When you can’t find your ancestor on a census, you might need to be a little creative. Think of how your ancestor might have pronounced his name, and with those sounds in your head, think of what letter combinations might be used to spell that word.
At a recent presentation I gave, one of my attendees related that he looked for his ancestor “Oscar” and finally found him under the name “Auskar.” Totally makes sense – Aukland, New Zealand begins with the exact same sound as Oscar. “Aw” makes the same sound as well.
When your ancestor is an immigrant, their pronunciation of a word may look far different from the way it looks on paper. I’ve found myself channeling The Terminator, Arnold “Ah-nuld” Schwarzenegger recently as I research some of my German immigrant ancestors.
My great-great grandmother had a brother named Herman. His baptismal record shows Johann Hermann,[i] but his obituary[ii] and gravestone[iii] show him as Herman so I think that must be what he was “called.” Herman. HER-man. I mean how hard can that name be to pronounce?
But when I first found the family on a census in the US, I thought there was another son I didn’t know about. I even went back and looked for a baptismal record for this mysterious son. No luck. And then I channeled The Terminator. How might he have said “Herman”? Er-mun? Maybe Ahr-mun?
And I realized that mysterious “nutty” son “Almond” on the 1850 census, was indeed Herman.
"United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M85Q-HVT : 9 November 2014), Castian Frethoff, Tazewell county, part of, Tazewell, Illinois, United States; citing family 176, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)
Next time you can’t find your ancestor on the census, say their name aloud, as they might have spoken it. Maybe you’ll “Terminate” your own census struggles.
[i] "Deutschland Geburten und Taufen, 1558-1898," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N6F5-H3G : 28 November 2014), Johann Hermann Fruehauf, 02 Jan 1831; citing ; FHL microfilm 70,015, 70,016, 70,017, 70,018, 70,019, 70,020.
[ii] “Suddenly Called,” The Pantagraph, Bloomington, IL, 30 May 1891, page 3
[iii] Herman Fruhauf, Find A Grave Memorial# 112171351, www.findagrave.com : accessed 11 April 2017
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.