In gathering records on people – especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – I often find people listed with middle initials. Sometimes finding the full middle names can be challenging; sometimes it’s impossible! (In some cases, such as Harry S. Truman or J.R. “Johnny” Cash, the initials may not even actually stand for anything.)
One example came up recently in our Newbury Street Press project on the Lippitt family of Rhode Island. The descendant, Mabelle Clifton Lippitt (1884–1926), is summarized above with her two husbands, with – at this point – my sources being birth, marriage, and death records from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois.
The difficulty here came in determining the middle names of her second husband “Chester S.F. Bevins” and his father “Joshua W. Bevins.” Chester’s birth only gave his name as Chester F. Bevins. The initials “S.F.” are given on his marriage and death record. His mother’s middle name was given on her second marriage, yet his father’s middle name was not given on any vital records, including the birth and death of Joshua and Roseana’s other child. Joshua W. Bevins was the son of Elisha Mayo and Sophia (Wing) Bevins, this last a daughter of Joshua and Abigail (Freeman) Wing. At this point I made a guess that his name could be “Joshua Wing Bevins.” I then did a Google search for Joshua Wing Bevins. My second result was a book called Men of Wyoming from 1915.
This work, written five years before Chester’s death, confirmed my guess for Joshua’s middle name and also provided Chester’s two middle names, about which I had not yet even made a guess, as well as more biographical information. Had I not made a guess on Joshua’s middle name (from a clue provided by his maternal grandfather’s name), I might not have found the above source in my search. I guess my advice would be “Be daring” in searching for the full name implied by middle initials – you might be surprised at your results!
 While Mabelle died in Wyoming, her death was also recorded in Rhode Island Vital Records.
 Conway P. Wing, A Historical and Genealogical Register of John Wing, of Sandwich, Mass., and his descendants, 1632-1888 (New York: The De Vinne Press, 1888), 172, 276 (which incorrectly lists Joshua as John). Joshua W. Bevins and his twin brother Benjamin were born at Brewster, Mass., 6 Dec. 1858 (Brewster Vital Records, 1852–1936, 8).