Monday, October 20, 2014

Tuesday's Tip - Say That Again?

Have you ever searched for someone in a census record, a death certificate, birth certificate...heck the list goes on and on...and couldn't find them because of the spelling variations?  Of course you have!  We've all been there.  Even the most experienced researchers have found it difficult.  After all, everyone was a novice genealogist at some point.  When researching you need to remember that you shouldn't get overly hung up on spelling.  What is more important is how the last name sounded.

Yep.  We get twisted up about grammar and misspellings all the time, but think about the time many of these records were created.  The grammar and spelling police weren't out in force.  Additionally, some names actually went through changes over time.  You should see the rather annoying evolution of the surname "Cayemberg"...I mean..."Caeyenberghs" would really throw you for a loop!  I can see the evolution in that name, but how many would over-look it.  I digress...

When these records were created, sure they may have been asked to spell their surname.  What if they couldn't?  Or perhaps their accent was just too thick.  Ever deal with that?  Perhaps the registrar or census taker just wrote down what they heard (Yes...they did that) and moved on.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've overcome a brick wall (granted a low brick wall) by going by how a surname would sound.

Take the surname Boegel.  I was a German major in college.  I know that Boegel was originally Bögel.  English doesn't have an umlaut (the two dots over a vowel)  so when writing it in English an "e" gets added after the vowel that had the umlaut.  It's an attempt to keep the sound similar.  I don't personally find it that similar, but it is what it is.  Bottom line...Boegel and Bögel are the same thing.  Trust me on this one.  Now how is that pronounced?

To me Bögel can sound like "bur-gell," "buy-gell," or even "bay-gell".  You get various spellings depending on the how the person reporting the information says it (how strong their accent is or which region of the homeland they hail from) and what the recorder hears and if they have any knowledge about where the person comes from.  In this case, do they know any German?

I wasn't finding much with my knowledge of how German should be pronounced so I asked my mother-in-law how she pronounces the surname Boegel.  After all it's her line.  I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard her say "Beagle" the dog I own.  Well, that explained why I was having a difficult time.  Once I knew this I realized the brick wall I was trying to climb was actually only a small bump in the road and researching names like Boegel (Beagle) and Kuehl/Kühl (Keel) became much easier.

If you don't have someone readily available to answer your question about how a surname is pronounced, ask a stranger.  Go to the message boards and find someone that is researching the same line from the same area of the country and ask.  Remember that region is important with pronunciation!  Words today can sound drastically different depending on whether you're hearing them said from someone in the north (and even us northerners have huge differences in accents), the south, the west and midwest.

Figuring out how they said that can make a world of difference when scaling that brick wall!