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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Recording Parish Registers with Patronymics

Unique problems occur in areas where the patronymic naming system is used. The surname changes each generation and typically there are very few surnames in use. It is thus useless to go from year X to year Y taking down all of the CHRISTENSEN’s or WILLIAMS’s.

In such countries the location of each family, for example the name of the farm, the parental name pairing and the father’s occupation take on a far greater importance. It is essential to record the address and occupation together with the full names for every relevant entry. The most successful tactic for reading parish registers employing patronymics is to concentrate on one family unit at a time, having your pedigree chart at hand to guide you.

For example, in a Danish parish register there will be the following series of records:

  • Births and christenings
  • Confirmations
  • Marriages and/or betrothals
  • Deaths and burials
  • Arrivals in parish (19th century only)
  • Departures from parish (19th century only)

Each of these will be very detailed and refer you back to a previous record in the person’s history, for example the marriages give the birthdates and places and often the parents; the confirmations give the birth date, the father and his occupation and residence.

Arrange to have all of the records for a designated time period on hand at the same time as you will be flipping back and forth between the items. You can’t do all the christenings for 200 years, and later on do all the marriages, etc. Family History Library microfilms are arranged so that the different records of the same time period are on the same film, but if it is a large parish you will still need more than one film in at a time.

Say you are starting with a date and place of birth for Hans JENSEN. First find this entry (he may be son of Jens ANDERSEN and Marie CHRISTENSDATTER), then look for his parents’ marriage, then the births of his siblings. Don’t search for these siblings by examining their names as you don’t yet know their first names and there will be dozens of JENSEN children. Instead scan the column of parents’ names and look for a couple with the right names, occupation and residence. In Scandinavia and most other patronymic countries wives keep their maiden names and these are given at their children’s christenings thus facilitating finding the correct couple. You are thus not just looking for Jens and Marie ANDERSEN but for ‘Farmer Jens ANDERSEN and his wife Marie CHRISTENSDATTER of Skovgaard’. Then check the burials for these children and after that, the burials for the parents.

Now you have completed a family group record. You can, of course work forwards to find subsequent marriages and families as well as burials. Then go back one generation by taking the birth date of a parent and finding that and repeating the process described above. This is far more successful than trying to look for all the names at once. You soon get stupefied by looking at a series of Jens Hansen, Hans Andersen, Anders Jensen, Hans Hansen, Jens Andersen, Jens Jensen and so forth…!

On some entries a particular man may have an extra second surname which could be his occupation, a Swedish soldier name or where he lives. These were added in order to differentiate between the many people sharing the same patronymic name in one parish. Watch for them and be aware that they are not always given. A man might, for example be christened as Frederick Sørensen, married as Frederick Sørensen Snedker [carpenter], and buried as Frederick Snedker. Other clues, such as address, occupation, name of spouse or parents, will assist you in confirming that you have the right person.

When you run out of family entries in this parish then look in the Arrivals and Departures sections to find where the family came from and the date, or where they went to and on what date. Other clues will be given in the four regular entries as to parishes of origin as well, so make sure you transcribe and translate everything.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 11 March 2014, at 21:45.
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