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Lesson 6:  Reading the Place Name, part 1

Eventually in your search for your immigrants' origins, you will almost surely locate a place name that appears to be the objective you were seeking. That all-elusive home town! While there will most likely be some excitement, and perhaps an audible gasp in that quiet library, it is necessary to treat this finding with some caution. Among the many records of our immigrant ancestors, there are many words masquerading as the home town that, in reality, are not what you are looking for. The purpose of this lesson is to alert you to these "problem" words, and teach how you can recognize them, in order to learn if you have actually reached your objective, or just another clue along the way.

Pitfalls to watch for

All too often, the term that North American researchers find associated with an immigrant is not really the town where the immigrant came from. Rather it is a different geographical term, or a very strange mutation of the place name, confused by the difference in languages. The good news is that these place names can be useful clues for continuing your research. Further, there are only about six different categories of "wrong names" to watch for. An understanding of the following kinds of problem terms will alert the researcher, and prevent seeking the immigrant in the wrong place:

  • Cities that share provincial, county, or state names
  • Port cities
  • Large cities
  • Multiple places with the same name
  • Geographic names that are not towns
  • Towns that have changed names

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