From the Ancestry Daily News
Who Dreams Up These Rules?
Ostfriesland is a small ethnic area in northern Germany from where all my maternal ancestors originated. Regular readers of this column have heard of the Ostfriesens before. This week we will look at some things I learned and problems I encountered when beginning my research on these ancestors. Now that I have researched in other regions and time periods, I know that similar problems exist for virtually every area.
These Names Make No Sense.
This was especially true when my research crossed the Atlantic back into Europe. Jans Focken would have children named Hinrich Janssen, Trientje Janssen, and Focke Janssen (a "sen" was added to the father's first name to create the child's last name of Janssen). Habbe Lubben would have children named Johann Habben, Tjode Habben, and Jasper Habben (by adding an "n" to the father's first name). The practice here is relatively simple patronymics, where a surname is derived from the first name of the father. The problem was that in Ostfriesland the practice was continued until the early nineteenth century. (Wales and Sweden also continued the practice later than other areas.) Once one understands the basic way patronymics operates, there is significantly less confusion and there are definite patterns and tendencies. The problem is that our ancestors did not have a guidebook to use to help them with this system and there were no laws about how patronymics were to be applied. That was the just the way it was done. When things are "done the way they are done" the genealogist two hundred years later can easily be confused. Every ethnic region has its own idiosyncrasies; it is up to us to learn them.
Then I Learned that the Rules Were Not Consistent.
Just when a genealogist thinks she has a reasonable grip on an ethnic group or a time period, they encounter that one family that seems to break all the rules. (Of course, the families that break all the rules are sometimes the most fun to research.)
A Modern Researcher "Cleans It Up."
We do our ancestors a disservice when we attempt to make information about them conform to modern standards. Give the facts, explain what you can, and leave it at that.
One Hundred Words
Reading foreign records, particularly church records, does not require an advanced degree in the language. What it does require is patience and a willingness to learn. Generally speaking, there are some basic words that a researcher needs to know in order to use foreign records. The names of the individuals involved and other identifying details change from one entry to another, but the word for "born," "died," "married," "father," "mother," etc. do not change from one child's christening entry to another. I quickly learned that once I knew how to read the basic "genealogy words" in a foreign language I could make a reasonable translation of most church records, particularly those entries that were created using "boilerplate" text. It was not the words that gave me the biggest problem in reading foreign language records. Like most genealogist, it was the script used by the priest or minister that creates the biggest problem.
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 currently a member of the board of the Federation
of Genealogical Societies (FGS). He conducts seminars and lectures
nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and
contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry
Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him
or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com/,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Research Trip to Salt Lake City, 17-24 May 2006
Copyright 2006, MyFamily.com.