Thursday, November 17, 2011

Where exactly are they from?

Obituaries can provide very valuable clues for discovering the origins of immigrant ancestors. However, you need to be careful with information that may have become lost in translation as it passed from the original immigrants to their children or newspaper editors who may not have known your ancestors' language as well or at all.

For example, the first paragraph of Henry Kappmeier's obituary1 provides information about where he and his wife were born.
Mr. H. Kappmeier was born at Furstenthum Waldech at Pyrmont, Germany, Dec. 14, 1830. He came to America in 1854 and married Maria Bergmann of Koenigriech, Hannover, April 11, 1858. Their marriage took place in the now Chicago Avenue Evangeical Lutheran church, Rev. Hartman officiating at the ceremony.
If you are not familiar with German, you may assume that Henry was born in a village called Furstenthum Waldech and his wife in a town called Koenigriech. A simple mistake was made either by Henry's descendants or the newspaper. Furstenthum and Koenigriech are not the names of places, but are the words Fürstentum, meaning "Principality", and Königreich, meaning "Kingdom". Henry was from the Principality of Waldeck and Maria was from the Kingdom of Hanover.

When dealing with a foreign language, the first and most important rule is not to make any assumptions. If you are having trouble locating a place with Google Maps, it might be worthwhile checking a good dictionary like BEOLINGUS, an online German dictionary. Some of the words that you think are just part of a place name may have a meaning that will help you better interpret your records.

1. A copy of the original obituary from the Beecher Herald (Beecher, IL) can be found at Karens-Gen.Com.

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