Friday, April 29, 2011

Surname Saturday: The 11,360th most Common Name in America

On a national or even worldwide basis, Jerkins is quite a rare name.  According to statistics from the 2000 U.S. census, Jerkins is the 11,360th most common surname in the United States.  That means that the Smiths, Joneses, Browns, and, 11,357 other surnames in the U.S. have more family members using the names than there are people using the name Jerkins.  All of the Jerkins in America add up to less than 0.001% of the U.S. population.  And in November of 2000, a check of the white pages in England, where the name is said to have originated, showed a listing of fewer than 50 families.  That makes the Jerkins name sufficiently rare that when any two Jerkins from the southeastern U.S. meet, there is a very high likelihood that they are at least distantly related.  This is true even if the two are complete strangers and have never seen or heard of one another before.

The New Dictionary of American Family Names by E. C. Smith,  (Harper and Row, 1973), claims that Jerkins is a surname of English origin.  It also says that Jerkins is a patronymic from the name Jeremiah.  Patronymics are last names based on or created from the first name of the father.  They are very common in English-speaking countries, and were frequently achieved by adding  an "s" to the father’s first name, creating  names like John Williams (John.  He is the son of William) or Tom Richards (Tom.  He is the son of Richard).  In other cases, the ending "son" was added so that you get Davidson, Richardson, or Anderson (son of Andrew).

Sometimes, as in our case,  the suffix "kin" was used in these surnames as a diminutive - so Tompkin meant "Little Thomas", Wilkin was "Little William" and Perkin was "Little Peter".  Adding the letter “s”  to the kin suffix was a double diminutive that usually meant “son of”.   Jerkins, therefore, was a British name that probably meant “the son of Jeremiah”, or perhaps Jeremy – which itself was already a name derived from Jeremiah.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Beginning

I think that this whole adventure began because I grew up with only one set of grandparents - my mother's parents. And on that side, I not only had grandparents, I had a very fondly remembered great grandfather  - born in 1868. That is him, sitting in the chair talking to me - I was about 3.

My father's parents, on the other hand had both died before I was born. I grew up knowing his brothers and sisters, but hearing virtually nothing about the earlier generations. I once asked my father what his grandmother's name was, and his answer was "Granny."  His father had moved the family south in a search for work during the Great Depression, when my father was only 10 years old - even he had few memories of the older folks.

So when I launched my first sortie into the genealogy woods, I was looking for my dad's folks.  I was lucky - I have often been lucky in genealogy - and I started finding interesting stuff right away. Unfortunately, my father had died by that time, so I started showing off the cool old documents and information that I was finding on my father's family.

Mama listened and oohed and aahed appropriately over my little treasures - until one day she said, "You are getting pretty good at this."  I said that I was certainly learning. And then she asked the question that put me on the road that led me to this place. "Can you find something for me?", she said.

Who can say no to their mother? Not me - not about anything like that, anyway. So I asked her what she wanted me to find.

"When I was a little girl," she said, "my mother would look at me and say "Girl, she sure do favor Granny Jerkins."  I didn't think much of it back then, but since you have been doing all of this digging into families, I have been thinking about it. I called my brothers and sisters and none of them ever remember hearing anything about any Granny Jerkins. Could you find out for me who Granny Jerkins was?"

I assured her that I would try, and on my next trip to the local Family History Center I took the first steps on this 15 year long journey.  In the coming days, months, or years, I will tell about the journey - about what I learned about Granny Jerkins and her ancestors, about the people that I met along the way, and about some of the stories that go with both.