ancestryink fisherman

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

When Does a Fish Become a Fisher: Confusing Name Changes in the 1800's

The plot has thickened in regards to Capt. Micajah C. Fisher mentioned in my previous post.  Capt. Fisher's gravestone resides at the Waquoit Bay (or Bay View) Cemetery in E. Falmouth.  You will remember that I mentioned he was a successful whaling captain.  And also that my initial research of him produced census records dating 1837 - 1870, approximately.   But before that, he was not to be found.  Hmmmm.

And I did ruminate on the fact that "Fish" is a more common name than "Fisher," in my last post.    I also did ruminate that since his wife, Alice Ewer Bourne, was born in Sandwich, Mass., it might be likely Micajah was from that town, as well.

This turned out to be true!  But, here is the confusing part:  Micajah Chadwick Fish was born to David Fish and Sylvia Hatch of Sandwich, Mass., 07 Feb 1814.
David & Sylvia Fish Family of Sandwich from town records book
 Fortunately, his given and middle names are distinctive enough to be sure there is no mistaking this Fish/Fisher identity and his birth date corresponds to the one on his gravestone at the Waquoit cemetery.

However, the next available (online) record for him is his marriage in 1837 to Alice Bourne in which he is listed as "Fisher."   The 1850, 1860, and 1870 Census records for Micajah list all his children as little Fishers: Sarah, Elizabeth, Clara, Lyman, Nellie, Alfred...

Looks like a pretty clear and consistent change-of-name, perhaps dating to around the time of his marriage, right?

Not so.  Here is a record of his daughter Clara's birth, 22 Jul 1852.  She is listed as "Clara M Fish." Michajah and "Alles" are also called "Fish."

Clara M. Fish, b. 1852
 Five years later, arrives Nellie F. "Fish," 29 Jun 1857.   Again, her birth records says "Fish" for all of them.

However, daughter Sarah, who was born much earlier in 1844, and well before Nellie and Clara, is listed as "Fisher" on her birth record.

And son Lyman, born smack dab in between Clara and Nellie, in 1854, is listed as a "Fisher" on his birth record.

So, it looks like this, chronologically for the children's birth records:  "Fisher - Fish - Fisher - Fish"

To make things even more fun, all the christening records for the children list them as "Fishers." 

Meanwhile, whaling records fort Capt. Micajah dated before and after his marriage (crew records which I referred to in my last post) list him as distinctly "Capt. Micajah C. Fisher."  No Fish there.

Perhaps when Micajah Fish began his career as a whaling captain, he thought it appeared unseemly to be named "Fish," and changed to "Fisher," a more appropriate name given his vocation.

Seriously, one has to take into consideration the novelties and quirks of record-keeping in small towns during the 1800's.  That could explain some of the seeming flip-flops of the Fish family. 

Sometimes, surnames were altered to separate a branch of the family from another.  Or to avoid the name being associated with one of a criminal, for example.  Both seem unlikely.  Micajah's "Fish" surname comes from a long line of "Fish" in the town of Sandwich, dating to 1648 and Nathan Fish.  So, even if those Fish were among the earlier, persecuted Quakers of Sandwich, (Micajah's wife Alice Bourne was a Quaker, after all, so perhaps he was too?) a change of name in the mid- 1800's would seem irrelevant, given the Quaker problems had calmed down.

The early horrors of Quaker persecution
 Am I making sense?  In essence, what I am saying is that it seems there is no social or political reason to make a Fisher out of a Fish, here.

 Whatever the case, Capt. Micajah's gravestone etches his name in stone as "Fisher," for all eternity.  I have yet to find a death record for him - a mission that actually began this whole Fish/Fisher thing.  I was simply curious as to whether he died at sea!  That question still remains unanswered.  Argh.

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