April 2, 2021
When I was a baby genealogist, a distant cousin passed along some research that she’d commissioned a genealogist in England to do on our mutual ancestor James Burnett. I knew almost nothing about my second great grandfather’s life in England before he’d emigrated first to New Zealand and later to Utah. The research supposedly was taken from parish records in Hertfordshire and detailed James’ first marriage and the baptisms of the resulting children.
Although eight children were born to the marriage, only two survived early childhood. I was happy to fill in some blanks in James’ life, but not overly excited to learn of this early marriage. I descend from a subsequent wife who James married years after the death of this first wife. However, I was taken by the name of one of the daughters of this first family: Frasier. It was a very unusual name for a girl born in 1847. Sadly, little Frasier died in 1849, but I still treasured the idea of her. For years after, I told anyone who’d listen about my second great grandfather’s “lost” first family. I told them I wished I’d had a daughter so I could have named her Frasier. I could just imagine the stories she’d have been able to tell about the origins of her name.
Eventually, I grew out of the baby genealogist stage and realized that research done by an unknown someone in England in the 1950s really ought to be verified. On a trip to the Family History Library, I accessed parish records in Hertfordshire and searched for all of the children born to James Burnett. I quickly verified his marriage and the baptisms of eight children. The only problem is that none of them was named Frasier. There was a child born in 1847; it was a daughter, but her name was Theresa, not Frasier.
I was disappointed, but not ready to give up on Frasier. The next step was to order both Frasier’s and Theresa’s birth and death records from the English General Records Office. No Frasier Burnett, of either sex, was listed in the index to the vital records in Hertfordshire, but both birth and death records for Theresa Burnett were. I ordered them, and when they arrived, they confirmed that she was James Burnett’s daughter born in 1847 and died in 1849.
According to the records, no Frasier Burnett ever existed, but Theresa certainly did. I don’t know how that 1950’s researcher made the mistake, but I’m sure that he did. Somehow he read the name Theresa as Frasier. It’s hard to imagine, but the fancy “T” with which the clerk began the name Theresa might conceivably have been read as an “F.” Or maybe, since Theresa itself was a fairly unusual name, the researcher didn’t recognize it and misread it.
I hated to give up my fantasy Frasier and the idea that the Burnett’s were so forward-thinking that they named their daughter a name that wouldn’t be an acceptable girl’s name for at least another 150 years, but I had to. I also learned that it’s a really good idea to verify research done by someone else, especially someone who’d researched when resources were not available that are today. Finally, it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have a daughter to name Frasier, since it would be a lifelong reminder for both of us of my credulity!
Unfortunately, many of the folks who have placed trees online about this Burnett Family used the same set of research that I did so long ago, and most of them clearly haven’t done any research of their own. Frasier still figures in all of them, although a few of them do give her a twin named Theresa.
As for me, while I know there isn’t a Frasier in my family, I still think it’s a great name, especially for a girl. Maybe for my next kitten?
Researcher/Director at Large