Channeling The Terminator
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
4/11/2017 06:11:24 pm
This reminds me of finding my father-in-law in the 1930 US Census listed as Hattie, a female child. When I told him about it, he imitated his Hungarian-born mother saying his name, which sounded like Hattie instead of Harry. See https://frommainetokentucky.blogspot.com/2011/05/tuesdays-tip-errors-in-census-records.html.
4/11/2017 06:15:18 pm
Thanks for your note, Elizabeth. I enjoyed your post about a very similar situation.
4/20/2017 10:22:49 am
This is excellent advice. Next we need to learn to channel the non-standard writer and too-imaginative indexer, I think. On the occasions when Bilyeu gets written correctly, it gets indexed as Bilyen, Belyen, Bilger, even Bliger. Think of all the ways that Furneaux can be mis-written and mis-read, beginning with upper-case T. The search algorithms for similar spellings seem to fail a lot for these names. Is it because they are French?
9/9/2018 01:50:09 am
For your German relative, Johann might be his formal first name, but the "middle" name was his Rauf name (used by family & friends & neighbors)... Unfortunately not all church records use the middle name as well, so there are a lot of ambiguous people...
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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.