Information about Names

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Can you help me with surname "ABCDEF" ?

Simple surname queries without any supporting information are strongly discouraged. For most surnames, there are simply too many individuals with the same name for a surname request to be useful. To make success more probable, you must supply as much information as you can, including the surname(s) and given names; place(s) of residence (in Germany and elsewhere); dates of birth, emigration, marriage, and death; religious affiliation; associated family names; and any other information you may have. Include also what sources you have consulted, successfully or not, in your search. Be concise but informative. Make your question clear. Use an informative subject line like this:

SCHMIDT; Neustadt i.Holstein,SCN,DEU  Boston,MA,USA; 1873-1924

Many people prefer that surnames be written in all CAPITAL LETTERS to aid visual scanning. Make your placenames unambiguous (Neustadt an der Weinstrasse or Frankfurt am Main). Avoid imprecise dates like "the late 1800s" (does that mean 1850-1899 or 1805-1809?).

Be advised that it is unlikely that you will find someone willing to do extensive research for you for free unless he or she is related to the subject of your search. However, you may receive valuable advice that may turn your dead end into a new lead. If you are lucky, you may find someone who is also researching along the same lines (same family, location, event, or resource) and then you can both profit by sharing notes.

Also, common courtesy would require that, when you receive advice or leads, you act on them before repeating the query.

Where can I register/find my surnames?

Surnames are best registered on the Internet in several fora:

The RootsWeb Surname List

The RootsWeb WorldConnect Project

The Gedbas project collects German genealogical data

German surname listings are also made in the German GenWeb pages : http://www.rootsweb.com/~wggerman/

FOKOlists mostly German surnames.

You can also register your research and interests with the LDS.

What are the rules for given names?

Different areas/times/families had different naming conventions. No general rule applies in every case. Babies are often named for family members or baptismal sponsors, and sometimes a pattern can be found.

Often a person does not go by his first given name, especially if that first name is Johann or Maria. The name actually used (termed the Rufname) is often denoted by an asterisk or by underlining.

What does my German surname mean?

The meaning of a German surname can often be found in a German- English dictionary (e.g., Schmidt means smith, Müller means miller). Sometimes spelling modifications, pronunciation shifts, or dialectal origins hide the original meaning. In such cases, a general or specifically German name lexicon can be useful. Three standard German works are:

  • Deutsche Namenkunde by Max Gottschald,
  • Deutsches Namenlexikon by Hans Bahlow, also available in English as Dictionary of German Names, and
  • Das grosse Buch der Familiennamen by Horst Naumann.

Please note that name interpretation is often speculative.


Is my family from a town with a name like their surname?

Assuming that the family name is a place name perhaps with the common suffix -er (as in Oberheimer), then it is very possible that the family did indeed come from that place (Oberheim) originally.

But they probably left that place before they acquired the surname, which was probably before the earliest extant records, so you will likely never be able to prove it. Also note that place names are often shared by several towns, and that a surname may be related etymologically but not genealogically to a place name.

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