Are we really sure we are who we think we are?

Melvin R. Guard

Melvin Richard Guard

I knew my maternal grandfather as, well, grandpa. He was my momma’s daddy and also the janitor at Harrison Elementary School where I spent a few years in Harrison, Ohio.  I remember being young and thinking it was pretty cool that my grandpa worked at the school where I went. I thought of myself as a bit of a rock star because of it. Silly now that I think of it but hey, I was only 8!

But I also knew his name was Melvin Richard Guard. Everyone called him Melvin. Or Dad. Or Grandpa. Only a few said Mr. Guard.

When I started researching my genealogy around 1996, his was one of the first families I started working on. It really came to life when the 1930 census was released in 2002.

1930 US Federal Census listing the Gueard (sic) family

There he was with his family! Granted their family name was spelled wrong but they had his first name correct and he was listed as Melvin, 10-years-old. Right along with his entire family – his father and mother, Thaddeus and Mary, older brother Clifford, older sisters, Helen and Bessie and younger sister, Fern. Every other record I came across also listed him as Melvin Guard or Melvin R. Guard or even Melvin Richard Guard, including his military records from the U.S. Army said his name was Melvin R. Guard.

Original birth certificate

Imagine my surprise and how totally unprepared I was when I finally received a birth certificate with the name of Vernon Guard listed on it. I stared at it. I read it over and over. I saw my great grandparents names, Thadius (sic) Guard and Mary Winter, so I knew this was the right family. The birth number was correct – number 4 and the date of birth was right, Dec 5, 1919.

So, just who the heck was Vernon?

It was probably at least 5 minutes before I realized there was an attachment to the birth certificate. An affidavit correcting the original birth certificate so that the name of the child, Vernon, was corrected to Melvin Richard. 

Well, I thought, that explained the birth certificate.  But upon a closer examination, I was even more confused. You see, the date of the correction was not immediately after the birth as one would expect it to be done, but in 1973 – 54 years after his birth!

The affidavit actually revealed new questions to ponder. If his parents named him Vernon, why  and when was he switched to Melvin Richard? Or if he was supposed to be named Melvin Richard, why on earth was his birth certificated submitted as Vernon Guard? Why did no one catch the mistake until half a century had passed and the biggest question of all… how in the world did he enlist in the military as Melvin R. Guard when his birth certificate listed him as Vernon Guard?

This is what attracts me to genealogy so much… the thrill of the hunt – the discovery and revealing the importance of past lives. In every family there is always a story to tell, a rock to uncover and a skeleton to set free.


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