Given Name(s) Last Name

From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 8/2/2000

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A Bigger Bieger Bugaboo: Sorting Out Individuals with the Same or Similar Names

Previous Ancestry Daily News articles have discussed the ongoing search for information on the parents of my ancestor Franciska Bieger Trautvetter, born in Illinois in 1851 of German-born parents. Research on Franciska's parents is typical in that it never seems to be complete, and the research is made more difficult because of name variations. This article centers on merging and separating identities of individuals with the same or similar names.

There is a Peter Biger who married Barbara Seifert in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849 that I feel fairly certain is mine. There are several reasons for this belief, and they can best be summarized as follows:

    1) Barbara's maiden name is listed as Siphery, Sipher, and other close variants on various records for her children. While records on Barbara's children are secondary sources for her maiden name, they are consistent with each other and consistent with the surname listed on the marriage record in Ohio. This consistency is not proof in and of itself. It just means the children agreed on their mother's maiden name.

    2) Barbara's obituary from 1903 indicated that she spent some time in Cincinnati after immigrating to the United States and before coming to Illinois.

    3) Peter and Barbara's first child was born in Illinois in 1851, within two years of the marriage date in Ohio. The marriage date is consistent with this fact.

It should be noted that the case would be considerably weaker if we only had one of the reasons instead of all three.

Please also note that it is generally advisable to summarize the reasons for any genealogical conclusion. This makes it easier to explain your reasoning to others and to remember it yourself. It also makes it easier for others (or yourself) to notice gaps or holes in your research. An ideal place to put this information is in your software program's notes area for the individual in question. Your sources should also be included in the source area of your program, but I find it convenient to use the notes area to free-form type a summary of my reasons for a given conclusion.

While I was excited to obtain the marriage information, I was not satisfied: I wanted more.

I have what I think is Peter's citizenship information (also mentioned in a previous Daily News article about him). The Hamilton County, Ohio Citizenship Record Abstracts of 1837-1916 (compiled by Lois E. Hughes and published in 1991 by Heritage Books) indicates that a Peter Bigger, age 21 and a native of Wurttenburg, had filed a declaration of intent to become a citizen in March 1850 and had entered New York on 4 July 1847. Is this really my Peter Bieger?

The earlier Daily News article indicated that a Peter Bigger was located in the census index for Hamilton County, Ohio in 1850. I obtained this entry by searching for Peter Bieger in the AIS Census Indexes, with the Soundex option selected. The actual census entry for this individual shows him as age 29 and living with no wife, apparently in some type of rooming house.

Based on what I have for my Peter Bieger/Bigger, I don't think this guy in the census is my ancestor. The other question is, is the guy in the census the same guy in the citizenship record abstract? Given the age discrepancy, I'm not initially convinced they are the same. Nine years is quite a bit off, but it is important to note and remember that census records are notoriously inaccurate in terms of ages. The usual case is that the older the person, the more likely the census "age" can be off by at least a few years, if not a whole decade.

I need to recheck the census and search for other spellings besides Bigger and its Soundex variants. It turns out, there are other potential matches.

Another misspelling of Peter's surname is Berger. Berger has a different Soundex code from Bigger/Bieger, and another search of the AIS Census Indexes (hint--put 1850 in the year box) at for Soundex variations of Berger in Hamilton County, Ohio turned up six new possibilities.

I then went wild and decided to search for everyone with the first name Peter in the 1850 Hamilton County, Ohio Census (again, using's online census indexes). This resulted in MANY pages of search results. I decided to focus only on the entries under the "B" section. Two more possible matches:

    Peter Bergler, Sycamore Twp.
    Peter Biegler, 10th Ward

Now I need to order the 1850 Hamilton County, Ohio Census index and read the entries for all these Peters. If the ages are nowhere near 21 or the birthplaces are nowhere near Germany, I can most likely rule these out. However, as I research, I should RETAIN the information on all these individuals so that:

    1) I remember why they were eliminated from my research.

    2) I have them in case I need to go back and do followup work.

I may also wish to view a printed census index for the 1850 Ohio Census and manually look at all the entries beginning with "B."

I should also note that the following assumptions were made during my search of the online census indexes:

    1) I only searched in Hamilton County, Ohio. Outlying Ohio counties, or even Kentucky counties, should be considered if the potential matches do not locate the desired individual.

    2) I ignored those names that did not start with a "B" in the index. This could be a limiting factor if the first letter of the surname was keyed in with something besides a "B."

    3) I did not consider an alternate spelling of the first name (e.g., Pieter).

Keep in mind that it is always necessary to track what you DID NOT search in addition to what you did search.

How Will I Know If One of These Guys Is Mine?
Good question. I know that my Peter was approximately 25 in 1850, as was his wife Barbara. They were both born in Germany as well. Each entry will have to be analyzed separately to determine if it could reasonably be the desired one.

More followup work needs to be done, including getting the original of the citizenship record. I may interpret the 21 as a different number. This could significantly impact my analysis.

I should also determine if there is a final naturalization for Peter Bigger in Hamilton County, Ohio. If there is, the date of the final paper may help me eliminate the Peter Bigger of the citizenship record. My ancestor was in Illinois in the fall of 1850. However, the lack of a final paper for the Peter in Ohio does not necessarily mean that the one in the declaration of intent is necessarily mine (it does not say "this guy never filed a final paper, moved to Illinois, and became the ancestor of Michael Neill!").

A Last Fly in the Ointment
My Peter Bieger (and presumably Barbara) was known to be in Warsaw, Hancock County, Illinois in November 1850, when Peter purchased a lot in that city. The deed and mortgage clearly indicate his residence at that time as Hancock County, Illinois. This may explain their potential absence from census records. The family could have been en route to Illinois during the time of the census and may not appear in any census record at all. They are NOT in the 1850 census for Hancock County, Illinois.

Peter died in Warsaw in 1855. His early death also significantly complicates the research process.

So the research continues. The search for the parents of Franciska Trautvetter has been an extremely interesting one. Unfortunately, it is not finished yet!

Note: You can learn more about Franciska's parents by reading back issues of the Daily News. Franciska's mother had a "colorful" life, and research on her demonstrates a wide variety of records. See the articles below:

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing.

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Michael John Neill's articles from the Ancestry Daily News