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Barb vs. Barbe


Sometime in the 1870s, Olive McLaughlin (nee Barb) of Cincinnati, Ohio, began an intensive effort to gather genealogical information on the descendants of her maternal great-great-grandfather. Through correspondence and actual visits, she gathered a huge amount of data, including education, military service, anecdotal information and physical descriptions.

During a trip to Europe Mrs. McLaughlin went to the Alsace region of Europe between France and Germany.  Contrary to her belief, she found no evidence that her Barb ancestors had come from that area (they had, in fact, come from Germany).  However, in Metz, France, she visited the birthplace of the Marquis Francois Barbe-Marbois.  We cannot know exactly what was in her mind, but it is strongly suggested that Olive latched onto the cachet of being of French, and perhaps noble, extraction, rather than being a descendant of a humble German farmer.  She promptly adopted the spelling Barbe and for the next fifty years, throughout what otherwise can only be described as an exhaustingly thorough genealogical pursuit, she sought to convince Barbs across the country that the name should properly be spelled that way, and sometimes succeeded.

In Olive's notes, there is evidence that she corresponded with Jemima Baker Barb (1827-1899), and Clara Lee Way Barb (1879-1964).

For the Barb descendants in Hancock and McDonough Counties, Illinois, how the surname was spelled in news columns or obituaries, for example, depended on who wrote or provided information for the item.  While some adopted a final e, the majority did not.  Norman Richard Barb, for example, used the Barbe spelling for a time, but got tired of people pronouncing it Bar-bee and returned to using Barb.

An interesting example involves the shared tombstone of William Price Barb and his son, John Barb, and that of Jennie Daugherty, Bill's former wife and John's mother.  Even though she remarried, Jennie chose to be buried next to Bill and John - and her tombstone reads Jennie Barbe Gustafson, while the surname is spelled Barb on Bill and John's stone.

Regardless, from 1863 and for many years thereafter, all persons born Barb or Barbe in Hancock or McDonough Counties, Illinois, were descendants of James and Jemima Baker Barb.

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James Barb
Jemima Baker