Genealogy: Understanding the use of Jr. and Sr. in 1800’s naming practices

yes no mayabeBy Barry J. Ewell
I was searching the census and came across a two family listings where there was a John Jones Sr. and John Jones Jr. The Sr. was 15 years older than the Jr.  My first assumption was that John Jr. was the son of John Sr. even though their ages were only 15 years apart so I combined the families. Ouch!! I was wrong.  Yes they had the same name, but that was close as the relationship got.

I have seen many situations where genealogists have made the same mistakes I made in misidentifying relationships and combining data of different persons.  During the 1800’s “Junior” (abbreviated as Junr. Jun, Jr) and “Senior” (abbreviated as Senr. Sen., Sr.) were used as nicknames when two men in the community had the same name.  Yes, John Jones Jr. could have been the son of John Jones Sr. or a John Jones, but I have learned it takes a little more confirmation with additional records before I make the link.  Consider this, the older John Jones could have been a sibling, half-brother, cousin, uncle or not even related.

Consider this situation; there are three John Jones in the community that are not related.  John Jones 1882 referred to as Sr., John Jones 1897 referred to as Jr. and John Jones 1907. John Jones 1882 dies leaving John Jones 1897 and John Jones 1907.  To elevate the confusion between the two John Jones 1897 is now Sr. and John Jones 1907 is now Jr.   The point I am making is simple, before you rush to connect family with Sr./Jr. next to their names, do your very best to confirm relationships with multiple records such as wills, church, and vital records.