A Name by any Other Name can Still be Your Ancestor’s Name

September 12, 2012  - by 

Have you found a German ancestor’s birth in a church record and thought his name was a certain way, only to find his marriage or death record with a different name? Have you discovered other inconsistencies in records? How does one solve a problem like this?

Originally, a local church’s records were created by the local pastor or priest because nobody else was literate enough to do this work. Few pastors received explicit instructions on how to record information about births, marriages, and deaths. A careful look at church records and comparison of the handwriting suggests that entries to church books often occurred in batches rather than each time an event took place. This suggests that the pastor likely wrote the entries weeks after the event and relied on his memory. As we all know, mistakes happen. Comparing entries from church books with entries in duplicate church books, we see a much more even script, written consistently by one person. The question then must be asked, are these duplicates just copies of the original church books? If so, they will also contain the mistakes made in the original books.

It was not uncommon for an ecclesiastical parish to be responsible for several adjoining villages. When this was the case, village names were often attached to a person’s name. While personal names might not be correct, place names are less erroneous. Witnesses to an event might also give clues to identifying the origin and spelling of names. Witnesses may have been couples whose marriage occurred before the creation of a church book. An unmarried witness might have his/her father’s name and origin added to the record.

Since there existed no rules for record keeping before civil registration began in Germany (1876), names were often spelled differently or appear in the local dialect. They have also have been Latinized or have derived from patronymics.

The process of connecting family names is sometimes difficult, as researcher have to be aware of common mistakes, variances in spelling and naming patterns. To solve such questions, you should look outside of church records and consult land records, tax records, inheritances, prenuptial contracts, and other available records. If the spelling of a name varies from one record to another, you should use the name you expect is the most accepted name and then, in parentheses, add all variations of that name, such as Kühlke (Kuleke, Küelke, Küelcke, Kühlcke, Kielcke, Külke).

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  1. if any one came from busenback karlsrulr baden germany i amm trying to find my grandfathers family the name was john steppe or johannes i would appreciate any help edward

  2. Just from a quick look, the spelling “karlsrulr” looks incorrect and i would guess there is no such place with this spelling.

    Upon doing a quick search, it shows that you are most likely meaning Karlsruhe, located in Baden-Württemberg.

    Good luck.


  3. I am trying to find my German grandmother. She was born in Germany? came over to Ellis island app. 1895@ 13 years old with a brother??? I look thru Ellis Island.org and the spelling may be wrong>> Her name is Elizabeth/lizzie Ortman–I have all my grandfather info, his name is in John A Springfield from (1930) Kansas census. I am a little lost as where next to look? Thank you

  4. Looking for relatives in Germany, possible Heddinger/Hettinger from Baden. My Great great great great grandfather came from Germany born 1753?? to United States or Canada. His name was Ludwig/Lewis..father might be Georg Ludwig Hettinger, mother might be Eva Catharina Ernst. Trying to find our German heritage, I have all of Lewis’ decendants. Possible Johan Adam, George Martin, Maria Barbara may be siblings. Might have a cousin George Singer. Thank you.

  5. My father Eric Cowan Ettinger was in Second World War, stationed in France, Germany and Holland. It is possible I have a sibling born between 1943-1946……he was from Canada and a Sergeant in the army.

  6. Looking for relatives of my uncle Ferdinand Hauptstein and his wife Holdine. They had seven children, three dies young. Surviving children were Antoni born Dec. 1, 1931, Safira born Sept. 29, 1933, Linda born Jan. 9, 1941, Kurt born Aug. 30, 1942. Spelling of the last name was Hauptstein but when my grandfather Adolp came over it was changed to Haupstein. Any information would be very much appreciated.

  7. Love this! I was looking for a Hyrum Van Leuven (means from Leuven, a town in The Netherlands). During the census records and marriage records search, I managed to find the following spellings: Vanluven, Van Luven, Vanlaven, and my favorite Herman Vanlugen. I am very very good at finding the mispelled names. I know they are there, so I will purposefully misspell names or search for another family member or a neighbor or relative.