surname history

Name is the Game – Surname History

Editor’s Note: The post below includes an excerpt from Lloyd Bockstruck’s book, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist. We are focusing on surname history, as that can be a common question and potential pitfall to be tackled in genealogical research.

Names, like people, have lives of their own, which is why Lloyd Bockstruck’s recently published book about the serendipity and life’s choices that can alter our family names is must-reading for every researcher. Mr. Bockstruck, one of America’s foremost genealogists and the former genealogy librarian at the Dallas Public Library, has distilled the wisdom of a lifetime about the vagaries of names into this work. Eminently readable, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist is a collection of illustrations and cautionary tales that can help family historians surmount the obstacles or avert the pitfalls associated with naming practices throughout the centuries.

The book is divided into five chapters, and it engages the reader at the get-go. For instance, in the introductory first chapter Bockstruck relates a number of first-hand accounts that fostered his early fascination with names, such as his initial failure to find the tombstone of German great-aunt Barbara Baker (born Barbara Becker). The introduction’s high point is the incredible story of the peregrinating Scots colonist Ian Ferguson, whose name was recorded as Johann Feuerstein when he was among the Pennsylvania Palatine immigrants, and was later recorded as John Flint when he moved to Philadelphia. Two generations later, one of his grandsons, Peter Flint, moved to Louisiana, where he was recorded as Pierre a Fusil, only to end up as Peter Gunn when he settled in Texas after the Civil War.

While we obviously recommend reading the book for yourself, we will be excerpting from Chapter 3, the “Surname” section of the book. This is the longest section of the book, and it covers lots of territory. Topics include maiden names, spelling, surname misinterpretation, aliases, military influences, changes in language, dialects, surname abbreviations, and much more.

Please enjoy Part I below, and visit us again soon to read more from The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist:

The use of an additional name to differentiate among people of the same Christian name in a community began as a byname. It was not until that the second name became hereditary that it became a surname.

The first people to adopt more than one name were the Chinese. It was Emperor Fushi who ordered the use of family names in 2832 B.C.

Family names can be grouped according to five categories. One is for surnames derived from toponyms, i.e. places or features of the landscape or ofnames of actual localities.The Jacob who lived at the edge of the woods would become Jacob at the woods or Jacob Atwood. His neighbor who lived in the agricultural belt of the community might become John Fields. William Hill, Robert Brooks, John Rivers, or Peter Meadows are other examples of people taking a surname from a landscape feature. The Germans and the English have a high incidence of such surnames.

Other surnames are indicative of a trade or occupation such as Smith, Carpenter, Taylor, Shepherd, Teacher, Turner, Cooper, and Wheelwright.

Sometimes people who excelled in particular roles in morality plays acquired surnames from their roles. Sheriff, Duke, King, and Bishop are examples of such.

Still other surnames arose to express relationships . Jeremiah the son of John became Jeremiah Johnson. William the son of Richard became William Richardson, and Richard the son of William became Richard Williamson. Sometimes the suffix “-son” was expressed in the possessive so that the letter “s”was appended to the Christian name as in Williams for the son of William or Harris for the son of Harry.

Sometimes it was the diminutive of a forename which Jed to the adoption of the surname as in Dickson or Robinson . Patronymical surnames predominate among the Welsh, Scots, Irish, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. They are also widespread among the Germans and Poles.

Surnames also derived from nicknames indicating a physical or personality trait such as Goodfellow, Short, or Black. The Italians and Irish favor this category.

It was said of the Todd family of Kentucky that their surname had two d’s while God had only one.

Please visit us again soon for Part II!

Image credit: Grave stones These are around the perimeter of the ruined church of St Mary’s. By Dennis Simpson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

germans, german genealogy

German Genealogy – “The Germans and Germany”

Editor’s Note: This article is condensed from the chapter, “The Germans and Germany” in the brand new 5th Edition of Mr. Angus Baxter’s classic how-to book, In Search of Your German Roots. Readers should note that in the interest of brevity, a number of tables in the book which describe the migration and distribution of the German population and the contemporary archival holdings of other nations that have a bearing on German genealogy have been omitted from this except. This excerpt is part one of two we will share with our readers. 

The development and coalescence of the German nation took many centuries. The word “Deutsch” (German) was first used in the eighth century, but it only referred to the spoken language of the area known as eastern Franconia. This empire reached its height of importance under the Emperor Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse), and after his death in 814 it disintegrated. The western section eventually became the area we now know as France. The eastern section varied in area over the centuries, but the main area–the heartland–became known as the Deutschland (the land of the Germans). By 911 the Duke of Franconia was elected King of the Franks, and later King of the Romans. By the 11th century the area became known as the Roman Empire, and by the 13th the Holy Roman Empire. In the 15th century the words “German nation” were added. Continue reading…

Augusta, Maine, Maine Genealogy

Maine Genealogy Resources, Part II

Editor’s Note: The following is the second part of Denise R. Larson’s articles on Maine genealogy resources. In Maine Genealogy Resources Part I, Ms. Larson described the historical forces and settlement patterns that form the background to Maine genealogy. Denise Larson is the author of Maine, Genealogy at a Glance: French-Canadian Genealogy Research. Her contribution to the Genealogy at a Glance series is particularly helpful when searching for French-Canadian immigrants, and offers historical background notes and pointers on where to look for census returns, vital records, and other documentation.

In the concluding installment on Maine genealogy, Ms. Larson offers excellent practical advice on the how and where to conduct Maine genealogical research, as well as additional publications that will assist you on this search. 

Great places to do Maine Genealogy

Of particular note in the search for genealogical materials is the Cultural Center on State Street in Augusta, which houses the Maine State Archives, Library, and Museum.

Maine State Archives

The Maine State Archives (207-287-5795) has online databases for general search, early court cases, maps, municipal records, photographs.

The archives’ genealogy research website offers an index to vital statistics (birth, death, marriage) 1908-1922. Copies of certificates are available from 1892-1922 at the cost of $10 per copy; certified copies are $15.

Many official records are on microfilm and can be viewed in the archives’ Search Room. These include vital records 1922-1955, U.S. Census returns 1790-1930, an index of Revolutionary War land grants and pension applications, and a good collection of photographs of officers.

Prior to 1892, the towns and cities of Maine kept the local records of births, marriages, and deaths. As of 1892, the state became responsible for vital records. Municipalities were asked to provide copies of the pre-1892 records, and they are included in the Delayed Vital Records microfilm. The records of some of the noncompliant towns were later microfilmed and added to the collection but not all were included and some town records were lost through flood, fire, or mishap.

Staff members at the Maine State Archives will search within a five-year period for a record upon request and receipt of payment. The search fee is included in the cost of the copy, which is nonrefundable if a record is not found.

Copies of vital records and divorce decrees from 1923 and later are available from Office of Data, Research and Vital Statistics, State House Station #11, 244 Water St., Augusta, ME 04333-0011; 1-888-664-9491; 207-287-5500.

Genealogical Publishing and Broderbund collaborated on Early Maine and New Hampshire Settlers, a CD that displays images of pages from fourteen publications and offers a single electronic name index that allows users to search all volumes, which include biographies, the 1790 census, gravestone inscriptions, pensioners of the American Revolution, probate records, vital records, and wills. Continue reading…

Maine Genealogy

Maine Genealogy Resources, Part I

Editor’s Note: The following article, “Maine Genealogy Resources,” is by Denise R. Larson. Ms. Larson is the acclaimed author of Companions of Champlain, which provides a concise historical overview of the founding of Quebec and French-Canadian culture. She has also authored other posts on this blog including the informative “Genealogy Isn’t Just Finding Dead People” about how to find “lost” relatives in your family history.

In this article, Ms. Larson discusses some of the treasures found in Maine genealogy collections, as well as early migration into the state. Part II of this piece will include the resources and repositories most beneficial for Maine genealogy and genealogical research, and will be available on the blog next week. 

Maine Genealogy Resources

Just as the Smithsonian is said to be the nation’s attic, Maine is New England’s attic. Among Maine’s many treasures and whatnots are several early nineteenth-century embroidery samplers that are more than elaborate fruits and flowers surrounding a carefully stitched alphabet. The fine silk threads sewn into the linen of these special samplers sketch family genealogies. In the collection of the Maine State Library in Augusta include pedigree samplers for the Cooper, Twombly, Pool, and Swan families.

Watercolorists also took up the subject of family lines. An 1830 watercolor depicts the Libby lineage, and one done in 1831 with pen and ink as well as watercolor was done for William and Rhoda Thompson.

Both the samplers and the watercolors can be viewed online at the Maine Memory Network, a project of the Maine Historical Society that brings together the collections of more than two hundred organizations in the state.

Of those two hundred contributors to the Maine Memory Network, many are libraries that have a history & genealogy room or special genealogical collections about local families. History holds an honored place in the hearts of Mainers. Continue reading…

spanish flu, how our ancestors died

How Our Ancestors Died

Editor’s Note: The following article is written by author Dr. Terrence Punch. His work includes multiple volumes on Irish immigration to Atlantic Canada, Some Early Scots in Maritime Canada, Volumes I-III, North America’s Maritime FunnelThe Ships that Brought the Irish, 1749-1852 and Montbeliard Immigration to Nova Scotia, 1749-1752. Dr. Punch has authored other articles we’ve shared on this blog including Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, Part I and Canadian Maritime Provinces and New England: Differences in Record Keeping, Part II. He can also be heard as a resident genealogist on CBC Radio. 

In this article, “What Our Ancestors Died Of,” Dr. Punch shares tips on how to identify how our ancestors died when the causes can be mislabeled or unclear. This piece contains a list of frequently seen causes of death, and what they actually mean, as well as additional resources to help you on your search. 

Some genealogists collect only ancestors, that is, people from whom they are personally descended. When traced out on a sheet of paper or a spreadsheet you often have a pattern resembling an inverted Christmas tree, wide at the top and pointed at the bottom. Others take a great deal of trouble to track down collateral relatives, the siblings of ancestors and their descendants. If they began with a couple of progenitors, the result will tend to spread more widely with the passing of the generations.

This is not always the case. One couple had eleven children, sixteen grandchildren, but just four great-grandchildren, all four of whom grew to adulthood, two of them married and none of them had children. Within three generations a large family had completely died out. Imagine the original matriarch, dying in 1883 leaving eight children and nine grandchildren, and in 2003 her last descendant died, childless.

One of the reasons why people try to compile genealogies linking collateral relatives as well as direct ancestors is to produce a health history of their wider family circle. They ask questions about age at death, causes of death, conditions that appeared to run in the family, handicaps, tendency to accidents and mishaps, even towards suicide. Continue reading…