What does it mean that my ancestors name was changed “by act of legislation”?

One of the most famous genealogical myths is that names were intentionally changed at Ellis Island. While this may be considered untrue, there is a bit of fact to it: Passengers do change their names upon arriving, not from their point of departure.

Name changes were rampant since the 1800’s. That’s why most of today’s genealogists have a hard time locating their ancestors.

But what does changing the name “by act of legislation” mean and what does it entail for you as a researcher? Learn more about it below.

“By act of legislation”

This statement simply means that any act is legally accepted and credited. As the end result of a process, a law was passed to effect the change of name.

Now for your ancestors, there were a lot of legal name changes for plenty of reasons.

Why was there a need to change names?

One of the most common reasons as to why people changed their names before was the need to become more socially adaptable. When foreign immigrants moved to the US to start a life, they found that it easier to Americanize their names to easily find jobs, be accepted in their surroundings, and avoid any form of ridicule.

For example, a certain Louis Wechsler of Newark filed a name change for “Louis Wexler” back in the 26th of June 1929 in Essex County Court of Common Pleas.

How can you find out if your ancestors’ names changed?

It could be quite tricky to learn if your ancestors changed their names, especially if it was back in the 1800’s or earlier. During that time, keeping records wasn’t necessary. It was only in the mid 1900’s that people started collecting extensive records for Social Security purposes.

What are the ways to learn about name changes?

In the U.S, the New Jersey State Archives are one of the best sources to find legal name changes in the years 1847-1947. It can be of great help for your research.

Another is looking through archived newspapers as name changes of certain people were announced between the mid 1800’s to the late 1900’s.

The third source is for you to coordinate with the county court where your ancestors changed their names and resided for a long time. This is where you can ask for the records and find more information.

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