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Lifestyle Stories

Name changes made for a better fit

Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: July 12, 2013 at 02:37 AM

Researchers who can't find their ancestors as they came through Ellis Island usually fall back on an old excuse: Someone changed my ancestor's name when he arrived.

Ancestors' names often were butchered after their arrival in the United States, but it isn't likely that immigration workers were the culprits. Here's why.

Passengers were listed on the ship's manifest before they departed their home ports. In most cases, this means a person of the same nationality and speech pattern was taking down names. The chances for errors would have been low.

New York officials examined both manifests and tickets for correct identification of new arrivals. Records had to match, so they would not have changed names.

Names did get changed, some intentionally and others inadvertently, once the immigrants began to assimilate into American society. If children attended school, they may have had English-speaking teachers who could not pronounce or spell the newcomers' names.

Immigrants often found it easier to get jobs and move into society if their names sounded more like others in the English-speaking society.

Some changes were drastic; some more subtle. I found my favorite example while helping a friend. We searched under his name, Johnsonbaugh, and were fairly successful. The trail ended suddenly, though, and we had no idea why. Then we found a record showing his ancestors as Schautzenbach. The change made sense once we began pronouncing the names out loud.

The name Maria Augusta Von Trapp, made famous by the movie "The Sound of Music," appears correctly in her immigration papers and naturalization application. But when she signed her oath of allegiance to her new country, she signed it Maria Augusta Trapp.

There were many reasons for names to change. Exploring all possibilities will help turn up records and perhaps a better understanding of why an ancestor wanted to fit in - name and all.

By nature and training, genealogists are a curious and creative lot. Pasco County's Pattie Schultz is a perfect example.

Pattie, a familiar face on the Florida lecture circuit, was surfing the net for lecture ideas when she thought, "Could we come up with 365 genealogy tips?"

After she identified about 200 she began contacting calendar publishers, hawking her idea. "Thanks, but no thanks," they said.

She wasn't surprised, but she was disappointed. But never underestimate the value of a supportive spouse. Hubby suggested she turn to his brother, whose company printed hotel and phone cards - not exactly thought-for-a-day calendars, but he had publishing expertise.

Four months later, Pattie says she's learned more than she wanted to know about ISBN numbers. The result is "Everyday Genealogy, the Desk Calendar." It sells for $12.59 through Amazon.com. The direct link is http://tinyurl.com/2arevhu.


Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Getaway, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa, FL 33606 or stmoody0720@mac.com. She regrets that she is unable to assist wi

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