great pile of facts that appear in Burkes’ Peerage or DeBretts. Below is a page regarding the Brodrick family and the Midleton title from Burkes’ Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage published in 1949.
My favorite part of this particular page is the Anne Brodrick who married James Jeffreyes of Blarney Castle, because I know James Jeffrey from DPL and it’s so close to his name. Compound surname research issues arise when titles are used as surnames and as inherited titles. His Royal Highness, Prince Edward has been identified as Edward Windsor and additionally later as Edward Wessex. Americans might not recognized Edward Wessex as the youngest brother of Prince Charles of England as we don’t have the background knowledge. I interpret a connection to be Rev. Laurence Brodrick, son of the youngest brother of the 1st Viscount of Midleton, Alan, married Jane one of Alan’s daughters from his second marriage. First cousins marrying first cousins are not unusual, but since so many of the Brodricks were named Alan and Laurence, it’s helpful to have lines explained.
Titles can be a way to distinguish people with identical names or alternately confuse and meld people of the same name. When a foreigner with a title marries an American, there is probably a fifty fifty chance the record is indexed correctly in the local county courthouse. The point is not if you know how it should be, but if you can guess all the alternate options under which someone else might index it.
You are more likely to find Mrs. John Doe in a record, a kind of a title or position, hiding the identity of the woman or at least her first name. Mrs. is certainly not someone’s first name. Here is an example in the 1940 federal census for Kentucky.
1940 Kentucky Pike Co., Pinson Twp. 98-33-14b-62 family 206, Mrs. Joe Coley and her grandson Jas. Sprinkle.
Mrs. Joe Coley, technically a title for the wife of Joe Coley, in this case it appears to be the widow of Joe Coley. Her first name is neither Mrs. or Joe, but her surname is definitely Coley, however borrowed a name it may be. Further census work in 1930 might bring up her first name as might a search of the Pike Co. Kentucky marriage records.
In America where titles are earned, the difference between a title and a suffix, is as follows: Marcus Welby, M.D. includes an earned suffix while Dr. Welby includes an earned title. Other earned titles include military rank, Corporal, Capt., Col., Major, General, etc. and also ministerial rank, Rev., Right Rev., Father, Bishop, Pastor, Brother, etc. A list of Roman Catholic religious titles and their differences in spoken and written language appears in Dave’s ESL Cafe. These earned titles become further confused because Duke, Earl, Major, Doc., Rev. and other titles are sometimes used as given names in the United States.
Titled people from other countries create documents in the United States, purchase property, marry, engage in lawsuits, have children, appear in newspaper articles, die, etc. These titles are not treated equally by indexers across the country in county deed recorder’s offices, newspaper morgues, libraries and depositories. In order to not miss any particular set of records, searches should be all encompassing, rather than focusing on the correct spelling. More detailed information about compound word surnames is available in the article by that name.