By Evelyn Martin

Name, his name, her name, maiden name, surnames.

First name, last name, middle name, nickname, name.

Boys name, girls name, not quite sure which ones name.

Hunting generations of all those names.

Reading and deciphering all those names.

Rare name or common name, more then just one name.

Knows great-great-great-grand’s, forgets nephews name.

Moms’ hobby or obsession hunting names.

Genealogy is the proper name.

Genealogy is fun, fun, fun.

How much do you really know about your family name?

During the Middle Ages, the feudal system meant that most people in Europe lived in small farming villages. Because of this, a need arose to find ways to differentiate between two people who shared the same first name as the population expanded and the towns grew.

Surnames gradually became popular and over time, began to be standardized within families. By about the early 16th century, last names were an accepted and usual part of people’s names throughout Western Europe

Our German ancestors began to use surnames in the 1400s. Names derived from their occupation are the most common names among our German ancestors, but nicknames and location names were also used. If the name ends with the suffix “er” it denotes the name was an occupational name.

Many individuals and families have changed their names or adopted an alias at some time in the past. Many immigrants changed their names in some way to assimilate into their new country and culture. A common choice was to translate the meaning of their surname into the new language. This could be for legal reasons, or simply on a whim, but points to the fact that although the study of surnames is vital in family history research, it is all too easy to place excessive emphasis on the “correct“ spelling.

It is more important to be aware that both surnames and forenames are subject to variations in spelling, and not only in the distant past. Standardized spelling did not really arrive until the 19th century, and even in the present day variations occur, often by accident

The sources from which names are derived are almost endless: nicknames, physical attributes, counties, trades, heraldic charges, and almost every object known to mankind. Many people took their name from their farm or hamlet. Our Hoersten ancestors took the name from the “Horst farm” while the von Hoersten’s, no relation to us, took their name from the village of Hörsten.

No matter how common or easy to spell a name may appear to be, it can always be spelled in an atypical way.

In my years of research I’ve learned three things in my hunt for surnames.

First: Early record keepers spelled names as they heard them. No matter how hard I looked I could not find my Great-grandfather, Florenz Hoersten, listed anywhere in the 1870 Census. Knowing that he probably took the B & O railroad to Cincinnati I looked for him in the “Williams Directory” of Cincinnati. And there he was! Hersten Florence lab. [laborer] bds. [boards at] 691 Central Av. My guess is that he was traveling to Ottoville when the Census was being enumerated and he was missed.

Second: Transcribers sometimes make a total mess of a surname. I was looking for the baptism record of my ancestor, Elisabeth Rahrig. I knew the place and year she was born, but I just could not find her. Having learned that surnames are often transcribed wrong I decided to look for her first name, Elisabeth. And there she was! Indexed under the name Frerech. I know your wondering how did the name Rahrig become Frerech. My guess is that the Pastor spelled it as he heard it. Anyway, yippee I found it!

Third: Certain names always seem to be interchangeable. In the tri-county area the names Ricker and Recker fit this mold. Hunting for the death date of my ancestor, Maria Anna (Hesseling) Recker, I found her listed in the St. John’s Cemetery as Anna Maria Catherine Ricker. I was able to verify that this was my ancestor by finding her in the Putnam County Death records listed as Maria Recker with the same death date as the Anna Maria Catherine Ricker in St. John’s Cemetery.

Genealogy is fun, fun, fun.