Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesGenealogy · 1 decade ago

Genealogical advice, what would you recommend one do to avoid mistaken surname origin?

For example, I have Green relatives who were Greenfarbs in Poland. Not knowing this, assuming statements in family are corrected, I would probably have assumed they are English. Sometimes records may not be sufficient to soundly deduce a different origin from the common one.


corrected should read as correct.

Update 2:

I do have a record on this, but not primary documents.

4 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    LOL... you just summed up why most of the regulars here, keep trying to caution the newcomers:

    Name "origin" is not reliable. Anytime you see a name being "checked out" here, what is coming up are places that make those assumptions, and count on persons being inexperienced enough to accept what they say. In a few RARE instances, a name can be tracked back to a certain place, but that is the exception, not the rule.

    So.. to avoid it, always take what family "says" as leads that need to be documented, work methodically back from you to the immigrant, and shift thinking from surname origin to origin of an individual person. Assumptions in genealogy are a big no-no.

  • 1 decade ago

    It's a harder question than it seems on the surface.

    So much of Europe had "liquid" borders. What was an independent country one day became a part of another country the next. Then it was split in two and became one independent country and one province of another country. Then there were two independent countries...and it goes on. This could all happen in one person's lifespan.

    The simple answer is if your ancestor wasn't from Great Britain, don't make any assumptions about the validity of a nationality listed on any document using today's standards. Poles, for example, were mistakenly listed as Russian, Austrian, Hungarian, Czech or German. It's not because they didn't know they were Polish, but rather it had to do with the way they were asked the question. Take the old (pre-1906) Naturalization petitions. All they stated was, "I _____ disavow my allegiance to the ____(title of monarch/leader)__ of ___(country ruling the land at the moment the person signing the petition was filling out the form)___."

    That's it. If they left a Lithuania when Poland ruled the land, but it was the Czar of Russia who ruled it when they signed their oath, then you're looking in the largest country in the world for a person who never lived there. Russia wouldn't even have any records on the person because they didn't leave a Russian-controlled land. The records were probably in German control in West Prussia. You'd also be mistakenly looking for Greek Orthodox records on a person who was probably Roman Catholic or Jewish.

    So the only thing you can really do is find all of the available information on the immigrant ancestor from many different sources over several years. Do your best to recreate the person's life in this country to better understand what they left behind. The one truth is that people didn't immediately let go of their old ways when they arrived. The closer the records you find to the time of their arrival, the better the chance that you'll get to know their real beliefs and origins.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    You asked what I'd recommend. I'd say promise oneself no expectations of what comes with the next generation, what tidbit the next document reveals, let it all be a surprise. Let it stir your curiosity to unravel one more bit of the mystery. Go ahead, wonder why that girl next door seems familiar - 150 years ago - that's not the point, do keep that in mind, make a note, but set no expectations.

    Specifically you asked about surname mistakes. There is NO mistake when you account for what you found as you found it, record the detail that way. That's the historical record as it exists. Don't change one mousewhisker!

  • Yes, a common mistake. Many of my German ancestors anglicized their names when they came to the Colonies (Germanna, Germantown and others).

    The only thing one can do, is trace, trace, trace. That is easy to say, hard to do. Clerks making records often made mrore mistakes; census takers made even more mistakes. Often, people embraced these mistakes, in part to make spelling of their names easier, in part to blend in.

    Source(s): genealogical studies
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