Saturday, July 14, 2012

Le quatorze juillet

Today is La Fête Nationale, more commonly known in the English-speaking world as Bastille Day.  This day commemorates the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789 and the French Revolution more generally.  On the same day in Chantenay, in what is now the city of Nantes, my sixth great grandparents, François Ridel and Jeanne Saulny were married.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Surname Saturday - Fleury

Many surnames have their origins in the natural world. Because it's the month of May, it seems appropriate to take a look at some floral surnames. One such name in my own family tree is the name Fleury. The name occurs in French Canada, but my ancestor with this name lived in Brittany, in what is now the department of Loire-Atlantique.  The name Fleury is an adjective derived from the noun fleur 'flower'.  In addition to a surname, Fleury is common as or as part of place names in France (see here).  The name was most likely applied to a place where flowers commonly bloomed.

My seventh great grandfather Pierre Fleury married Anne Guchet on May 4, 1756 in Saint-Jean-de-Boiseau.  The following excerpt from their marriage record gives information about the couple's parents and their places of origin.  Pierre Fleury's mother-in-law also fits the floral theme.
 ...pierre fleury fils de Louise gabrielle fleury sa mere, agé de dix neuf ans environ, du pelerin natif, et anne guchet fille de pierre guchet et de janne bouquet ses pere et mere de cette paroisse..
...Pierre Fleury son of Louise Gabrielle Fleury his mother, aged around nineteen years, native of Le Pelerin, and Anne Guchet daughter of Pierre Guchet and Jeanne Bouquet his father and mother of this parish...
Notice how only Pierre's mother is listed and that she has the same surname.  This probably indicates that Pierre was illegitimate.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Surname Saturday: Breton

St. Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, LA

This month I am taking a closer look at surnames that indicate a national, ethnic or regional origin.  Many French surnames indicate the region of origin of their bearers.  Before the French Revolution, France was divided into 40 provinces.  To a large extent, these provinces define the historical regions of France.  After the Revolution, France was reorganized with regions replacing provinces.  Although some of the names of provinces were kept as region names, the territories were changed.  For example, the large province of Normandy was divided into two separate regions, Upper Normandy and Lower Normandy.

Common surnames associated with provinces include Picard for Picardy (Fr. Picardie), Normand for Normandy (Fr. Normandie) and the topic of this post, Breton, along with the variants Lebreton and Le Breton (as seen in the inscription pictured above).  The surname Breton is noteworthy because the name can indicate both a geographical and an ethnic origin. Brittany is divided into two separate parts, Upper Brittany to the East and Lower Brittany to the West.  In Lower Brittany, a distinctly Celtic people persisted, maintaining their language and cultural.  In Upper Brittany, during the Middle Ages, the Breton language was slowly replaced by the Romance language, Gallo, which is closely related to French and other Romance varieties of Northern France. From the 15th century to the 19th century, the linguistic frontier was relatively stable between the two regions.  Thus, Breton carries a stronger ethnic connotation when applied to someone from Lower Brittany.  My own ancestors from Brittany are split evenly between the Breton-speaking Lower Brittany and French- and Gallo-speaking Upper Brittany.

However, my ancestors with the name Breton are from Paris.  My 10th great grandmother, Marguerite Breton, was born in Paris, immigrated to Quebec and married Nicolas Patenostre (Patenaude) in 1651.  However, it is not too surprising to find this name in Paris; we would expect to find names indicating a region of origin more outside the region than in it. Being a Breton is more notable in a place where everyone else is not also a Breton.  In the period between 1891 and 1915, the greatest number of Bretons are living in Paris (map).  Although the name is common in Finistère, it is relatively rare in the other departments which cover Lower Brittany.  Similarly, the largest numbers of Picards in the same period are found outside Picardy in Paris and the department of Seine-Maritime in Normandy (map). My ancestor's family presumably adopted the name Breton because the family originated in Brittany.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Anna (Jaros) Brycha


Here lies
Anna Jaros 
Born 18 December 
Died 29 July 
Sleep well our dear daughter

This Czech inscription is found on a larger monument dedicate to her parents Matthias and Mary Jaros (here).  Anna (Jaros) Brycha is my wife's second great aunt, who died in Chicago as the result of a premature birth. Most of the features of the inscription have been explained in earlier posts (here and here).

One new feature is the forms of the surnames.  The maiden name Jaroš is rendered as Jarošova, and the married name Brycha is rendered as Brychova.  In some languages like Czech, surnames can have both a masculine form used with men and a feminine form used with women.  In this case, the feminine form is created by dropping the final vowel of the surname and adding the suffix -ova.  It is important to keep this in mind when searching for Czech ancestors.  If you are searching for a woman, search under both the masculine, "Anna Brycha", and the feminine forms, "Anna Brychova".  Both variants of the name may occur in records, so it is important to consider both.  Also, if you have, the feminine form, you will need to remove the feminine ending when searching for a male relative.    
Anna Jaros and John Brycha

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Surname Saturday - Fleming

Some surnames directly reflect the ethnicity or national origin of the bearer.  For some reason, these names are especially common in Hungary where names like Tóth, "Slav", Horváth "Croat", Németh "German", Oláh "Vlach or Romanian" and Rácz "Serb or South Slav"  are all among the most common surnames.

Although these types of names are not as common in other places, theses names are present in many different regions.  This month I will be exploring names of this type in my own family.  I will start with my fourth great grandmother Polly Anne Fleming (1823-1907).  Both of her parents were born in Massachusetts, but she was born in New York.  The family eventually made their way to Lorain County, Ohio, where she married English immigrant and tailor, John Wood.  The couple had three children, including my third great grandfather Benjamin Franklin Wood (1847-1986).  While her children were still you, her husband died and she remarried soon after. With her children and second husband, Alonzo Stanton, she relocated to Jackson County, Michigan.

All indications point to a British background for the family; they followed a typical migration route for many New Englanders. But the name provides a possibility for another more distant origin for the family.  The surname Fleming comes from the Middle Dutch Vlâming, a term for an inhabitant of Flanders (OED).  This region extends from the Netherlands to France, with the largest part in modern Belgium.  In general its people speak a dialect of Dutch called "Flemish". As one of the closest regions to England in continental Europe, the two places had close political and economic ties.  As a result, there was some immigration of Flemings to England.  It is possible that my Flemings go back to one of these immigrants

Of course, names can be tricky things and are not by themselves proof of origins.  It is possible there is another explanation for the name; maybe the name was given because members of the family had characteristics which were considered stereotypical of the group.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The "Real" Name

Have you ever had a relative correct you saying that your ancestor's "real name" was something other than what you have on the family tree or in your genealogical database?  Maybe this real name is the name that appears on a baptism record or the one that they preferred to be called.  Unfortunately, a name is not the same as a date.  An ancestor's birth date is an immutable fact.  Whether or not records are consistent or accurate, there is an objective birth date that can never change.  Names are much more changeable and contextually-defined facts.  I have a name that I use in official contexts and others I use in informal contexts.  You may have a nickname that family uses, one that friends use and one you use at work.  And these may change over time.

The proliferation of names is made even more maddening when other languages are added to the mix.  How can you decide what is the "real" name? Let's look at one example.

Case of Johann Georg Schöndorf
I have discussed my Schoendorf line before (here and here).  Records for this line are in French, German and Latin.  Records for Johann Georg Schöndorf who lived in the 1700s are in both Latin and French.  In his marriage record, a French record, he is "Jean George Schöndorf".

In his son's marriage record, a Latin record, he is listed as "Johannis Georgii Schöndorff".

There are two issues here.  First, the name is in Latin and, second, the name has a special form because it is possessive. This form is in the genitive case.  If we want to cite the Latin name, we should convert it to the nominative case, which is what is used as the default.  In this case the name would be "Johannes Georgius Schöndorf".  For more on Latin, check out this post.

But,  I know he spoke German, so what do we do? Do we convert the name to German or not?  It seems unlikely that he would use the Latin and French forms outside of records.  Fortunately, we have examples of the German name in his signature on the same two documents.

In this case it is probably safe to use the German form, but what if the only records you have are in Latin and not the local language?  Ultimately, you get to decide what name to use. The most important things to do are be consistent, so others will understand what you are doing, and recognize the reality that for some questions there is not always a clear or final answer. When you are transcribing a record, you should keep the name as close to what is found in the record and, to clarify, you can add a standardized name in brackets, such as "Jean George Schöndorf [Johann Georg Schöndorf]".

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Exploring your linguistic heritage #4: 1940 U.S. Census

The release of the 1940 census has been much anticipated in the genealogical community.  I am no exception.  In terms of exploring your ancestors' linguistic heritage this census offers some good news and some bad news.

The bad news
For most people listed in the census information about the birthplace of parents and the language of the individual is not given.  However, some individuals are singled out for supplementary questions.  These questions do ask about the mother tongue of the individual and their parents' birthplaces.  Unfortunately, there are no questions about the mother tongue of parents as was the case in the 1920 census.

The good news
If you are lucky enough to have an ancestor who was singled out for the supplementary questions, you will not only get information about the mother tongue of foreign-born ancestors, but also of American-born ancestors.  Language questions were asked in four different censuses before 1940.  In 1890 and 1910 the mother language of the individual was only given if the person did not speak English.  In 1920 and 1930 the question concerned only the foreign-born population, so if you spoke Cajun French or Pennsylvania Dutch this information was not recorded.  The 1940 census will be particularly helpful with groups that maintained their languages in the United States.

People working on Native American ancestry should be particularly aware of this question, as it will be the first time where you will have a clear indication about whether a native language was spoken in the household.

For more information about language in earlier censuses, check out this post.