My name is T. Wetmore IV. My father, grandfather and great grandfather had the names you might expect, and specifically my grandfather was named T. Wetmore Jr. I found an inscription in a book given to my grandfather that read, "To my grand nephew Thomas Trask Wetmore, third, from Aunt Myra Jane Denby, Montclair, N J, November 30th 1899." I found this early in my genealogical "career" and it confused me greatly. I knew the book was a gift to my grandfather, but who was Aunt Myra and why did she call him the "third"? I eventually figured it out -- when my grandfather was given the book, he had a living great uncle also named T. Wetmore, so he was the youngest of three living T. Wetmores. Myra was a half sister of this great uncle. When his great uncle died my grandfather "shifted" from being the third to being "junior." By the rules that seemed to have applied at the time, I should now be T. Wetmore Sr. and my son T. Wetmore Jr., yet we call him T. Wetmore V.

It seems that in the past there were different rules for suffixes like Jr., Sr., III, IV. When someone died the younger ones got "promoted" one level higher in list. This doesn't happen any more.

Does anyone know when or why the "rule" changed? Or was there never a rule and different families just used different practices? Kings and Popes have always kept their "numbers," but apparantly we common folk haven't always until recently.

Note especially that in the case described here the three T. Wetmores were not even in a direct line; they were simply three living and related men with the same name.


1 Answer 1


Wikipedia has some good information on Generational titles.

Perhaps your grandfather was referred to as the "third" at the time because he was the youngest of three living family members with the same name, but he was a Jr with respect to your direct paternal line? Since the uncle isn't in your direct paternal line, it makes sense that your great-grandfather would be Sr, your grandfather Jr, your father III and you IV.

The Wikipedia article does say that suffixes don't necessarily have to go down the direct paternal line and could apply to other relatives, but it appears that your family chose to number straight down despite an uncle having the same name.

As for "promoting" the generational suffix when the eldest dies, there doesn't seem to be a strict rule about this -- it's up to the family.

As a genealogist, I would think it would be better to not promote the suffix, so that the suffix becomes part of each individual's unique identity, allowing us to more easily differentiate each person in our family trees.

Also, if the suffix is part of the individual's legal name, then it wouldn't make any sense to promote the suffix -- the individual would need to make the change on his driver's license, passport, and any other official identification. So perhaps any past practice of promoting the suffix stopped when individuals began using the suffix as part of their legal identity.

  • 2
    Thanks! It's embarassing to ask a question just to find an answer on Google later. The pertinent sentences in the article you found are "There is no hard-and-fast rule over what happens to suffixes when the most senior of the name dies. Etiquette expert and humorist Judith Martin, for example, believes they should all move up, but most agree that this is up to the individual families." Wikipedia is not definitive of course, but it's good to have an answer! Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 16:13
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    This answer could be improved by pointing out that the terms "Sr." and "Jr." may have nothing to do with family relationship. See Connecticut State Library, "Suggestions for Beginning Genealogists," cslib.org/getstart.htm. ""Junior" and "Senior" did not always refer to a father-son relationship ... If there were three individuals named John Jones in a town, the oldest was commonly designated John Jones, Sr.; the next oldest John Jones, Jr. or 2nd; and the youngest John Jones, 3rd ..."
    – GeneJ
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 17:16
  • As a genealogist, I would think it would be better if families didn't keep using the same name generation after generation - it would make our lives so much easier! :-) Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 20:50

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