Given Name(s) Last Name

Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 12/18/2002

Tapping Tamme Tammen

The posting of the 1885 Nebraska Federal Census on piqued my interest. This census was taken in a limited number of states and is an excellent source given the unavailability of the 1890 United States Federal Census. One of my "problem people" was in Nebraska during that time period and I decided to try and locate him in the 1885 census.

The 1885 Census-Brief Background
An act of 3 March 1879 allowed any state to take an interdecennial census with partial federal reimbursement. Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and the Dakota and New Mexico territories returned 1885 schedules to the Interior Department. The 1885 censuses discussed in this article are federal, not state censuses. The questions asked on the 1885 census are similar to those asked in the 1880 federal census. There's more on the 1885 census at the end of this article.

My Problem
I did not have a lot to go on. My problem person was a Tamme Focken Tammen born in Velde, Ostfriesland, Germany in 1856. His parents and some siblings are known to have remained in Germany. Tamme's parents are known to have remained in Velde after his birth and since there is no entry for him in the church records after his christening, I decided it was likely he emigrated from the area. He might have stayed in Germany but married someone from a neighboring village or he might have emigrated altogether.

A potential connection to Tamme was discovered when I viewed the homestead records of my forebear Frank (Focke) Goldenstein from Dawson County, Nebraska. A Tamme Tammen is listed as a neighbor. This appeared to be an excellent lead. Frank Goldenstein's mother, Tjode, was a sister to the Tamme Tammen from Velde that I was looking for. It pays to keep an eye out for the neighbors. Tamme, Frank's uncle, might have been the Tamme, Frank's neighbor. The unusual nature of the name is not sufficient to establish the connection one hundred percent. More work had to be done.

Finding Him In The 1885 Census
I decided to give the 1885 Nebraska census index at a try. It took me some time to find Tamme in the census index and even then I was not certain I had the right individual. There were several factors that increased the level of difficulty in this case.

  • Tamme did not speak English.
  • Tamme's first name is not an English language name.
  • original handwriting is difficult to read.

    Not Speaking English
    Researching non-English speakers in English language records requires an understanding of how names are pronounced by someone familiar with the language. This may be difficult to do if there are few that speak the language or dialect today. I was fortunate that even though I am not fluent in "Platt" (the low-German dialect Tamme likely spoke), I did grow up in an area where many of the names were pronounced the "correct" way. This knowledge is considerably valuable but not something every researcher will have before their research begins. There are some ways one can learn. In this case, there are even some Platt dictionaries that provide pronunciations of typical words and armed with those pronunciations one can develop a reasonable idea of how names are likely pronounced. One can also subscribe to an appropriate mailing list ( ) and ask how certain names or words would be pronounced. (This is something I have done with much success while working on my wife's French-Canadian lines, an area I was not familiar with before I started that research).

    Not An English Last Name
    Sometimes non-English language names are anglicized. Determining the translation can be difficult and many names do not even have a literal translation. The first name, Tamme, was frequently anglicized as Thomas or Tom. Some names have common anglicizations and some do not. There is a page of common Ostfriesen first name anglicizations at Researchers looking for individuals from other non-English speaking areas should search for similar pages at or considering posting requests for information about such pages or sites to the appropriate mailing list at Rootsweb ( ). Any such lists must be considered partial as there are always exceptions. But while searching for Tamme, I'll keep the name Tom in mind.

    The Handwriting Is Difficult To Read
    Even if an index indicates the handwriting was difficult to read, the researcher cannot know what the original looked like until the original is accessed. However, while using the index, it is necessary for me to remember that the original record was handwritten. Consequently handwriting interpretations are a consideration. It might even be helpful for me to write the name I'm searching for in several different ways (emphasizing my sloppy handwriting). Then try and read the names or have someone else try and read it.

    How I Searched
    Entering "Tamme" as the first name and "Tammen" as the last name in the search boxes did not bring about the desired result. It took some looking and some experimentation to locate an entry that I thought had a reasonable chance of being Tamme. I made the decision that the last name was likely so incorrect, either in the original record or in the index, that I would not be able to locate the entry using a last name.

    The search interface for the 1885 Nebraska State Census allows the user to search on the given name, surname, and keywords. My successful entries in the search box were:

    Given name:
    Tom—e Tamme had not located any good matches.

    Dawson—for Dawson County Nebraska where Tamme likely lived.
    Germany—for Tamme's place of birth. (I was hoping that Germany was listed as the place of birth instead of Hanover or Prussia as sometimes happens with people from this area.)

    When this search was performed, there was only one match. Viewing this entry in context revealed another entry: Acke Temerson.

    The Actual Entry In The Index
    Name: Tom Temerson
    Race: W
    Age: 38
    Birth Place: Germany
    ED: 201
    Loc: Willow Island Precinct,Dawson,Nebraska
    Date: 04 Jun 1885
    Enumerator: August A. Nelson
    Locality: Midway Borough
    ED: 192
    OSPage Number: 9B

    The index entry is a starting point, not an end in and of itself. My next step was to obtain a copy of the actual record.

    Getting The Original Census
    The 1885 Nebraska census is on microfilm, and I accessed the census via the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The name on the original 1885 Nebraska Census is difficult to read and Temerson is a reasonable rendering of the handwriting. I might have seen it as "Tammen" since that's what I was looking for, but if I had never heard of the name "Tammen" I'm not certain that is how I would have read the entry. I also don't think that "Tammen" is what the census taker wrote down in the first place. Readers who want to see the image for themselves can view it at:

    Acke is listed as Tom's wife. Obtaining the relationship was helpful, because the relationship to head of household is not included in the index. The household directly before Tom is one for a John Griswold, also born in Germany. Being familiar with some of the surnames in the area, I was wondering if the surname was Gronewold instead of Griswold. Fortunately, I have another 1885 census schedule that will contain some of these names and will allow me to compare the surnames between the two census schedules. The other census schedule is the 1885 agricultural census.

    The 1885 Agricultural Census
    The 1885 population schedule was not the only schedule that was created. In my particular case, the agricultural schedule was also relevant. I obtained the 1885 agricultural census entry for Tamme as well. The only problem is that the rendering of the name is apparently not the same on the population census as it is on the agricultural census. It was helpful to list a few of Tamme's neighbors from both schedules.

    1885 Nebraska Population Census, Dawson County, Willow Island Precinct, Enumeration District 201, page 7

    Dwelling 48 Albert Anderson
    Dwelling 49 R. Castin
    Dwelling 50 P. W. Gentry
    Dwelling 51 John Griswold
    Dwelling 52 Tom Temmerson
    Dwelling 53 John Larson

    1885 Agricultural Census, Willow Island Precinct, Dawson County, Page 2, 4 June 1885

    1 Albert Anderson
    2 R. Castin
    3 P. W Gentry
    4 John F. Gronewold
    5 Talman F. Tammen

    Given that the census was taken in neighborhoods and from one farm to another, the order should be roughly the same. Except for the Gronewold and Tammen entries in the agricultural census, the names are a match. The agricultural census entry helped confirm my suspicions about the Griswold entry. The entry for Talman F. Tammen is a fairly close one to the man I was looking for, Tamme F. Tammen.

    Is This My Man?
    The agricultural census was extra significant in this case as the rendering of the name was different and a middle initial was used. This indicates that more follow-up research needs to be done on Tamme/Tom Tammen in Dawson County Nebraska. A search of the Dawson County Nebraska GenWeb page revealed another original record I need to obtain. The site contains a groom's index to marriages that revealed an interesting entry for "Tammen, Tamme F. and Boreherts, Eke" (marriage book 1, page 211). The site indicates how the actual record can be obtained—something I have added to my list. Additional records should be utilized in my search for Tamme, but I think I'll make this one my next step.

    1885 Federal Census Finding Aids
    The links below contain information on the various 1885 schedules. Researchers are encouraged to view these sites and the National Archives website ( ) for more information on obtaining copies of these records.


    Dakota Territories



    National Archives Publication Numbers
    M158 Schedules of the Colorado State Census of 1885 (8 rolls)
    M845 Schedules of the Florida State Census of 1885 (13 rolls)
    M352 Schedules of the Nebraska State Census of 1885 (56 rolls)
    M846 Schedules of the New Mexico Territory Census of 1885 (6 rolls)

    1885 Dakota Territory
    The 1885 Dakota Territory Census is available on microfilm from the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University (Microfilm HA631 1885 .D34).

    Lessons Learned (or remembered):

  • Be creative when using the index.
  • the original record.
  • certain you get everything-additional or underused records may be especially significant in your case.

    Another article on these individuals is online at:

    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 and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at: or visit his website at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

    Copyright 2002, Inc.

    Used by the author on his website with permission. .

  • Other Genealogy Articles by Michael John Neill

    Genealogy Section of Ebay

    ---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!