Two informants with the same name

I have two informants with the same name. I don't want to mention the actual name so I'll just call them "Otfrid Freiherr Lützel". "Freiherr" is the German word for "baron".

The older of the two is the father of the younger one. I can't refer to them as "Senior" and "Junior" because strictly speaking it's "Otfrid Freiherr Lützel XXV" and "Otfrid Freiherr Lützel XXVII". (I have no idea why there is no "XXVI".)

Neither of the two normally uses the number behind their name. I had to find out the numbers by looking at the family tree of the family.

How should I refer to these two in my bibliography and citations? Should I use the number? Should I specify dates (one is deceased and the other is either quite old or also deceased)? Is there another approach?

Submitted byEEon Wed, 09/21/2022 - 08:28

Ah, yes, mawyn! That's a perpetual problem for those who research and write about the past. We frequently have a half-dozen men or women by the same name in a relatively small community.

You are right that "Sr." and "Jr." are often inappropriate and usually unworkable. In most situations, the issue is handled by doing enough research on each to find distinguishing characteristics—their occupation, a physical characteristic or an affiliation (religious, etc.), the waterway on which each person lived, the parent or the spouse who makes them unique from the other, etc. In this case, you are working with the more elite, which makes your task easier because so much will be written about them, to guide you. You also have a father and a son. That may be the clearest way to identify them.

In the end, this is more of a writing issue than a citation issue. In a reference note, it's easy enough to simply attach the personal descriptor to the name and move on to the other elements of the citation.  The bigger challenge comes as we craft our narrative discussions. Repeatedly saying "Otfrid Freiherr Lützel, the father" and "Otfrid Freiherr Lützel, the son" can make for awkward reading. We look then for ways to vary our wording, using shorthand such as "the elder Otfrid," or "the younger Ottfrid."

The best thing you can do for yourself, for this and many similar problems in the future, is to make a habit of reading the journals of both historians and genealogists, as well as the books by those who are well-trained in these fields. Even when those works do not deal with our person of interest, we learn from them how to handle many such issues as this—skills of research, identification, and writing.

One final thought:  Please don't seek your identifications in "family trees." Too often, those are created by the inexperienced copying the inexperienced. Trees with any semblance of reliability will cite their source for each specific detail they assert. Go find those sources. Comb the online catalogs and websites such as JSTOR to identify sound scholarly works that deal with the place and time in which you are working. Many of the older books, now past copyright, are imaged online at sites such as and HathiTrust.

Submitted bymawynon Wed, 09/21/2022 - 15:28

Thanks for your comments. I will keep them in mind as I proceed.

I still have a concrete question pertaining to the bibliography that will be part of whatever the final product is that I wind up writing some time in the future. I have several resources by the elder Lützel: articles in genealogical journals, letters to other researchers, personal notes I received copies of from his son. The only resource I have by the younger Lützel is a letter I received from him after I inquired about his father's work.

The impression I get is that explanatory notes are normally for citations and narrative, and are not necessarily something you make use of in a bibliographical list of sources used. Or would it be legitimate in this case to write a brief note in the bibliography entry for the younger Lützel that he is the son of the other one?

When I wrote in my initial question that I got the numbers from a "family tree", you pointed out correctly that I should be wary of family trees. In this particular case, though, what I was referring to as "tree" was a genealogical article published by the elder Grote about himself and his ancestors. In the entry for himself he mentioned his own children, including Otfrid Freiherr Lützel XXVII. Based on that information I searched and found the younger Otfrid and got in touch with him.

Submitted bychuckbuckley7on Wed, 09/21/2022 - 17:57

Two informants with the same name & similar challenges.

With a philosophy of keeping it simple I suggest adding a suffix to their names of their birth year.

For example: I have a George Smith 1777, George Smith 1801, and a George Smith 1829, before the use of middle names.

Submitted byEEon Fri, 09/23/2022 - 10:44

Mawyn, Chuck's suggestion is indeed a good one, especially for your bibliography, where identifications of sources are typically minimal. However, as you go forward, bear in mind that "annotated bibliographies" exist because researchers and writers do have a need to explain things.

Re the use of the word "tree" generically, as opposed to "article," "letter," "personal notes" and other terms: Evidence Style writing and citing strongly encourages the use of exact words because each type of source carries a different degree of reliability.

In our formative years, teachers taught us that citation was necessary so that our readers would be able to find our sources for themselves. EE has a broader view. Citation is not just about "saying where we got stuff." It's about identifying sources precisely enough that our readers (or we, ourselves, years down the line after our recollection of the source has gone cold) can understand the degree of reliability that the source carries.

Best wishes for the project!