One of my goals for this year was to do some serious genealogical research on both sides of my family. Using Ancestry.com, I was able to trace my mother’s side back to about 1635. My father’s side has proven much more difficult, primarily because I have no idea who my grandfather’s father was. Despite several major discoveries—the fact that I’m basically a Canadian, for example—what surprised me most were the ridiculous names on my family tree. In this column, I’ll share with you a few of the strangest names and their etymological meanings. Do you have any strange names in your family tree?
Sollie Maggard (1867-1941)
Sollie Maggard was my great-great-grandmother on my father’s side of the family. She was born in Wise, Va., in 1867. She married Samuel Boggs at the age of 15 in 1882 and had nine or 10 children, according to records. She died at the age of 74 in 1941. One of her sons, Asbell Maggard, would have been my great-grandfather. "Sollie" is not, nor was it ever, a man’s name, according to research. The name is of Hebrew origin and means "prayed for; peace." "Sollie" was probably a biblical reference to "Saul" or "Solomon."
Comfort Thomas (1800-1886)
My fifth great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Comfort Thomas, was born in Russell, Va., just a few months into the 19th century. She married Washington Barton in 1820 and lived a long life of 85 years. She had six children (five boys, one girl) and died in Dickerson, Va., where, 50 years later, my grandfather was born. "Comfort" is an old English name, which, in Latin, means "to strengthen greatly." According to research, "virtue" names like "comfort," "faith" and "mercy" were common in pre-1900s England.
Colbert Fugate (1759-1819)
Also Virginia-born, Colbert Fugate was my sixth great-grandfather on my mother’s side. He was also responsible for the birth, in the future, of my grandfather. We don’t know much about Fugate, but we do know he married at 29 and had a single child, Mary Elizabeth Fugate. She was important to our family tree because she would have 12 children—all Dortons—that would populate the South with that name. "Colbert" is of both German and French origin. The meaning of the name is "renowned, bright and famous." The surname "Fugate" is of English origin, possibly a variation of "Fugett." What a name: Coal-Burt FEW-Gate!
Mace F. Dorton (1903-1991)
I have vague memories of my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. Mace F. Dorton was my grandfather’s mother, and from what I’ve read, I get a lot of my personality traits from her. For example, she was known to have the ability to make others laugh with her jokes or, get this, ghost stories. Like Mary Elizabeth Fugate, Dorton had a bunch of children—seven boys, three girls—during the Great Depression between 1921 and 1939. My grandfather recalls living in a one-room building with his siblings and subsisting on beans and cornbread. Her move to Kingsport, Tenn., in 1940 brought the Dorton name to the city. Short for "Macy" and "Mason," the name "Mace" is of Middle English origin. A "mace" was a large club used during medieval times to thwart enemies.
Unity Devers (1763-1838)
There is something weird that happens on my great-grandfather’s side near 1788. From what I can gather, several "Fugates" married into our family. They may have been first cousins. However, research indicates that it wasn’t uncommon for this to happen. Just so long as marriages don’t get closer than that (e.g., brother and sister). Unity Devers is a name that sounds like a superhero. She was born in Virginia and lived in the area her entire life. She had seven children and died at the age of 75. She may have been named "Unitas," which was a more common name and often shortened to "Unity" as a nickname. "Devers" is of English origin.