|Given Name(s)||Last Name|
From the Ancestry Daily News
The Last Name Game
Names create significant problems for genealogists. This week we focus on the last name used by our ancestor and how that name appears in various records. Our discussion is not meant to be entirely comprehensive but rather to motivate the genealogist to realize that last names might not be as simple as they seem. When family historians begin crossing linguistic, time, or cultural borders, assumptions about last names might need to be changed.
We begin simply... with how names are listed in records.
Spelling and Phonetic Variants
The way your ancestor pronounced his name and the way the clerk heard that pronunciation could have significantly impacted how the clerk wrote the name. A clerk with perfect penmanship may still spell your ancestor's surname wrong because of how it was said and how he heard it. My German ancestor most likely pronounced his last name Behrens in a way that it sounded like Barnes to non-German speakers. Small wonder that he is recorded as Ulfert Barnes in several records. Even English speakers can have this problem. Learning how your ancestor was likely to have pronounced his name may provide you with additional variants.
-Did Gibbs get pronounced as Gebbs?
In one of my previous columns, Do You Ear What I Ear? I discuss sounds in more detail.
- A u is misread as an n.
Misreadings such as these are very reasonable and could easily explain a variant in your ancestor's last name. Watching for these variants becomes even more important when textual indexes and other finding aids are being used instead of images of the actual record.
Surname Versus Last Name
Regular readers of this column have seen patronymics before. Our recent series on Swedish records brought the system to light. At the risk of oversimplifying, in this system, a man named Lars Andersson will have sons with the last name Larsson and daughters with the last name Larssdotter. Other areas of Scandinavia had similar systems. Here are a few links with additional information on other parts of Europe.
Regular readers will know that my ancestry is one-half Ostfriesen. Ostfriesland, a small ethnic area of modern-day northern Germany also practiced patronymics officially until the early nineteenth century. In this area, n or sen was commonly added to form the new last name. A man with the first name Jann would have children with the last name Janssen. A couple of examples:
Habbe Habben was the father of Lubbe Habben who was the father of Habbe Lubben who was the father of Pabe Habben who was the father of Habbe Paben, etc.
Egge Frederichs was the father of Ulfert Eggen who was the father of Hinrich Ulfers, etc.
Of course there were exceptions. In some families there might be children with several different last names. It is important to remember that in some cases, patronymics was based on custom and not on lawconsequently there is not one hundred percent consistency in how the system is used. It is those families that fall outside the typical usage patterns that cause difficulty.
Changing Last Names
It is not just foreign countries where last names for a person may change. In the United States the reasons typically revolve around the marital relationships of the parents. The children of a widowed mother may take their stepfather's surname as their own, regardless of whether or not there was any formalized adoption.
What Does All This Mean
- How the last name for a child was determined in that ancestor's place and time period;
Some links to help you:
- The Research Guides available at the Family History Library website
In summary, as far as last names are concerned, your ancestor might have had the same one as his father or his stepfather. He may have even had different last names at different points in his life. Who said research was easy?
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. You can e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.
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