A response from Laurie Winter about whether or not Margaret and Mary McWhirter were two people or two names for one person (Feb 13, 2012):
“I’m looking at the 1850 census for Burlington where Margaret McWhirter (8 years old) is living with her sister Agnes in Burlington. Then there’s the 1850 census you found for Ferrisburg where “Mary A” (10 years old) is living with the rest of the family. The Burlington census was 29 August. The Ferrisburg census was 15 September. The question is… are Mary and Margaret two sisters living separately? Or are Mary and Margaret the same person and she moved back in with her folks after staying for a bit with her sister and got caught in two census reports?”
Yeah, I thought about this too. There were a few things that made me think that they’re 2 separate people though. First Margaret goes by “Margaret” in each and every census I’ve pulled (including the Kansas state censes). If she’d gone by Maggie, Margaret Mary, Margaret M, or Mary in any of the others I’d be more apt to believe they were the same individual. Second, while these days the 15 miles between Ferrisburg and Burlington is a quick trip, it was anything but at that time unless you traveled by horse or horse & carriage. It’s possible that Margaret was back with the family in Ferrisburg a mere 15 days after her headcount in the Burlington census, but it’s difficult to tell. The third has to do with naming patterns. Remember what I related about how the Irish name their children. Well there are several Margaret and Mary J’s in the next generation, making me think that both existed as ‘aunts’ to their namesakes in the subsequent generation. What we really need is to find the parish that the family originated from in Tyrone IRE, find an immigration record for the family, or find an obit/probate record which lists all the siblings in the McWhirter family in order to clarify the question.