Our last lesson dealt with place names that are not
clear indicators of the town where the immigrant ancestor lived in the
old country. There is another problem that plagues many researchers,
even when the place name they find is indeed a town name. That problem
relates to reading and understanding the actual town name. Most often
this problem arises when the immigrant came from a non-English speaking
country, but sometimes these problems even occur with English speaking
Problems with the language
The problems discussed in this lesson all deal with
the fact that many immigrants (the majority over almost 400 years of
immigration), did not speak the language of the country to which they
were immigrating. Most countries where immigrants arrived were much
like the United States (or, in earlier years, the British Colonies)
in that they were usually colonized, or at least governed, by the English.
Therefore, the common language in the new colony or country was English.
However, similar problems arose for non-French speaking immigrants arriving
in French colonies, non Dutch speaking immigrants in Dutch colonies,
and non-Spanish speaking immigrants arriving in Spanish settlements.
For that matter, this problem also happens on occasion among English
speaking immigrants in areas where English was not the predominant language,
or where the English speaking immigrant used a dialect that may have
been difficult to understand.
Fortunately there are not too many kinds of these problems,
and they can be easily overcome with a little study, and an understanding
of the immigrant's language. This is one reason it is so important to
find out, early in your research, the language(s) your immigrant ancestor(s)
spoke, as well as the countries they came from. Remember, many countries,
such as Switzerland, Belgium, Poland, Austria, and others had residents
who spoke a variety of languages and dialects.
Here are four areas to watch for as you work towards
understanding the foreign place name you have searched for so diligently:
- Foreign Terminology
- Foreign Versions of Place Names
- Spelling Problems
- Places with Similar Spellings