Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When a name is not THE name

I don't remember ever meeting my Uncle Flipper. He was one of my Dad's older brothers.  He was born 6 Jun 1922 and made transition on  39 Sep 1969 when I was sixteen.  His first appearance on a census record was the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. When the 1940 census records were released by the US National Archives on April 2, 2012, I was happy to see 17-year-old Flipper Burkette still in the household with his mother, Florence Burkette and his six siblings -- Joseph, Louis, Janice, Christine, Willis, Joan.

His given name is twice listed on the census records as Flipper.  In addition to "knowing" his name, there was a picture of Uncle Flipper in uniform among family pictures displayed throughout my parents home.

So finding Uncle Flipper in military records should be a breeze  --  I had his name, date of birth, place of birth, and where he lived.

Nothing in family history research is a breeze and I became a crazed woman trying to find his military records -- but at the time I was a rookie researcher. I found no Flipper Burkette or any variant of that name listed in military records.

When I asked my Dad, if Uncle Flipper had another name, he thought for awhile and said no, his name was Flipper.  Maybe that was his middle name, I prodded.  No . . .

When my Dad made transition in 2011, I came upon the only other picture I have seen of Uncle Flipper. This one was taken in France and he signed it "Flipper".  By now I was more knowledgeable about searching for ancestors and I also knew that the name a person was known by was not necessarily their given name.
Inscription on front: "Forever Yours . . . Flipper"
(on back) Marseille, France -- March 10, 1945

So I began searching for his military records again, eliminating the given name field.  I searched the surname Burkette and Burkett (which is listed both ways in the census) serving in the Army during World War II.  Lo and behold! There was Alexander Burkette with the same birth date listed in the census, from Detroit Michigan.

Well with the possibility of the right name I did find reference to Uncle Flipper's service records.  He served in the U.S. Army during World War II from 16 Jun 1943 to 4 Feb 1946  -  the dates coincide to the date on his picture. Studying the picture again, there IT was in the inscription: "Forever Yours Al (Flipper)". " Al" wasn't an abbreviation for Always, it was an abbreviation for Alexander!

With his correct name, I have been able to find his marriage record to Carrie Ward on 13 Oct 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. I also found his death record in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 as well as the U.S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014.

Lesson learned:  When a name is not the name, 

  • Question
  • Don't overlook clues
  • Use a variety of search techniques


  1. What a great sleuthing family research story. I am going through the same thing exactly with a dear aunt named Scotty!