Exploring Reincarnation, Internet Style


There are times that having the last name “Bump” is advantageous. Most of said times occur post-elementary school. But the name is memorable, it’s easy to spell – although you might be surprised how often people ask me to spell it. Most of all, though: it’s uncommon.

Uncommon enough, in fact, that Bumps can generally trace the path back to their arrival in America – in the person of Edouard Bompasse, who landed in 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts, on the Fortune, the first boat after the Mayflower. “Bompasse,” primarily for the sake of convenience, it seems, became Bump, Bumpus, and a few other things. My ancestors eventually migrated west, all the way to New York, where they got tired and took a rest for a few hundred years – 388, as of November 10th. (WhitePages.com, of all places, has a keen tool that maps last name distribution across the United States. The map at right is mine. To see yours, simply click the link and search for “Cohen.” If that’s not your last name, enter your last name. If it is – I bet you got a little spooked, didn’t you?)

If your name is more common, the Internet abounds with ways for you to learn more about your family and those who share your family name. Some of them, like the monstrous genealogical octopus that is Ancestry.com, charge. Many don’t. And many sites provide an ability to learn more about minor participants in history – with a heavy emphasis on those who happen to have been engaged in Western / Anglo-Saxon history.

Let’s say, for example, that your family can be traced back to the Norman Invasion of 1066 – or you want to see if it could be. Check out the famous Domesday Book of 1086. Perhaps you are a descendant of Robert, son of Gerald. (Spoiler: there are no Cohens.)

A more remarkable project by the Universities of Reading and Southampton indexed muster and garrison rolls in Medieval England. With remarkable detail, one can search by name, rank or location among 90,000 mustered troops and another 110,000 garrisoned. Philip Brunston, Esquire, for example (which is as close to my name as exists in the system), served as a Man-at-arms to King Henry IV in the Scotland Expedition of 1400. The site also includes profiles of particular soldiers, sussed out by graduate students and earnest aficionados.

I admit – finding something in either of these tools is unlikely. Less unlikely – the exceptional online search tool for Ellis Island. If you have any inkling at all that your family came to America through Ellis Island, go there. Not only do they have manifests from every ship that came through, they have scans of the original documents, details about each passenger and information about the ships themselves.

If I may again use myself as an example, an 18 year-old Philip Bump arrived from Antwerp on March 3, 1896. Headed for Tremont and unemployed, he berthed on the upper level, forward, of the Friesland. This Philip Bump, of course, may or may not be related to me. My father-in-law had better luck, finding his ancestor from Hannover, Germany, who ended up a merchant in Brooklyn.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of online tools dedicated to genealogy. Ancestry.com seems to have for-pay agreements with many other websites, but also has some free tools, including the ability to search US Census Records from 1790 to 1930. Genealogy Today, which links to Ancestry on some things, has some interesting collections allowing you to, for example, search for business cards. (I should also mention the efforts of the Mormon Church, but given that it comes with a side order of conversion, I think I won’t.)

There are many more options to explore, of course. Of course, there’s also just a good old Google search, which, for me, yielded the image at right:

Gotta love the Internet. At least he lived to be 81.

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