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Foreign terminology

Perhaps the most perplexing problem in dealing with foreign place names is that so many of our ancestors spoke a different language than we do today. Therefore, we do not understand simple words that were part of our ancestor's vocabulary, but, because of their foreign sound, we mistake them for place names. This can be as simple as mistaking the German word "geboren" (meaning "born") on a tombstone for the foreign birth place. Or, it may be as difficult as determining when archaic terminology is being used in a dead language such as Latin, hence the confusion over Borussia, a church-Latin term for Prussia. Usually the problem is somewhere in the middle, such as not recognizing the ancient term Albion for England or Caledonia for Scotland.

Map of EnglandResearchers may quickly learn that "shire" is the British term for county, and that a "shiretown" is the equivalent to an American county seat. However, researchers with non-English speaking ancestors may not realize that "estância" is Portuguese for ranch or estate, while "megye" is Hungarian for county and "sogn" is Danish for parish. One of the more common mistakes made by less experienced researchers is to believe their German ancestor came from the town of Königsreich in Prussia, when in reality the record was referring to the "Kingdom of Prussia." Remember, if you can't find the place name you are seeking in a gazetteer of your ancestor's country, try a dictionary in the appropriate language!

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